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Police worried about the force's reputation are scouring Facebook and Twitter for criticism and rumours, ahead of the imminent Climate Camp protest.

The force has hired 6 Consulting*, a firm of "social media monitoring and engagement specialists" for a one-month pilot to monitor the web for relevant chatter.

It follows a series of reports criticising the Met's policing of major events, including the G20 protest earlier this summer.

A spokesman said that the deal was not part of any investigative or intelligence-gathering programme. "We are increasingly looking to the internet to get our message out," he said.

He said the G20 protests had seen "unhelpful" rumours spread fast online, and the pilot would help Met communications staff be more proactive in addressing public concerns. It would not however react to specific messages on Twitter, however, where a special Climate Camp account has been set up to release police messages.

Meanwhile frontline police still do not know the location of this year's Climate Camp, which is being kept secret until just before it starts tomorrow, when it will be announced by means of a mass text message. If it were to leak on a social networking site, officers "would know about it" independently of the 6 Consulting pilot, the spokesman said. ®

*"People are discussing your brand, product and services online! Are you listening to the conversation? Answer the social phone!"

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