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4 ways you could be fired for using social media

By now, you’re probably sick of reading about an officer getting fired for posting something incriminating to his or her Facebook wall. Even though there have been a lot of incidents where officers have been suspended or investigated for both on and off duty social networking misuse, many cops aren’t learning from others’ mistakes.

Here are some of the top reasons why officers are getting in trouble for social media misuse. Let these tips serve as a reminder to patrol your social networking pages to help you avoid getting the ax for a social media misstep:

1.) Visiting inappropriate social networking sites while on duty. Recently, 28 officers in Nebraska were fired for watching videos or TV shows online while working. If your department’s computers restrict certain websites, then it is probably easier for you to avoid visiting inappropriate content online. But with the increased use of smart phones that can play digital media, keep in mind that watching funny YouTube videos, streaming television shows, or playing games on your personal phones is absolutely inappropriate behavior while on duty. Check with your supervisor or department policy if you’re ever in doubt about what kinds of websites are considered unsuitable.

2.) Violating department policies on personal social networking pages. Let’s keep it simple: if you don’t think you would email something to your boss, avoid putting it on your Facebook or MySpace pages. On the other hand, if there’s confidential content that you’d only feel comfortable discussing in an on-duty setting, keep it that way! An officer in Massachusetts was criticized for posting a picture of a dead person (someone possibly connected to a criminal investigation) on her Facebook page.

Be prudent — don’t put any material on your personal pages that you think might be used against you. Posting a video of you and fellow officers burning a dummy in a department uniform off duty might sound like something you’d never do, but some Wisconsin deputies resigned for doing just that.

3.) Divulging trade secrets on social networks. This tip is just common sense. Do you want gang members to get a hold of information sharing how your department interrogates suspects? Didn’t think so. On the Internet, everything is searchable. If you’re bragging in an online forum about your recent drug interdiction success, make sure that forum is locked for secure, law enforcement officers only beforehand. Police1 fosters a secure environment for cops to share information, but not all websites do. Do a little research before telling that so-called “online friend” you have the best way to approach an armed suspect.

4.) Inappropriate or libelous content/commentary about your department. In Richard Weinblatt’s 10 social networking tips for officers, he said:

Avoid bashing the department. Depending on how it’s framed, it could open you up to administrative charges and possibly civil liability. More and more bloggers and online posters are being held responsible for their critical speech online, especially if it is later proved that the postings lack a factual basis and are intended to damage the target of the criticism. At the very least, launching such a site or contributing to an existing site that bashes the agency does not endear you to the powers that be or position you as a “team player” ripe for promotion.

He’s absolutely right. Proceed with caution when complaining about your supervisor on your Facebook page — even if you aren’t “Facebook friends” with anyone at work, you never know what comes up in an online search.

While some of this advice might seem like a no-brainer to some, it’s important to be conscious of how you behave online — it’s easy to slip-up without realizing it.

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.