Police Officers Online: Web 2.0 Worries for Public Employers

handcuffsEmployers everywhere are facing new challenges when it comes to employees’ use of social media. These technology-based challenges are different, though, for every employer and have different nuances between industries. Certain employees’ off-duty posts on social-networking sites, such as Facebook, can have significantly more impact than others. Police officers are one such type of employee.

For example, one criminal defendant in New York, who was facing charges for weapons possession, used the arresting officer’s MySpace and Facebook pages to get the charges dismissed. At trial, the officer was questioned about his Facebook status, which said that he was “watching Training Day to brush up on proper police procedure.” And, on the day of the defendant’s arrest, the officer’s “mood” on his MySpace page was set to “Devious.”

A Columbia, Missouri police officer was issued a serious discipline after internal affairs determined that he had posted information about the juvenile record of a protester who had been photographed and quoted in a newspaper story about police brutality. Although the officer has posted the comments under a pseudonym, the protester (and his lawyer) didn’t have to jump to too many conclusions before guessing someone from law enforcement was the likely poster, simply given the fact that juvenile records are not available to the public.

These stories are just two examples of the difficulties employers face when attempting to manage employees’ off-duty Internet activities. These Web 2.0 challenges, though, are complicated anytime a public servant is involved. And, as these stories show, public employees who interact directly with the public will be held to an even higher standard than most.

For more on social media and off-duty conduct, see:

Employee Fired When Her Sex Blog Is Discovered by Her Boss

Judge Shows Why Employers Should Consider Prohibiting Employees From Posting Anonymously Online

State Off-Duty Conduct Laws and Facebook-Friending Policies

Use Twitter, Get Fired