POLICE Scotland has been condemned for giving Facebook more than £6,500 to “boost” social media posts.
The force, which spent £6,670.73 promoting posts over the past 13 months, declined to provide any specific evidence of the benefits gained by paying the US corporation.
Police Scotland has faced widespread criticism over its decision to close police counters and lay off support staff.
And last week the force faced a storm over its alleged refusal to pay £3,000 to save the life of an injured police dog.
The Scottish Tories criticised the spending, as did a taxpayers’ group which said Police Scotland should justify the cost of paying Facebook or “stop wasting money”.
Facebook charges sums between a few pounds and several hundred to “boost” posts, promising to bring them before a wider audience.
Police Scotland was asked under the Freedom of Information Act to provide details of these payments, which have to be authorised by its social media team.
The Facebook “boosts” comprised £4,959.73 on “campaigns”, £1,466 on “investigations” and £250 on a “Safer Communities” initiative.
The first Facebook payment was £370 in January 2014 on a missing person appeal.
Facebook received £669.75 in March for an online safety campaign.
In May, Greater Glasgow police spent £200 boosting a sexual assault appeal video and £200 was spent in June on CCTV images related to a sexual assault.
Between July and August £400 was spent on a “festival safety campaign” although it is not known in which area.
Another £200 was given to Facebook in September for a recruitment campaign.
A Lothian and Borders CCTV appeal in October for incidents in Musselburgh and Livingston cost £400 and a student safety campaign in the same month was £500.
A national recruitment campaign and three campaigns in Tayside, Aberdeen, and Highlands and Islands saw the Police hand £1,040 over to internet giant Facebook in November and December 2014.
A festive safety campaign the same month cost £250 and a domestic abuse campaign cost £300.
A “Choices for life promo” cost £350 and appeals for information cost £256 in the same month.
In January and February this year Police Scotland spent £540 on social media recruitment campaigns and £40 on appeals.
Police Scotland was asked on Friday, March 6, to give specific examples of the results of paying for these “boosts”.
The force said in a statement on Wednesday that it had “reached” almost 3.5 million accounts and 134,172 users had “engaged”.
“It is an efficient and cost effective way to reach the public,” said the force.
“Boosted posts are integral to our campaigns, including domestic abuse, recruitment, and festival & student safety, as they target particular groups of people or geographical areas to influence behaviour & attitudes, and encourage engagement with Police Scotland.”
But Eben Wilson from Taxpayer Scotland said: “If Police Scotland has given itself an overhead that makes no sense to them for efficiency gains they should stop wasting this money immediately.
“You get the impression they’re using Facebook because it’s there without thinking of whether it is beneficial.
“If they can’t justify the cost or it’s use they should stop using it immediately.”
Scottish Conservatives justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell MSP said: “Whilst it is legitimate that Police Scotland should be exploring ways to use social media to best effect, the boost Facebook use comes at a cost.
“It is therefore essential that this cost is proportionate especially when Police Scotland has laid off vital support staff and closed police counters which provided valuable face to face contact with the public.
“Police Scotland should ensure their priority remains using its scarce resources to serve and protect the public as there are some people, for example, older or vulnerable people, who may not be computer literate or pay much attention to social media.”