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Cops to Live-Tweet a Prostitution Sting: What Could Go Wrong?

By Brett Snider, Esq. on May 05, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

One police department in Maryland is planning to live-tweet a prostitution sting sometime this week. What could possibly go wrong?

The Prince George's County Police Department (PGPD) announced that they will blast the details of an undercover prostitution bust live on Twitter, but the department has been secretive about the details.

Why live-tweet a prostitution sting? And why not?

'We Won't Tell You When or Where'

Being purposefully coy, the Department's blog noted Thursday that the Vice Unit would conduct a prostitution sting, but "[they] won't tell you when or where, other than it's somewhere in the county, sometime next week."

We all know that social media and cops rarely mix well, whether it's selfies on Tumblr or the recent #MyNYPD campaign that backfired. So why do these Maryland cops think live-tweeting a major vice operation is a good idea?

The PGPD blog lays it out: They believe this is a "progressive" social media tactic to dissuade Prince George's County residents from engaging in "this type of criminal behavior."

Responses to #PGPDVice

Calling on tweeters to follow #PDPDVice for details, the PGPD's plan has already fielded a number of responses:

Otto and Jacobson join many critics who believe sex workers are often targeted far more than their largely male "john" counterparts, with this live-tweeting stunt adding insult to injury. Other tweeters were somewhat supportive:

Possible Defamation?

Suspects are called suspects for a reason: They're "suspected" of committing a crime, not (yet) convicted. With the PGPD planning to blast the Internet with photos and information of suspects during their prostitution sting, it is very likely that an innocent party could be caught up in the mix.

Using Twitter to imply or assert that an individual is a criminal or sexually promiscuous can lead to a number of defamation-related civil charges. Police departments have qualified immunity which protects them from most civil suits, but only when their actions are reasonable; a court could find that while allowing standard-procedure mugshots to be posted online is reasonable, live-tweeting an investigation is not.

As of Monday morning, the PGPD's advertised live-tweeting of a prostitution sting had not yet occurred. Stay tuned.

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