Image: Wikimedia Commons
The plan to live tweet a prostitution raid in Prince George’s County, Maryland, happened, and was a huge success, if you both believe the police department and believe that a grand total of zero tweets and zero arrests constitutes a huge success.
As we pointed out last week, live tweeting prostitution raids is a terrible idea and a dumb use of social media, so it’s heartening to see that the PGPD changed their minds on the whole thing. The smart thing to do would have been to announce that the police department wouldn’t be live tweeting the raid, after all. Instead, here’s what the department blasted out: “Advance Notice of Johns Sting Successfully Serves as Deterrent.”
It’s a predictable if disappointing outcome—the police department can say that it never planned on tweeting the thing in the first place and can say, hey, prostitution doesn’t exist in the county anymore. That, of course, is an insane conclusion, but it’s basically what they’ve said. Normally, they arrest between five and 10 johns during a sting. This time, they arrested zero.
"I've participated in hundreds of stings, and I've never seen what happened today. By advertising this days ago, we wanted to put johns on notice to not come to Prince George's County,” Dave Coleman, head of the county’s Vice Intelligence Unit, said in a statement. “That message was heard loud and clear. We just put a dent in the human trafficking business without making one arrest.”
That, on its face, is a ridiculous notion—prostitution ain’t going anywhere. But the press release goes on to say that, because of the “international attention” that the terrible idea garnered, prostitution took at least one day off. The PGPD determined that it was “no longer prudent to tweet the information about the sting in real-time.”
Darby Hickey, an activist who promotes sex workers’ rights and spoke to me for our piece last week told me that the department is delusional.
“If ‘putting a dent in the human trafficking business’ was as easy as threatening to live tweet, imagine what a better world we’d live in,” Hickey wrote in an email to me. “I'm glad no one was arrested and I think it was a good moment for conversations about the need to change the approach to sex work, as well as recognize that even if it's still criminalized, furthering stigmatizing is not helpful but dangerous.”
It's probably a good thing that they didn't go through with actually tweeting (the county concluded that tweeting would put undercover officers at risk), and maybe the snafu will serve as a good reminder that, live social media updates and police operations don't mix.