Social Media Safety Considerations

As the use of social media continues to proliferate and become a larger part of our lives, it is important for law enforcement officers to consider how using these platforms and the personal information they might divulge can potentially impact their own safety and that of their family and friends.

Some law enforcement agencies recognize these officer safety concerns and have adopted social media policies for their personnel. Regardless of whether an agency has a policy in place, there are certain basic considerations law enforcement officers must be aware of:

  • Make sure your privacy settings are up-to-date. In the ever-changing social media landscape, privacy settings can change frequently. Ensure that only people you know and trust have access to the information that you post online.
  • Be aware of any hidden data in social media posts. Many times when posting photos online, especially from a smartphone, your location will be geo-tagged within the image. If you took a photo in your home, for example, this can mean that anyone with knowledge of how to retrieve the metadata from the photograph will know exactly where you live. Ensure that you familiarize yourself with the location settings on your smartphone or camera, as well as the location settings on whatever social media platform you may be using to post the photo.
  • Have a discussion with your friends and family about what they can or cannot post about you online. Those who are not involved in law enforcement might be more relaxed about what they publish about themselves or others on social media. Make sure they are aware of any concerns you might have about your location being publicized online.
  • Know your agency’s social media policy. Many agencies have policies in place about what can and cannot be posted while on- and off-duty. These policies are in place not only to uphold the integrity of the agency, but also to protect the lives of officers. If your agency does not have a policy, the IACP Model Policy on Social Media can be referenced.

While these may seem like simple tasks, they are important in ensuring that the wrong people don’t have access to personal information or the ability to easily find where and when an officer and his/her family might be vulnerable.

For more information on law enforcement and social media, please visit the IACP’s Center for Social Media. The Center serves as a clearinghouse of information to help law enforcement personnel to develop and/or enhance their agency’s use of social media.

It is the IACP’s position that no injury to or death of a law enforcement professional is acceptable, and the IACP Center for Officer Safety and Wellness strives to improve awareness on all aspects of officer safety. To learn more and to share best practices pertaining to officer safety and wellness please visit http://www.iacp.org/CenterforOfficerSafetyandWellness or contact the Center staff at officersafety@theiacp.org.

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