Hearts and minds: one of the images tweeted in response to the #MyNYPD campaign. Photo: Twitter
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Not what they had in mind: when Twitter campaigns backfire

The NYPD’s calls for the public to tweet photos of them with officers has gone spectacularly wrong, with a torrent of photos of police brutality. But they are far from alone.

Yesterday the New York Police Department invited citizens to post photographs of themselves with police officers using the hashtag #myNYPD. Perhaps inevitably they were not inundated with photos of grinning kids slurping sodas on brownstone steps posing with their friendly neighbourhood cops but a whole torrent of images of police brutality. In answer to the NYPD’s initial tweet “Do you have a photo w/a member of the NYPD? Tweet us & tag it”, the Occupy Wall Street account tweeted a photo of protesters and cops fighting, with the caption “changing hearts and minds one baton at a time”. Many more similar uncosy images followed.

Within a few hours, over on the West Coast, the copycat #myLAPD  had also started up, full of similarly non-heartwarming images of Los Angeles officers not posing with sun-visor-toting snowbird grandmas...

The misguided callout is just the latest in a long line of Twitter awkwardness that could come direct from the minds of Armando Iannuci or John Morton. Here a few other famous fails:

1) Waitrose

In September 2012 the super(up)market Waitrose exhorted shoppers to “Finish the sentence: “I shop at Waitrose because _________ #WaitroseReasons.” In reference to its reputation as the grocer of choice of the Ottelenghi classes, many of the spoof tweets it got back were perhaps not what it had in mind. Though it’s possible they were in on the joke all along, later writing: “Thanks again for all the #waitrosereasons tweets. We really did enjoy the genuine and funny replies. Thanks for making us smile.”

And so on...

 

2) McDonald's

Earlier the same year, hamburger behemoth McDonald’s had cheerily encouraged diners to tweet their #McDstories. On January 18, the chain sent out two tweets with the hashtag, in an attempt to highlight the "hard-working people" who provide McDonald's with their food. Sadly the McFlurry of anecdotes sent their way were not exactly along the line of “That time I had my party in Mickey D’s and Ronald McDonald came by – awesome!!” or “I *heart* Filet-O-Fish”. They soon pulled the campaign.

 

3) Home Office

More sinisterly, last August following its cockle-warming “Go home or face arrest” vans aimed at illegal immigrants, the Home Office had the brainwave to take its campaign cross-platform and, in a horrifically Orwellian update on Police Camera Action, begin live-tweeting co-ordinated raids across the country using the tag #immigrationoffenders. Open and honest, perhaps, but it was the apparent pride in the arrests that offended many:

4) J P Morgan

Over in the world of finance, in November last year the banking giant J P Morgan was mocked by Twitter users after it called for questions to one of its senior executives using the hashtag #AskJPM. More than 6,000 negative responses later, the bank was questioning the wisdom of soliciting comments on social media in the all too recently post-crash era. 

Yet for corporate brand managers, perhaps all publicity remains good publicity.

5) Starbucks

Again in 2012, fast looking like the ground zero year for public/corporate Twitter interface, the coffee chain Starbucks campaign to “spread the cheer” at Christmas was spectacularly mistimed, given it had recently been in the news for paying only £8.5m in tax in the UK since it had launched in 1998. Inevitably its spiced-pumpkin-latte, Deck-the-Halls joviality was hijacked by a slew of somewhat less tinselly bon mots. The company displayed its campaign on an electronic billboard in the National History Museum in London, but failed to check the messages before they went public...

And finally...

Who could forget the glittering invitation to the launch of the Scottish songstress Susan Boyle’s new album that was unfortunately tagged #susanalbumparty? We, for one, can’t - and very much doubt Susan can either. 

I'm a mole, innit.

European People's Party via Creative Commons
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Ansbach puts Europe's bravest politician under pressure

Angela Merkel must respond to a series of tragedies and criticisms of her refugee policy. 

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is supposed to be on holiday. Two separate attacks have put an end to that. The first, a mass shooting in Munich, was at first widely believed to be a terrorist attack, but later turned out to be the actions of a loner obsessed with US high school shootings. The second, where a man blew himself up in the town of Ansbach, caused less physical damage - three were seriously injured, but none killed. Nevertheless, this event may prove to affect even more people's lives. Because that man had come to Germany claiming to be a Syrian refugee. 

The attack came hours after a Syrian refugee murdered a pregnant Polish woman, a co-woker in a snack bar, in Reutlingen. All eyes will now be on Merkel who, more than any other European politician, is held responsible for Syrian refugees in Europe.

In 2015, when other European states were erecting barriers to keep out the million migrants and refugees marching north, Merkel kept Germany's borders open. The country has resettled 41,899 Syrians since 2013, according to the UNHCR, of which 20,067 came on humanitarian grounds and 21,832 through private sponsorship. That is twice as much as the UK has pledged to resettle by 2020. The actual number of Syrians in Germany is far higher - 90 per cent of the 102,400 Syrians applying for EU asylum in the first quarter of 2016 were registered there. 

Merkel is the bravest of Europe's politicians. Contrary to some assertions on the right, she did not invent the refugee crisis. Five years of brutal war in Syria did that. Merkel was simply the first of the continent's most prominent leaders to stop ignoring it. If Germany had not absorbed so many refugees, they would still be in central Europe and the Balkans, and we would be seeing even more pictures of starved children in informal camps than we do today. 

Equally, the problems facing Merkel now are not hers alone. These are the problems facing all of Europe's major states, whether or not they recognise them. 

Take the failed Syrian asylum seeker of Ansbach (his application was rejected but he could not be deported back to a warzone). In Germany, his application could at least be considered, and rejected. Europe as a whole has not invested in the processing centres required to determine who is a Syrian civilian, who might be a Syrian combatant and who is simply taking advantage of the black market in Syrian passports to masquerade as a refugee. 

Secondly, there is the subject of trauma. The Munich shooter appears to have had no links to Islamic State or Syria, but his act underlines the fact you do not need a grand political narrative to inflict hurt on others. Syrians who have experienced unspeakable violence either in their homeland or en route to Europe are left psychologically damaged. That is not to suggest they will turn to violence. But it is still safer to offer such people therapy than leave them to drift around Europe, unmonitored and unsupported, as other countries seem willing to do. 

Third, there is the question of lawlessness. Syrians have been blamed for everything from the Cologne attacks in January to creeping Islamist radicalisation. But apart from the fact that these reports can turn out to be overblown (two of the 58 men arrested over Cologne were Syrians), it is unclear what the alternative would be. Policies that force Syrians underground have already greatly empowered Europe's network of human traffickers and thugs.

So far, Merkel seems to be standing her ground. Her home affairs spokesman, Stephan Mayer, told the BBC that Germany had room to improve on its asylum policy, but stressed each attack was different. 

He said: "Horrible things take place in Syria. And it is the biggest humanitarian catastrophe, so it is completely wrong to blame Angela Merkel, or her refugee policies, for these incidents." Many will do, all the same.