WHAT WE THINK: Most of the law enforcement friends I share profiles with are bright, discreet professionals who are aware of the potential damage the wrong kind of information posted on Facebook can do. What I’m not sure all of you consider is your safety, as well as that of your loved ones and colleagues. Hear me out.
Yes, some officers have embarrassed themselves and their departments — and have been disciplined for it. Officers and departments have been sued by defendants. A New Mexico officer involved in a fatal off-duty shooting some time back listed his job on Facebook as “human waste disposal” — an ambulance chaser’s dream.
At the same time, law enforcement agencies everywhere have found clever strategies for not only spreading the word about their services but also for catching bad guys — through public pages.
But these are other discussions for other times. I’m talking about YOUR purportedly personal pages.
Some departments prohibit their officers from identifying their employers. Smart move, say those officers I know. But I think it takes more than adjusting your settings to “friends only” to stay safe. Just ask the officers whose photos have ended up on hit lists, including 30 in Phoenix a couple years back.
The problem is that many of you can’t help putting police-related photos and posts on your personal pages. Guess what? That identifies what you do — and, if you‘re not careful enough, where you do it.
So much for ever getting off patrol and working undercover.
I would never tell anyone NOT to network socially. And I can’t in good conscience tell you NOT to put up photos of your kids when I‘ve all-but made mine a mini-celebrity.
A few things I will insist on, however, my law enforcement friends:
1. Don’t put any job identifiers whatsoever on your personal page. Those of us who already are your friends know what you do.
2. Pay close attention to each and every change that Facebook makes (seems there’s one every time you log on) so that a new wrinkle doesn’t expose you to anyone outside your immediate circle of family, friends and co-workers.
(Honestly: I’d consider having an officer in each department act as the unofficial watchdog, just in case Facebook tries to slip a new one by.)
3. At the same time, I urge you to know as much about maintaining your Facebook page as you do about using your service weapon. In both cases, you don’t want either turned against you.
To be on the safe side, go into your privacy and account settings right now and lock down each and every item (just don’t forget to come back here, OK?). Make sure people who aren’t supposed to can’t see your friends list. And if you see an application you don’t remember, or trust, delete it.
Which reminds me….
I know I don’t have to tell you, but it’s the older brother syndrome in me: Don’t play ANY third-party games. Don’t send anyone virtual drinks or join the Mafia or pick the vegetable that best describes you.
The very first thing Facebook does when you do that is gather up ALL your information, as well as all of your friends’ information, for advertisers and any other prying parties. Once your friend does the same, your information is now moving along with his or hers.
If you look closely, it even says you are giving FB permission to do it when you click one of these apps.
And in the end the only reason for them in the first place is so that you can be convinced to unlock your personal info — the very last thing you want to do if you are in law enforcement.
This also may seem annoying, but I’m going to add one more suggestion: Make sure people you know understand that, under no circumstances, should they “tag” you.
Believe me, I‘m not trying to be a killjoy. If I was, I would tell you to never, ever “like” ANYTHING, given the possibility that some lawyer could use it against you in court. I‘d even tell you to be extra careful about your friends. You never know who might rat you out to the chief for something you (or I) think is harmless clowning.
After you’ve sent this link to your friends (thank you very much), go Google yourself.
No — seriously. See what you find.
After all, in your line of work, you don’t need any surprises.