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8 tips for controlling obscenities and trolls on your PD’s Facebook

When “keyboard commandos” want to spew their venom on your department’s social media pages, what should you do?

Law enforcement receives a great deal of negative attention on social media, especially in recent months due to some high-profile use-of-force cases.

With the proliferation of ‘citizen’ journalists and body-worn cameras capturing every move, those videos in combination with negative opinions and often slanted media opinions has caused a huge increase in trolls on law enforcement agencies’ social media pages.

Differing opinions are one thing, but hateful, often threatening posts are another, and departments are scrambling to find a solution. Here are eight things social media managers can do to put out the Facebook fires:

1. Use Caution When Deleting
Recently, a law enforcement social media manager reached out to Police1 asking how to deal with derogatory comments being placed on her department’s Facebook page. The page had been bombarded with negative comments after a jail surveillance video was released to the public that stirred some controversy.

With the exception of obscene or violent speech on a department’s Facebook page, you should leave comments made by others — regardless how critical they may be — published on your page.

There are lawsuits filed against the Honolulu Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department due to their censorship of comments made by members of the public.

Criticisms can be an opportunity to start a conversation and promote transparency — and deleting them can come off like the department is trying to cover up the issue.

2. Filter Out Profanity
Most — if not all — social media managers have a slew of curse words placed into the profanity filter of our Facebook pages. This will cause a post to automatically be hidden to everyone except the person who posted if it contains any of those words.

3. Understand the Telecommunications Act
Take a look at the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Section 502. This bill, which was passed by both the House and the Senate, covers obscenity and communications, which are intended to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person who receives “the communication.”

The Communications Decency Act has been tested in several lawsuits involving social media, and it has prevailed. In the event you believe you may be covered under this act, please consult your department’s legal affairs or city attorney.

4. Push Your Positive Content
When the “keyboard commandos” start attacking your page, push positive, engagement-producing content on your social media pages, and keep pushing it. Curate content that you can tie to your department, and publish frequently.

After you do so, hang around for about 20 minutes. Immediately respond to anyone who asks questions on your post, to show you are connected and to spark positive conversation.

5. Let Defenders Defend
The more engaging and active your social media managers are on your page, the more legitimate followers you’ll accumulate, who are there because they support your agency and its mission.

Negative comments on our Facebook page are actually few and far between. Even still, I rarely need to do anything with people who leave a negative post, because our followers will step up almost immediately and defend our department.

6. Minimize Comment Capability
One thing you might consider is removing your review ratings, by clicking on the “About” tab, going down to the address field, and selecting the edit icon on the right. You will see a map under the address. Uncheck the box under the map, which is for showing the map, check-ins, and star ratings on the page.

The second option is click on “Settings” and under the tab “Posting Ability,” check the box next to “Disable posts by other people on my Page timeline.”

7. Acknowledge, and Move On
When something negative happens in your department, the worst thing you can do is try to dodge the bullets or remain silent. It will be very apparent if you try to avoid the issue.

Recently, a sheriff did an excellent job addressing the public’s concerns over a use-of-force incident. He immediately addressed the issue on social media, stating he found a video recording of the incident disturbing, and he assured the public a thorough investigation would be conducted.

Just as we have learned from the business world, we must always acknowledge the incident and assure the community the department will do the right thing.

8. Use the Amateur Boxing Rule
Noted social media evangelist, author, and speaker Guy Kawasaki advises people to stick to the Amateur Boxing Rule, which is: You post a comment: Round one. Someone responds to your comment: Round two. You respond to their comment: Round three. That’s it. Period.

There is no sense in going round and round with someone, because in reality, no one is keeping score other than you and the other person.

Disclaimer: Since I really enjoy my house and car, I have to leave this disclaimer. Please do not construe anything in this article as being legal advice. It is solely a professional opinion on law enforcement social media. Please consult an attorney for any legal questions, concerns, or procedures related to your social media pages.

Officer Mike Bires has been a police officer for more than 20 years in Southern California. Along with working assignments in corrections, SWAT, bike patrol, and as a field training officer, Mike is currently a university resource officer for a large university. Having a background in website design and development, he is on the Azusa Police Department’s Social Media Team and is the developer of their website. He is also the founder of LawEnforcement.Social, which is a law enforcement social media resource website.”

You can follow Mike on Twitter at @iSocialCop.

Contact Mike Bires