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CMU Beef Of The Week #319: Taylor Swift v Northants Police

By | Published on Friday 19 August 2016

Tom Hiddleston & Taylor Swift

Northamptonshire Police have admitted that they got themselves into “hot water” by posting a photoshopped image of Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston on Twitter to promote their Prevent counter-extremism team.

It’s hard to know where to even begin with this one. I mean, I assume you know that Taylor Swift and actor Tom Hiddleston started dating pretty much the second she split up with Calvin Harris. And that this has been documented through a series of weirdly staged photos of them being all happy together. Right, good.

Maybe you’re not aware of the UK government’s Prevent programme, which aims to stop people from succumbing to extremism, but has been accused to doing the exact opposite. Among the tactics used by the Northamptonshire Police Prevent team is to try to engage people on Twitter using humour. It’s not in itself a bad idea – listen to this edition of the ‘Invisibilia’ podcast for more on how meeting hostility with warmth can work – but the way it has been carried out has been a bit of a shambles.

This whole Swift/Hiddleston thing was the peak shoddiness of a weekly series of tweets on the @NorPolPrevent account called #FamousFriday. The first of these, back in May, explained: “Every Friday famous people will say quotes (that I have adapted) about Prevent”.

Just in case you’re thinking that that might actually be a fun thing to see pop up in your Twitter feed once a week, the first one (which really needed to be a strong one to get things rolling), was a picture of Mr T with the caption: “I pity the fool who doesn’t know Prevent = safeguarding”.

I know, right? But it got worse for all involved last month, when they posted a screengrab of a tweet from a Taylor Swift fan account which pictured Swift and Hiddleston frolicking in the sea. “Taylor and Tom at the beach today!” the grabbed tweet said. “Tom is wearing an I ♥ Prevent t-shirt”. It also added the hashtag #TomSaidNoToBondBecausePreventDontSpy.

Seems like a weird thing for a Taylor Swift fan account to say, but if you looked down at the photos, you could clearly see Hiddleston wearing a t-shirt saying “I ♥ P” – the rest of the word obscured.

But it was all a lie, dear reader. The screengrabbed tweet had been edited, and so had the picture of Tom’s t-shirt. He’d actually been wearing a t-shirt saying “I ♥ TS”. Which… let’s not even start on that. The important thing we need to remember here is that the police had tampered with some evidence to make it look like something else.

Then late last month all the #FamousFriday tweets were deleted and it was announced that it would be replaced by something else new and fun instead. Now every Friday you can enjoy #FunFactFriday, which provides facts entirely unrelated to Prevent and with no mention of the scheme.

A spokesperson for Northants Police said that the tweets had been removed “to avoid anything being misconstrued”, which is a funny old thing to say.

In a statement to the BBC this week, they said: “We can confirm that @NorPolPrevent use Twitter as a means to engage with local communities and this has, on occasion, included using images to portray messages in a non-confrontational or humorous manner. As part of our ongoing training of force social media users, we provide guidance on effective and appropriate use of social media and, on this occasion, some tweets were deleted by the users of the account to avoid anything being misconstrued”.

Though redacted police emails obtained by Middle East Eye via a Freedom Of Information request show that a complaint following the Hiddleston/Swift tweet put the wind up them somewhat.

“We’ve received a complaint from [REDACTED] regarding the below”, says one email. “Did we photoshop this? And can it please be deleted ASAP”.

The complaint is quoted as saying: “Photoshopping [REDACTED] to suggest [REDACTED] is irresponsible in the extreme”.

So that was a bit of fun that went too far, you could say. Though a more senior police officer chipped in: “I don’t want to detract from the good work @NorPolPrevent do via Twitter, but probably just helpful to be mindful of editing pics of ‘celebrities’. They spend a lot of money and carefully craft their public images, and associations with contentious topics can be concerning for them! Also from a copyright perspective, we can be treading in hot water! Like I said, I can see the merit in trying to myth bust and use humour… just advising to be careful”.

Good to see the police have such a good grasp of copyright law. That’s reassuring, isn’t it? All of the tweets featured presumably uncleared images of various celebs being associated with a controversial government programme. And it’s always good to remember that doing that sort of thing “can be treading in hot water”.

Meanwhile, in a video Q&A for The Hollywood Reporter this week, in which he was talking about his role in ‘The Night Manager’, Hiddleston was caught off guard by a question about his relationship with Swift.

“We all live in a world where every phone has a camera and there’s nothing new, really, about the spotlight on me. I think that’s what happens when you’re a public figure”, he said. “I’ve learned that there are many sides to a story, and that sometimes there are a lot of stories out there which are false and the hardest thing is to try to not let those falsehoods affect your own life, that’s what I would say”.

Like when local police force in the UK starts tweeting slightly doctored images of you claiming that you are in love with a government anti-extremism campaign.