Danger! Social Media Ahead

The effective use of social media platforms can greatly enhance your department’s ability to respond to a wide variety of criminal activities and even close cases that otherwise may have otherwise been destined to the cold case archives. However, one thoughtless post by a single member of your command can turn a useful tool into a public relations nightmare.

For several years officers have been warned concerning what they post to social media, although the majority of these warnings centered on not revealing personal information which may allow a disgruntled criminal to locate you or your family. However, due to a recent trend in insensitive comments being traced back to officers, the focus has shifted from protecting your family to protecting your reputation- and that of your department.

Everyone knows that an embarrassing or compromising picture or comment on social media can never be undone. Of course you only need to spend a few moments browsing any of the more popular sites to realize that this is routinely forgotten by a wide range of people who would otherwise be considered of good character.  For the majority of those whose thumbs are quicker than their brain, the fallout is short lived; smirks from co-workers, embarrassed relatives and snide comments from unknown viewers. However, if you are a law enforcement officer, the effects can be long term and even career ending.

SocialMediaLaw enforcement officers are often held to a higher standard when it comes to both their professional and personal actions. Social media has not necessarily changed the standard, just how it is applied. Prior to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, the standard was the same except that lapses in judgment were often committed in private and forgotten within minutes of occurring. Now an embarrassing photo or off-colored joke can be viewed by millions of people and retrieved for years to come.

A growing number of departments have attempted to address the issue of social media by regulating its use and limiting what employees can post, whether they can identify themselves as an officer or post pictures which identify their employer. While most experts agree that such policies are necessary, this opinion is based upon protecting the department and not protecting the individual officer. Having such policies in place will not prevent an officer from posting questionable material; it only provides the department with a means of protecting itself, and punishing the employee, after the deed is done.

The only one who can protect you is you and the best way to do this to limit your social media activity. I admit I have personal accounts on many of the more popular social media sites and browse most of them on a regular, if not daily, basis. Like many of you, I routinely read a post that I want to like, share or comment on, but before I do I ask  myself what an outsider seeing that photo or comment would think. The same goes for pictures or stories I might want to post about myself. Like it or not, we live in a bubble and everything we do or say may someday come back around and demand an explanation, especially if it’s been liked, shared and reposted countless times.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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