This past week, the Prince George's County, MD, police department announced that it will be live-tweeting its prostitution raid. They intend to make a bold public statement that "prostitution isn't welcome here" in PG County. But as for the tweptical (sorry... Twitter spectacle) of a vice raid, those are most welcome here.
This is not the first time a government authority re-launched its online presence on the waves of salacious content. On September 11, 1998, an effective DoS attack was unleashed on Congress. So many people attempted to download the Starr Report, with its detailed accounts of the sexual escapades of President Bill Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky that they crashed to House of Representatives' server. Demand was so high for the report that even the Senate servers crashed, and the report wasn't on the Senate server. Eventually, they replaced the Senate.gov homepage with a message to go to the House.gov website to access the report.
Overnight the congressional websites became a national sensation. Their web traffic soared.
Whether or not that was the intention of the PGPD, or not, it was a predictable outcome. Already, its followers jumped more than 2500 people (21%) in less than a week.
I think it is fair to say that sex sells and in both of these examples governments tapped into what Madison Ave. has always known. But at least on Madison Ave. they are deliberate. In Congress and in Prince Georges County, they think that they are doing it for the public good. The Republican controlled House of Representatives were hell-bent on impeaching Bill Clinton (probably because he was kicking their asses on the policy side of things). The Starr Report was their blunt instrument to force what ended up a colossal waste of time pursuing a failed impeachment trial; time that Congress could have used on needed policy.
The tweet from @PGPDnews on May 1, 2014, prompted a heated debate on Twitter. Many are arguing that prostitution should be legal, even unionized. Others are criticizing the police for turning serious work into a public spectacle. And others call what the cops are doing a "public shaming."
A fair chunk of the critical tweeters have been organized by HIPS, Inc., an organization that "promotes the health, rights, & dignity of individuals & communities impacted by sexual exchange &/or drug use due to choice, coercion, or circumstance." There is also a Change.org petition launched by a PG County resident calling on the police to stop its sting operation.
And whether you search for #PGPDvice or just #PGPD, you don't see many tweets supporting the police. But like the Twitter backlash against #myNYPD's photo request fiasco the week before, the jury may still be out on both of these PR stunts... they may both end up fostering meaningful national debate on policy policy across the nation.