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Social media isn't private and personal, IOPC tells officers


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Private groups and personal media accounts belonging to officers are covered by the same rules on standards, according to the IOPC.

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Write and wrong: private groups and Twitter comments have led to dismissals

Date - 23rd April 2021
By - Chris Smith 

The Independent Office for Police Conduct has issued a tough warning and a demand for officers to read the ethics code on social media use.

Private groups and personal media accounts belonging to officers are covered by the same rules on standards, it said.

A reminder of the rules on use came with a warning of dismissal for those found to have seriously breached the official guidance.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has been asked by the IOPC to write to all forces to repeat what the rules are – and ensure officers are briefed on their responsibilities.

IOPC Director General, Michael Lockwood, said “From racist, sexist, and other discriminatory comments to photographing crime scenes and using social media to contact victims of crime for sexual activity, it is concerning that a small number of police officers appear to think that this is acceptable behaviour.” 

It came the day after Devon and Cornwall officers were criticised over a private WhatsApp group.

The watchdog warned that the last two years had seen an increase in the number of cases of officers sharing offensive and inappropriate content, mainly in closed WhatsApp groups.

There have also been hearings over comments or images being published on personal Twitter accounts and comments made on Facebook.

Now the IOPC has drawn the line and warned officers to read the College of Policing’s code of ethics. 

The core advice is:

“Ensure that nothing you publish online can reasonably be perceived by the public or your policing colleagues to be discriminatory, abusive, oppressive, harassing, bullying, victimising, offensive or otherwise incompatible with policing principle.”

And also:

“Do no publish online or elsewhere, or offer for publication, any material that might undermine your own reputation or that of the policing profession or might run the risk of damaging public confidence in the police service.”

Forces have their own policies but the IOPC has effectively ordered forces to direct officers to the College of Policing rules.

To hammer the point home, the IOPC listed a string of cases where individual or groups of officers have broken the rules.

Among the cases dealt with by the IOPC was a West Midlands PC who was dismissed in 2019 for gross misconduct after making comments on a personal social media account that were deemed to be racist and sexist.

A police officer resigned from Cheshire Constabulary in November 2019 after being found to have contacted, via social media, three members of the public whom they had met during the course of their policing duties and proceeded to pursue a personal relationship with each of them.

In 2018 an independent panel concluded a South Wales police officer had a case for gross misconduct, with a sanction of a final written warning. The ruling came after a member of the public reported a number of potentially offensive Facebook posts.

But the biggest number of conduct cases have been focused on private WhatsApp groups were comments or images have been shared that break the rules

In the latest incident revealed this week, a group of Devon and Cornwall officers were subject to investigation after an altered image of US murder victim George Floyd was shared.

A group of officers were investigated last year after sharing images of a murder site on a private group.

And a pair of Essex Police officers were dismissed for gross misconduct last year for sharing derogatory and discriminatory images on a WhatsApp group..

Even official accounts run by media-trained officers have been challenged by the public.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne apologised after sharing a photo with armed officers and a Metropolitan Police officer was criticised after tweeting that they liked ‘kicking in doors’.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has already issued guidance on official accounts and forces are looking at how they use social media as a result.

North Yorkshire has reduced the number of official officer social media accounts to eight in a bid to improve monitoring of content.

The force said: “The changes we are putting in place will see fewer North Yorkshire Police social media accounts in order to make it easier for our communities to find the latest updates from the force and what is happening in their area.”

But it is personal use that has caused the most problems.

Mr Lockwood, said: “In the most serious examples we have seen grossly offensive images and messages which the public would be appalled by.

"Making discriminatory remarks, and the sharing of graphic and offensive memes and images, is unacceptable under any circumstances.”

The College of Policing said there were clear standards that are expected of officers.

It advised: “Police officers and staff would be expected to exhibit the highest professional standards at all times, including their use of social media, and abide by the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics. They should behave with honesty and integrity at all times.”

 

Read more: College of Policing, Authorised Professional Practice on Engagement and Communication 

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Wilts20

So easy to fall into the trap if you don't think first. 

Better to not be a part, than fall into it!

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BlueBob
8 minutes ago, Wilts20 said:

So easy to fall into the trap if you don't think first. 

Better to not be a part, than fall into it!

So sure, perhaps the mantra should be that social media will not your friend and will not keep your secrets😱

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Zulu 22

Social media, an unnecessary evil for those with at least one brain cell and a low IQ.

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Equin0x
21 minutes ago, Zulu 22 said:

Social media, an unnecessary evil for those with at least one brain cell and a low IQ.

I think this may be the first time I agree with you wholeheartedly!

 

This shows why it is important to fight for privacy rights. Even if you're a law abiding person, even if you're not doing anything "wrong", the chances are that with enough of your private data somebody could find something to get you on if they really wanted.

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BizzieBee
21 hours ago, Equin0x said:

This shows why it is important to fight for privacy rights. Even if you're a law abiding person, even if you're not doing anything "wrong", the chances are that with enough of your private data somebody could find something to get you on if they really wanted.

Absolutely ... ! 

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BlueBob
22 hours ago, Equin0x said:

I think this may be the first time I agree with you wholeheartedly!

 

This shows why it is important to fight for privacy rights. Even if you're a law abiding person, even if you're not doing anything "wrong", the chances are that with enough of your private data somebody could find something to get you on if they really wanted.

You may be surprised but possibly the least likely people to keep secrets secret .... will be police.  Almost all these WhatsApp type disciplines came to notice when one of the secreteers shared the secret messages outside the secret group.  Nothing to do with privacy more to do with stupidity  IMHO

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BizzieBee
2 hours ago, BlueBob said:

You may be surprised but possibly the least likely people to keep secrets secret .... will be police.  Almost all these WhatsApp type disciplines came to notice when one of the secreteers shared the secret messages outside the secret group.  Nothing to do with privacy more to do with stupidity  IMHO

So true. Then, others are called in, seizures, groups looked at and those in the Groups are then challenged. 

WhatsApp in Policing is a dangerous game. Don’t do it ...

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Equin0x

They could use Signal instead and have disappearing messages wipe the conversation every day, but then the force IT department will be after them when the Cellebrite machines start breaking down!

Edited by Equin0x
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ChristopherM

I'm glad I can say anything I want on social media!

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Zulu 22
3 minutes ago, ChristopherM said:

I'm glad I can say anything I want on social media!

Potentially part of the problem then.

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