Facebook: Friend or Foe?

Online missteps can cost you dearly, but following these few simple tips can keep you safe online and off.

In today's plethora of social media choices such as Facebook, LinkedIn, My Space, Twitter, and countless forums and blog sites, new arenas have been created that raise interesting questions of social etiquette and appropriate behavior. With law enforcement being such a high-profile public job there can be serious consequences arising from online missteps that extend beyond family and friends and into the work place.

A lot of LEOs take part in online social networking, while others are vocal in their belief that no cop should ever be a part of it, but why not? With discretion and care, it is a world you can reconnect with your past and network for your future.

First decision

Take control of your social media and decide what you want it to be. Are you going to connect with everyone you ever knew, or is it reserved for only close family and friends? Are you going to include people you work with, such as supervisors, or only those you spend time with outside work? Making these decisions will help you set boundaries on what to share on your social media pages. For instance, if the page is intimate and small then it is appropriate to share more personal information. However, if you have every person you work or have a casual acquaintance with in your network or friends list then it is best to stay positive and to only share details about yourself that you would share with a perfect stranger.

People form opinions about you based upon what you post or tweet. A negative facebook status update about your personal relationship with your wife could come back to haunt you at the job. Who wants a supervisor or a coworker to believe you are an emotional basket case with no boundaries? You especially do not want to post anything negative about a coworker, supervisor, or the agency you work for. Even in the corporate world, some employees are being disciplined for their lack of discernment in what they post, and many more create impressions that can have longstanding negative consequences.

Privacy measures

After you decide the purpose of your network page then go into the privacy settings and set them accordingly. If you do not want everyone to view your page or to be able to find you, set it as such. Pick the settings that fit the purpose of why you want to be on that site. Also, check your settings often because sites will make changes without notifying you and information you thought was blocked, such as a home phone number, can be revealed.

Privacy does not mean truly private

For most officers a thorough background check was conducted prior to being hired and in your career you are subject to consequences if your behavior is viewed unbecoming of an officer. It is not unheard of for LEOs to be disciplined because of activity on social media outlets. Just remember all your written words on the internet are permanent. If you are ever involved in an incident, your social media posts and personal information may be subject to subpoena just like cell phone text and similar records. Imagine this scenario:

You are involved in a shooting. While completely justified, and necessary to save yourself from a violent felon who would have otherwise likely killed you, you (and your department) are sued by the family of the deceased felon who are claiming racial bias was the reason you chose to shoot and kill their beloved rather than employ a lesser degree of force to extract from his hand the loaded gun he pointed at you.

Do you really want to be associated with questionable comments or jokes you innocently floated on the net that could now make you seem racially insensitive (at best) or an outright racist (at worst) and that could be dug up and presented as evidence against you? Also keep this in mind when you accept friends into your network. If they have criminal records or you know they are engaged in criminal or morally questionable behavior, or are the types lacking discretion in what they like to post, consider the implication this may have for you if your department takes a look at your sites.

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