In today's society social media is abundant and LEO's need to know what their responsibilities are for their postings on different media. As a LEO all posts should be professional, although social media has made it possible to communicate with family and friends, it is important to remember that anything that you "post" creates a permanent record which could lead to discipline if you work in the public sector.
Many LEO's have been terminated over Facebook posts that their employers found to be in poor taste.
This article will look at the Hudson County Social Media Policy as it applies to Facebook and a forum that officers believe is "private" which they have used to create a hostile working environment for a Union Board Member and to divulge protected medical information. Moreover, they have posted a photograph of the late Robin Williams together with a noose that could be interpreted as a suggestion.
The Hudson County Social Media Policy states:
The HCDOC recognizes that social media has become a normal part of the daily routine of many, if not most, of its employees. As such, it becomes essential that the department set parameters inside of which individuals may feel free to express their opinions as private citizens without treading into territory which may contribute to or create a hostile work environment, may make the individual susceptible to disciplinary measures based upon comments made in an open forum which impair working relationships or the department’s ability to effectively operate, or negatively affect the public’s perception of the department. For the employee, it is important to bear in mind that statements posted online are governed by the same rules and regulations as normal speech, and are subject to the same standards. The prime difference is that online speech leaves an indelible record, and the author continues to be responsible for its content indefinitely.
Additionally, HCDOC staff is cautioned that, due to their status as public employees, any postings, comments or speech made on or off-duty which include any component that may link those postings, comments or speech to the department or the individual’s position as a law enforcement officer is not protected under the First Amendment and may form the basis for disciplinary action up to and including termination.
The Court's have held that different rules apply to private versus governmental agencies as to what is and is not protected. Please remember that your posts are memorialized forever and can be used against you well into the future. Also remember, that someone who wishes to gain access to your posts only need send a subpoena to Facebook or the media you are using.
The Social Media Policy is lengthy, but I want to touch on a few points:
To prevent issues such as these from occurring in the online community, and therefore the public at large, staff members, either personally or through and agent or representative,are directed not to:
·Comment on any aspect of the HCDOC or County Administration which is outside that member’s immediate area of responsibility or knowledge;
·Post or publish any private, confidential or classified information relating to any individual working for, or under the control of, the HCDOC;
·Post any statements which are maliciously false and are meant for no other practical purpose than to damage the reputation of any member of the HCDOC or County Administration;
I point out these directives as it pertains to the reason for the Board Member's Leave from work. I also point to the "maliciously false" Directive # 3 as it pertains to a flyer posting about Corrections Week.
Lastly, remember that Facebook memorializes the date and time of your posts. So, it is easy to see whether you are posting while you are on duty.
Staff members shall refrain from accessing or posting online content during the course of the individual’s assigned shift, unless specifically directed to do so and in conjunction with departmentally approved content and material, so as to avoid allegations of possession of unauthorized electronic devices within the confines of the secure facility.
In other words, it is already clear who is posting while on duty. EdPDLaw is a private business and not a governmental agency so the rules are different as they apply to these blogs which are protected by the First Amendment. I would hate to see an officer terminated over a Facebook post. Perhaps you should concern yourself less with my business and more with following your agency rules. I would suggest that you confer in person or use the telephone (if it's not tapped).
To satisfy your curiosity, just recently an officer and the County attempted to sue EdPDLaw and the PBA and the court's dismissed the suit as being without merit. Moreover, nearly all of the information posted on this web site is a public record supplied to EdPDLaw from the County, Civil Service, Division of Pension, Prosecutor's Office or other Department by way of OPRA request. If you were not "gossiping" on your forum and clicked on links associated with the stories you would see that the information comes from the County itself. It comes from the Finance Department, the Personnel Department, the Legal Department, and from Lt. Edwards in the Office of Professional Standards.
I will be more than happy to speak with anyone who wants to discuss this further. (609) 377-5948