82 Public Administration Review • Januar y | Fe brua ry 201 9
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 1, pp. 82–92. © 2018 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
Social Media and Value Conflicts:
An Explorative Study of the Dutch Police
Abstract: The use of social media produces new value conflicts in public governance. The police force is a public
organization directly confronted with these changes. However, there is no systematic understanding of these conflicts
in daily police practice or of the coping strategies used. This article presents an explorative understanding of the value
conflicts and coping strategies within the police force by combining the literature on social media use in the public
sector and the literature on value conflicts and by conducting a case study within the Dutch police. The empirical
findings show, first, a growing emphasis on conflicts related to the values that are strongly embedded in social media
use—specifically, conflicts between efficiency and participation and between transparency and lawfulness. Second,
although dynamic coping strategies were expected, the research reveals that the police often use a conservative coping
strategy to deal with these rapid changes.
Evidence for Practice
• Reevaluate police priorities: more resources are needed for the digital street.
• Recognize that new police guidelines are needed to maintain law and order on the digital street, with explicit
attention paid to the way the norms on the digital and physical streets differ.
• Constantly monitor the legal rules governing the use of social media, keeping an eye on the continuously
• Professionalize police use of social media and create team accounts instead of personal accounts. Carefully
manage the expectations of citizens when using social media.
• Acknowledge that the police no longer control communication and, in specific cases, be more proactive in
communicating what the police know and do not know. Especially necessary in those departments involving
detectives, this will mean a change of culture.
Social media use and social networks have
the potential to dramatically change the
relationship between government and citizens
(Chew and Eysenbach 2010; de Graaf and Meijer
2013; Morozov 2013). Think, for example, of the
“Facebook revolutions” in 2009 in Iran and in 2011
in Egypt and Tunisia (Howard and Parks 2012).
While these Facebook revolutions demonstrate
that social media can empower citizens and change
politics, the London riots in 2011 seem to show
the dark side of these changing relations when
social media is used to coordinate looting (Trottier
and Fuchs 2015). The riots that were organized
through social media have shown that local public
governance has insufficient understanding of the
impact social media can have (Briggs 2012). In
the Netherlands, Project X in Haren in September
2012—a birthday party turned into a mass gathering
organized over Facebook that resulted in riots
and vandalism—was possible because local public
governance did not understand the impact of social
media and did not know how it needed to respond
This mode of communication is connected to
micro-organization, framing, and unpredictability;
facilitates large-scale action; and offers alternatives
to conventional patterns of public decision-making
and participation (Bekkers, Moody, and Edwards
2011; Korthagen and Van Meerkerk 2014). The
possibilities that social media offer the public to
massively share information have consequences for
public governance (de Graaf and Meijer 2013; ROB
2012). Social media and social networks are changing
society and thereby triggering new conflicts within
local public governance in terms of, for example,
respecting the privacy of citizens versus maintaining
law and order in society.
Conflicts between values such as the protection
of privacy of citizens and the maintenance of law
and order in society are not new, and local public
Gjalt de Graaf
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Gjalt de Graaf is full professor in
the Department of Political Science and
Public Administration at Vrije Universiteit
Amsterdam. He co-chairs the Permanent
EGPA Study Group on the Quality and
Integrity of Governance. His research
focuses on the management of conflicting
public values, integrity of academic
education, the influence of social media on
public governance, and whistle-blowing.
Albert Meijer is full professor in the
Department of Public Administration and
Organizational Science at Utrecht University.
He co-chairs the EGPA Permanent Study
Group on E-Government. His research
focuses on public innovation, transparency,
coproduction and e-government. He has
published on social media and policing in
several international journals.