What I learned about policing from my social media fast
Community attitudes toward law enforcement are much different in real life from what we are led to believe online
This article originally appeared in the November 2019 PoliceOne Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit Boomer cops | Unplugging social media | Door-to-door policing, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.
Many in law enforcement, including myself, believe the media too often grossly mischaracterizes our profession. The news media makes money by reporting the extraordinary in a manner that makes it appear as if it were ordinary.
Social media is even worse in this regard. I started to find myself becoming depressed after reading social media posts and online comments after certain news stories. I have been in law enforcement for a while and live in the community I serve. This means I am always at community events with my family. I started to ask myself, "Am I crazy, or is what is portrayed in the media reality?" The sentiments expressed online toward law enforcement just did not match what I was experiencing in "real life."
I decided to take a 40-day fast from social media including reading news media articles. I believe if every law enforcement officer, including administrators, did the same, it would help improve neighborhood relations.
Here are the three steps I took:
1. I went cold turkey and stopped using social media and checking media websites.
In my current role, not monitoring media isn't ideal but my mental health not being up to snuff is also not ideal. I figured if there was something in the media I needed to know about someone would let me know.
For the first few days, I felt a high level of anxiety. It was hard to keep myself from checking my phone but after four days my anxiety subsided. I found myself being more engaged in conversations with my family and paying attention to things I didn’t realize I had been neglecting.
I didn't realize it before starting the fast that I was addicted to social media and news websites. I found not looking at these sites allowed me to get my inner peace back.
2. I journaled about the neighborhood interactions I had during my social media and news fast.
Reading social media and news websites caused me to believe people in my state hated the police. During the fast, we had several officer-involved shootings that led to people protesting and posting negative things about law enforcement. I was expecting my neighborhood interactions to be contentious ‒ especially given my current position ‒ but my experience was the opposite. I found most people didn't even pay attention to what I thought they were paying attention to. I visited a large group of youth to discuss interactions with law enforcement and, during my discussion, I mentioned the recent highly publicized officer-involved shootings. Neither the teenagers or their teachers had any idea what I was talking about and had to get out their phones to look up the events I was referring to.
I experienced similar instances to this during my fast and it made me realize how much of a bubble I live in. Journaling more so than anything changed my mindset as it showed me how out of touch I was walking around thinking the majority of people felt a certain way about our profession when it couldn't be further from the truth.
3. I set aside time to spend with those who are close to me.
I actually called people on the phone instead of texting them. I found speaking with people helped me reconnect with my close friends in ways that texting or Facebook messenger does not.
Sitting down to break bread as opposed to clicking like on a Facebook post was far more enjoyable. I thought that being on social media allowed me to stay connected to those who are close to me but in reality, I found that not to be true.
Why you should unplug
Unplugging may not be easy, but everyone should try it. The media puts bait titles on stories for us to click on so they can charge more money for advertising. They know how to rile people up by publishing “us versus them” stories and we always fall for it. Let's stop allowing people to profit off community division.
Our neighbors support the police and that's the truth even in communities where the media portrays a lack of support. If we want to continue to improve our neighborhood relations we need to continue to connect with our neighbors face to face. Isn’t your peace worth more to you than a few likes on Facebook?