Police Federation

Blog: Don’t let social media ruin your career

20 November 2020

Tiff Lynch, Conduct and Performance Secretary

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:

  1. Ensure your social media profiles do not mention anywhere that you are a police officer;
  2. People and views change and sometimes what was posted 10 years ago wouldn’t be posted now. Go back over your profiles and remove anything that may cause offence;
  3. Review your security settings;
  4. Ensure you are only friends/connected to people you know in real life;
  5. If you are using social media in a work capacity always be mindful of what you are sharing and be ready to challenge what you may see;
  6. Only share work pictures if they have a policing purpose. If they don’t, then just don’t post them;
  7. Make sure that there is no information that puts you or your family at risk or discloses any information about police operations.

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.

Tiff Lynch
Conduct and Performance Sub-Committee Secretary, PFEW

#ConductAndPerformance #TimeLimits #YourFederation

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