20 August 2014

Were you surprised by the recent news that, since 2009, hundreds of police officers have been investigated for misdemeanours related to social media?

police-lineLooking at the reports, it seems that many of the transgressions were misjudged attempts at humour and the officers in question were not punished, but given the relevant advice to prevent them from making the same mistakes again.

However, there were also some fairly embarrassing incidents, including officers asking crime victims to be friends on Facebook and writing demeaning comments about co-workers online. What this highlights is that social media, for all its benefits, can be a bit of a double-edged sword.

Whilst it has its uses for police officers, helping them to gather information and reach out to more people, it can also cause reputational damage, as we’ve seen with this story. When you consider that the majority of police officers are supportive, passionate individuals, it seems unfair that they have been undermined in this way.

That being said, it’s worth asking why the officers who breached social media guidelines did so in the first place. Are they getting the proper training or being given the right information? It’s all well and good to have an acceptable usage policy for social media, but how useful is this if it hasn’t been communicated well enough? Social media is a force to be reckoned with and one that, as professionals, we must try to approach with care.

It is all too easy to see our online and offline lives as separate, but in reality, they are very much connected. So it’s essential that we use social media mindfully and with an understanding of the consequences that our behaviour on the internet could have on our day-to-day lives.

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