Studies of social media's impact on policing have emerged in several disciplines, including criminology, sociology, and communications. Despite their insight, there is no unified body of knowledge regarding this relationship. In an attempt to synthesize extant work, bring coherence to the field, and orient future scholarship, this article summarizes research on social media's implications for practices and perceptions of order maintenance. It does so by identifying how social media's technical affordances empower and constrain police services. By offering new opportunities for surveillance, risk communication, and impression management, emergent technologies augment the police's control of their public visibility and that of the social world. However, they also provide unprecedented capacities to monitor the police and expose, circulate, and mobilize around perceived injustice, whether brutality, racial profiling, or other forms of indiscretion. Considering these issues promises to enhance knowledge on contemporary directions in social control, organizational communication, inequality, and collective action. Suggestions for future research are also explored.
If control of information and visibility are decisive sources of power (Brighenti, 2007; Castells, 2013), the significance of social media—the most recent innovation in mediated communication—is difficult to overstate. Its accessibility, ease‐of‐ use, and participatory, networked character are transforming state‐society relations, dynamics distinctly conspicuous for order maintenance, the sovereign state's prerogative power. Over the past decade, scholars in several disciplines have analyzed social media's effects on policing. Despite their contribution, knowledge remains incipient and fragmentary. In an effort to bring coherence to existing work, this article assesses research on social media's implications for policing's operational and symbolic contours. While police services have leveraged visible digital spaces to communicate with citizens, sculpt their public image, and augment enforcement, they also allow citizens to expose, discuss, and mobilize around perceived injustice. Accordingly, new media environments are sites of considerable struggle over policing's character, image, and meanings. After identifying its essential features and societal implications, this paper presents a typology of social media use, distinguishing between law enforcement's status as monitors, producers, and objects of online content. In reducing the opacity of everyday life, social media are indispensable tools of surveillance and intelligence gathering. Police services have also appropriated multi‐media platforms as instruments of organizational communication, disseminating content to cultivate community support and enlist citizens in the management of crime, risk, and disorder. Finally, it considers how social media produce a “crisis of visibility” (Haggerty & Sandhu, 2014), unsettling law enforcement's image and reputation. Specifically, it details how publics have utilized online forums to watch the powerful, expose abuse, and encourage institutional reform, oversight, and accountability. The paper concludes by discussing the import of these trends and suggesting future directions for research. Assessing emerging relations between law, society, and technology advances ongoing debates, providing new insights into patterns of social control, stratification, and collective action.