Conflict with criminals is inherent to law enforcement. On a regular basis, police officers face lawless individuals. Prevention relies on self-restraint or respect for the law, neither of which are strengths of criminals. Impact The nature of social media and law enforcement makes their relationship particularly volatile. Law enforcement officers can find their honor under serious attack online at any time. Cases have occurred where comments posted online by officers have led to disciplinary actions.
These behaviors have been the key focus of social media policies currently in place. Postings by the public—over which departments have no control—can be more damaging. Regardless of their level of truth, negative comments create lasting impressions. Empowered by social media, cop baiting presents a crisis for law enforcement. Questionable videos of police officers are popular on sites, such as YouTube, and can be financially rewarding to malefactors who file claims or lawsuits.
For some individuals, a citation or jail time is worthwhile if a cash payoff results. Threat Considerable problems can occur, with the greatest danger being the personal threat to officers and their families. Because of social media, law enforcement officers are public figures more so than ever before.
Barriers between their professional and personal lives have been diminished. Police may have no expectations that their homes and families will be protected from the dangers they face on the job. While this is not a violation of law, it certainly would send an intimidating message to the officer. To provide the most effective protection, departments should designate a social media manager to handle specific core functions.
Ongoing training on current issues, the hazards of social media, and self-protection is essential. A dedicated manager must ensure personnel are updated through e-mails, memoranda, briefings, and trainings.
Most of these websites will remove information if petitioned to do so. Each has its own procedures for making that request. These sites must be monitored to ensure the files do not reappear. Internet and social media alerts provide e-mail notification any time a specified word is mentioned or searched online. Many search engines offer these services free of charge. Personnel alerts could be directed to private e-mail accounts to avoid conflict with employee unions over privacy of off-duty activities.
The social media manager would monitor agency alerts. Many businesses have realized that paying attention to social media conversations can provide a wealth of information on consumer trends and product strengths and weaknesses.
Law enforcement agencies could benefit from listening for commentary about the department and its programs and personnel. This would allow them to capitalize on their strengths and to identify and mitigate negative images or potential dangers. Providing the most effective protection against an impending attack requires identifying the risk early and strategizing a defense.
Consistent monitoring of networking sites would provide an early warning system against any threats being developed or discussed online. Monitoring trends and incidents that might precipitate copycat behavior is crucial. Attention must be paid to these activities because one quickly could precipitate others.
Social media issues develop rapidly and spread extensively. Agencies serve their best interests by protecting officers from dangers easily propagated through social media.
Departments are impacted by claims or lawsuits, compromised officer credibility, damaged department image, and relocation expenses associated with plausible personal threats. Social networks present risks that law enforcement agencies must acknowledge.
Hoping that large-scale impacts will not occur does not lessen the costs when they do; proactively addressing the possibility will. These actions may not protect officers and agencies from the hazards social media presents, but they will minimize exposure and provide the greatest level of defense currently available.
Conclusion It can be more cost effective to develop solutions after problems occur, rather than taking preventive actions that might not prove necessary. The concern with this approach is that the relationship between the police and social media is volatile. Social networks generate momentum, and law enforcement agencies provide a stimulus for that energy. Departments must take responsibility for protection from this threat before they become blindsided by a sudden viral attack on their officers.
Kahn, Leonard Kleinrock, Daniel C. Lynch, Jon Postel, Larry G. On some sites, people have to accept the link; in others, they do not.