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On the Internet, silence cannot be misquoted

There have been occasions right here on Police1 that a comment has been posted we felt might be harmful to the person posting — we delete those whenever we find them

Editor’s Note: Recently in this space in the PoliceOne Career Newsletter, we’ve been featuring a collection of comments posted to the P1 Facebook Page — answers to a career-related question we’d posed to our “fans” there. This month, I’ve commandeered this feature to offer a quick tip.

A few days ago, I was speaking with a small group of law enforcers during a break in a daylong training seminar, and the topic of Facebook came up. Needless to say, each of us had at least one story to share about somebody we know/knew who had made an ill-advised post to the massive social networking service.

Each story told was hilarious — truly, world-class funny stuff. However, each individual instance could have gotten the “offending” copper a day off (at the very least).

Steer Clear of Trouble
When the laughter subsided, I asked: “Did anybody get any flack from the brass?”

“Nope,” was the collective response.

“They were lucky,” I replied.

“Yep,” the group agreed.

Social networking sites (particularly, in my opinion, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) can provide a variety of potentially career-enhancing opportunities. However, anything you say on the Internet can and may be used against you...

It all goes back to the training adage, “Don’t say [post] anything you wouldn’t want reprinted on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper.”

In terms of Facebook, that goes for photos, videos, comments, and even “likes” (on Twitter that’s “retweets”).

Silence Cannot be Misquoted
For the better part of two decades — way predating the social networking phenomenon but up to and including it — I’ve followed the sage advice offered on a placard posted beside the driver of every bus and train in the San Francisco MUNI public transportation fleet. It reads:

“Information gladly given, but safety requires avoiding unnecessary conversation.”

Translated, that is: if what you want to say doesn’t need to be said, simply don’t say it.

Coach Bob Lindsey — someone who is way, way smarter than me — puts it this way:

“Silence can’t be misquoted. It may be misinterpreted or misunderstood, but never misquoted.”

Look Out for Each Other
One final thought. While it should go without saying, I’ll say this: If you notice a “friend” on the Internet putting themselves in career jeopardy by virtue of their comments, reach out — obviously, this depends on whether or not you can actually speak with this person in the “offline” world. Let ‘em know you’re not judging them, but looking out for their best interests when you say, “Hey, just be careful, okay?”

A couple of years ago, I got a couple photographs sent to me by a Member who wanted to get his “snapshots” put up for the Police1 Photo of the Week. The images were of a very attractive young lady on the hood of his squad car. She was in — shall we say — a couple of very provocative positions. The name of the PD was emblazoned on the squad, clearly in view ...very near her ankles.


I wrote him back, thanking him for his contributions, telling him quite clearly why I would not be posting those to anyplace, let alone this website.

There have been occasions right here on Police1 that a comment has been posted we felt might be harmful to the person posting. We delete those whenever we find them, but with thousands and thousands of comments posted every month, we cannot find them all. Happily, our Members look out for each other, and we find our forums to be a place in which the group tends to police itself in this regard.

Sometimes I have to write a note to a P1 Member — reminding them of the public nature of the Internet, and the possibility their comments here on Police1 can be deemed by some to be unsavory. On the very rare occasion we get a “frequent flier” with regard to inappropriate posts, I’m forced to revoke their Membership. Those events are extremely rare, but in every case, I’ve specifically referred to their disregard for the Police1 User Agreement, which can always be found here.

The abovementioned applies equally to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and even the “comments” section on this very website). Further, it’s not some ground-breaking or earth-shattering piece of wisdom — it’s something we’ve all heard time and again. Even still, we keep seeing (or hearing about during a mid-morning coffee klatch during in-service training, in my most-recent experience), of boneheaded behavior being done by otherwise-outstanding officers.

Let’s all agree that in 2012, we’ll work to knock off the knuckleheaded stuff.

Stay safe folks.

Doug Wyllie writes police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug was a co-founder of the Policing Matters podcast and a longtime co-host of the program.