20 November 2020
The explosion of social media platforms in recent years has led to virtually everyone with a computer, smart phone or tablet having a profile to some degree. However, while social media has many positives, such as keeping us all connected (especially during recent challenging times), there are some risks to be mindful of.
It’s sadly becoming an all too familiar headline: “cop sacked over offensive social media post”. What starts out as a private joke, or was even received unsolicited, ends up costing an officer their career.
In an age where everything is recorded and shared for the goal of “likes”, it is easy to forget that we as cops live by a different set of rules.
As police officers we have a different right to privacy - both on and off duty - as public interest has been used by the courts in order to override it. So, if an officer shares any post which others could perceive as offensive on social media or WhatsApp, there’s the potential for misconduct charges to be brought against them, even if it was on a personal phone or off duty. If an officer receives material which others could perceive as offensive, for example jokes that could be considered racist or sexist, they have a duty to challenge that material. If they don’t, again they could be up on misconduct charges.
Additional problems can come when people post to groups that they think have a limited audience e.g. on WhatsApp. Private group chats do not necessarily remain private and once information is sent, control over that content is lost.
These examples are not the only potential hazards of social media. If you are not careful over what you share, individuals can obtain information from your profile - and your associated profiles, to build a picture of who you are, where you live, and how you spend your time off duty. Information can be gathered from photographs, including where and when the picture was taken. Facial imaging software can be used to identify others in the picture. The list goes on.
Thankfully many officers are aware of the pitfalls of social media. The most appropriate ways to stop yourself getting into hot water are obviously to not share anything which others could consider offensive, to challenge anything you might receive and to restrict your profiles. However, we would also advise the following:
Social media is a growing part of our world and we need to embrace it; we just need to make sure we do it appropriately.
Conduct and Performance Sub-Committee Secretary, PFEW
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