Social networking policies get strict on law enforcement
From elementary school students to Fortune 500 chief executive officers, everyone is using a social network in one form or another. Law enforcement organizations, especially, have been some of the most proactive in utilizing social networks. And while their use has enabled law enforcement to interact with the community, it’s also created a need for strict policies governing how social networks can be used.
Policing becomes social
Some law enforcement departments have adapted quite well to their new social platforms. The Boston Police Department, especially, has been a pioneer among law enforcement agencies. Elaine Driscoll, Director of Communications for the Boston Police Department, cites the department’s Virtual Community that consists of blogs, a Facebook™ page, a Twitter® feed, and text alerts, as helping them to become a one-stop shop for policing information in the Boston community (Driscoll, 2010). By having this kind of online social presence, Boston citizens are better able to stay informed about police activities and tips on how to make their community safer.
While law enforcement’s use of social networking to share information, connect with the community and help people stay safe is noteworthy, the information that’s provided on these networks should be verified. If a law enforcement organization posts information that’s inaccurate, it could do irreparable harm. Any information accessible over the Internet and outside the realm of a trademark or copyright is considered to be public domain. Therefore, all items that are posted online are permanently cached on servers and can never be permanently removed.
Police getting online policies
Because information that’s posted online is written in stone, even law enforcement departments need to police their own use of social networks. In a study by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (2009), the commission estimates that nearly 25% of employers have disciplined employees for improper use of online social networking activities. Alarmingly, the same study estimated that only approximately 50% of employers have policies that govern the use of social networking sites by employees.
In response to this need for social networking policies, the Center for Social Media of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (2010) has drafted a model policy for law enforcement agencies. The model policy states that speech on- or off-duty that is attributable to the employee’s professional duties and responsibilities is not protected under the First Amendment and “… may form the basis for discipline if deemed detrimental to the Department” (p.3). In addition, police officers and police department employees are generally prohibited from disclosing their professional employment status with law enforcement agencies in social networking activities.
Like many organizations that use social networks, law enforcement is able to positively promote itself and help its constituents. But, it’s the development and application of social networking policies that will help law enforcement reach its goal of serving the community online.
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Twitter is a registered trademark of Twitter Inc.
Driscoll, E. (2010). Dept. masters social media. American Police Beat, 10, 18-19.