Social media and law enforcement: Knowing the boundaries


There is increased frequency with which officers are being disciplined or finding themselves at the wrong end of a department policy based on their use (or misuse) of electronic media. Specifically, social networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter have caused some unexpected problems for officers. This trend follows other Internet-related disciplinary run-ins resulting from officer blogs, viewing of Internet pornography sites on department computers, and officer websites displaying questionable material in terms of taste and propriety. Most recently, an officer was disciplined for comments he made on the website for a local newspaper.

While the viewing of prohibited Internet sites from the workplace is a cause for employer discipline of an employee in both the public and private sector, the issues surrounding social networking sites may be a bit more muddled.

As a generation of new officers who have grown up with access to these social networking sites enter the ranks, they are less inclined to see the problem with social networking sites and employer placed limits on their off-duty use. Just as a prior generation of officers were forbidden to frequent certain establishments when off-duty, a new generation of officers may be precluded from their activity on the Internet.

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