Detective Lieutenant Barry M. Baker (ret.) is a 32 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department
Social media can be a helpful informational resource, or it can be detrimental to any police officer who underestimates its negative effects. Your participation on any public platform that shares opinions with others gives you ownership of your comments. Every time you put your finger over the send button you should pause and review. Ask yourself this basic question, “Do I really want to send this comment?”
Free speech is a wonderful thing, but don’t let it go to your head. Think about the career you’re considering. The police department you want to join is going to be interested in your social media history. It’s perfectly reasonable, because what you say and how you express yourself presents a good measure to evaluate your character.
Police Body Camera and Social Media
Police officers were always scrutinized for what they say and write, but the expanding use of social media intensifies scrutiny. The police body camera has a level of scrutiny all its own, but it has advantages. Many police officers never really had an appreciation for the perception of their actions by others. It didn’t matter if the action was perceived negatively, because perception is not a legal standard.
In particular, the body camera has forced police officers to pay attention to things they say. More importantly, the camera prevents an officer from saying something that serves no useful purpose. The similarity between the body camera and social media should be obvious. Both record your speech for posterity, and both project your level of competence and professionalism.
Misinformation versus Disinformation
Social media and all media in general are loaded with (mis) and (dis) information. What’s the difference? Misinformation is simply false. A person spreading misinformation believes the information to be accurate. A person spreading disinformation knows the information is false, and the purpose is to deceive others.
Many people on social media who should know the difference don’t seem to care which term they use. A police officer should know the difference, because you’ll continually be dealing with both forms. Victims and witnesses will get things wrong through simple misperceptions, and suspects will drown you in their lies of disinformation.
You should consciously transfer your accumulating knowledge of misinformation and disinformation to your own use of social media. Never forget that your success as a police officer depends on how well you develop and disseminate information. Facts will always support you while lies will destroy you.
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