I don't want to go into details on this one, but want to share what i have learned, by way of my top tips for your personal Facebook et.al. accounts. The red text signifies content added on 3rd Feb, a few days after the original article was published. Thanks to those who suggested the additions.
Let's start with the basic principle for the private profiles of cops and police staff; behave like your employer owns your private social media accounts.
This is something I learned from some great chats about why one would blog or tweet anonymously, and from the advice of those experts employed by the police themselves. Obviously it's not true that they own the profiles, but the view is that where you are identifiable as a cop or member of police staff, everything you do reflects on your employer. The morality and justice of this is for another day, but its an inescapable fact. If a member of the public sees that you work for the police, your conduct reflects on your force and colleagues.
All this means is that you need to consider what you write with this in mind; and it need not stop you from enjoying yourself.
However; consider the following. It is possible in the modern world for a person to get a Facebook account at age 12, go throw your angry teens, then discover alcohol, and then settle down into a career in the police. Would your teenage shenanigans reflect on you at your current age? It shouldn't, but I fear it probably would. The balanced amongst us would put it down to the folly of youth; but there isn't always a date and time attached to what you write...and it doesnt take into account the tiny tiny minority that want to cause you grief.
So here are some tips to enjoy social media in your personal life.
- Review your profile often: It's a fact of life that we all write things that seem to make sense, or are harmlessly funny, at the time but without context they can be seen completely differently. Check your posts, your profile content and your pictures.
- Just because they are 'friends' doesn't mean they are friends: I think this is self explanatory...be cautious who you accept as a friend as relationships change, and people can have ulterior motives.
- Privacy settings, get them right: Privacy settings are a nightmare. They are confusing. When you think you've got them right, you realise something slipped through the net. I recommend you make your facebook profile viewable to friends only, then guard your friends list like a stash gold. Twitter can be similar, but i choose to drop the privacy and try and think carefully about what i tweet.
- Pictures: As proud as you may feel in your uniform, there is nothing more embarrassing than seeing a colleagues facebook account peppered with pictures of them posing in their uniform. Not only is it very cringe worthy, but it identifies you as a cop and your personal facebook account becomes public property. Take a look at this article, and you see the dangers of being identifiable as a police officer on your personal accounts.
- Employer List: As is the way with photo's, publishing the fact that you are a police officer puts you in a very vulnerable position. A throw away remark can put you in hot water if a member of the public sees it, and sees you are a cop. So don't put your employer on your 'employment list'.
- On fb use the 'hide old posts' options: Ones past mistakes, no matter how hard you try to grow as a person, can often come back to haunt you. This applies to blog posts (believe me i know, my views have changed since day 1 of blogging), twitter, facebook and other platforms. You need to consider how others might interpret past content, and if you think it will be misinterpreted GET RID.
- 10 second time out: The great thing about social media is that you get to meet loads of new people. The disadvantage of it is that the ratio of tedious to amazing remains the same. If someone is goading you, or you disagree, give yourself a 10 second time out. That means a real time out, so walk away!
- Apply mental filter: Easier said than done, but train yourself to pause for a second before clicking 'Post'.
- Have a neutral or nice policy: Again, easier said than done. Avoid negatives completely, as there will always be someone who will disagree with you. Admittedly i dont always take this approach, but it has taken me a long time to find a style of writing that allows you to be critical...but constructively and positively.
- Screenshots: Private messages and Direct Messages are not private, and they are not a good place to hide. Apply the exact same rules to private messaging as you would do public messaging, because they can be captured with screenshot software.
- Humour: Last, but not least, humour isnt for everyone. One persons humour can be another persons insult. What may be appropriate in the locker room, may not be approprate when shouted from the roof tops...or social media.
Thanks for letting me write about this...if i make a mistake i want to try and turn that into something constructive. It is embarrassing to admit a mistake, but i hope my error helps you avoid replicating it.