Take a Deep Breath and Count to Three Before Posting…

This blog series highlights some of the top Social Media Beat posts from the last couple years. For more information about IACP’s Center for Social Media visit the project webpage. This post was originally published on Wednesday, November 23, 2016.

Guest Blogger: Rebecca Rosenblatt, Sergeant, San Mateo County, California, Sheriff’s Office

While taking a moment to ponder the wisdom of messaging before hitting send is never a bad idea in any context, never more so does this advice bear repeating. No matter the size of the community you serve or the organization for which you work, politics is undoubtedly a hot topic. It is at the point where political beliefs and emotion converge with internet enabled devices that the potential for internal investigations and career ending mine fields begins and ends.

Though it is certainly not new advice, it is a lesson worth recounting, that what staff do in the privacy of their own lives, often becomes subject to public scrutiny when posted online. Politics and religion are often deal breakers for a myriad of relationships, and so too can they be the breaking point for the public image of your organization. All the bridges built through coffee with the cops and public safety citizens’ academies can be gone in an instant with one contentious or insensitive posting that reaches the wrong audience.

So, the obvious question remains what can be done to avoid this? How can you protect your organization and your community from suffering at the hands of an ill thought out social media posting by a member of your staff?

The answer is this; first and foremost encourage the men and women in your organization to review the privacy settings on their various social media accounts. With settings changing all the time, this is a good practice for everyone to get into no matter what they do for a living. The next most important practice to get into, is taking a beat. Take a moment before posting whatever you are feeling and ask yourself, is this in conflict with my organizational polices or guidelines? Is this post something that could paint me in a bad light should a member of the community see it? A good rule of thumb is to consider what you are about to post and decide if you would feel comfortable with it falling into the hands of your local news media. It is a story as old as the internet itself, where an officer-involved incident occurs and miraculously a web search results in posts and pictures from something completely unrelated, defining the character of those involved.

Don’t let this happen to you or your organization. Be smart and police yourself and those you care about in regard to the topic and type of material you choose to post online. Remind staff that what they choose to post on social media becomes a reflection of who they are, and in turn a reflection of the public safety organization they work for. In this day and age, where public trust in law enforcement is at a premium, these simple reminders about social media best practices cannot be reiterated enough.


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