Watching the Detectives

The First Amendment has been getting a workout in the era of social media. Politicians, athletes, celebrities, students, employers, prospective employers, educators, and law enforcement have all gotten caught up in the debate about what is considered free and protected speech on Facebook, Twitter and other online channels. Image

As new channels continue to emerge and current ones continue to evolve, the courts will continue to wrestle with these definitions and debates.

Some argue that members of the military, law enforcement and public-sector employees need to be especially careful with their social-media postings, even if they post images and messages during their free time.

One PR professional who specializes in advising law-enforcement organizations is quoted in this article as saying officers should abandon or otherwise not even register for any social-media accounts.

According to the article, one police officer posted a photo to Facebook while off-duty that showed teenagers and a bullet-ridden T-shirt of President Obama.

There’s no clearly defined policy for employees, including those in law enforcement, regarding the use of social media during off-hours. Most just try to adhere to the broadly worded guidance issued in August 2010 from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which advises uniformed and civilian employees to “be mindful that their speech becomes part of the worldwide electronic domain.”

Because social media often helps police in their work with communities, they should not abandon it. However, the IACP should better define guidelines for acceptable behavior, and departments across the country should institute training about its use both on- and off-duty.

What do you think?

Should police officers and others working in the public sector have the same rights to express themselves in social media? Should they disable their accounts or not register at all? Should their posts adhere to stricter standards than that of the general public?

We may never get to a clear answer. But one thing’s for sure. The debate will last a long time.

Posted on April 25, 2012, in The Hit Board. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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