Managing Toxic Behavior with Social Media Policies in Law Enforcement

As digital platforms expand to include (and blur) both public and private discourse, law enforcement agencies are brushing up against an unavoidable problem: managing toxic behavior that shows up online. Agencies can’t stop their officers from having social media accounts. As public trust increasingly gets worked out in digital spaces, it is imperative that law enforcement personnel understand the implications of their actions in public digital spaces. 

However, just as it is a standard practice to expect police officers to be exemplary citizens within their communities--therefore holding them to a code of conduct while off-duty--it is perfectly reasonable to extend those expectations into digital spaces as well. One of the simplest ways to set clear expectations with all personnel is by having 1) a clear, definable social media policy and 2) mechanisms in place to uphold those policies. Here’s what we mean:

Preventing toxic behavior begins with good policy

For law enforcement, department policy is not only a list of “do’s and don’ts”, it’s an ethical document that demonstrates an agency’s values. Policy has the power to address and influence an agency’s culture, and agency culture in turn has the power to influence the public--for better or for worse. A social media policy at an agency is successful when it is grounded by their code of ethics and resonates with an agency’s mission--for example, preserve public safety and public trust. Employees--especially in mission-driven industries like law enforcement--function best when they understand why a policy exists and how they benefit from it. Understanding that a social media policy not only protects an individual officer but also preserves the integrity of a department as a whole is essential to successfully integrating a social media clause into department policy. This organic approach can be an invaluable assist to preventing toxic behavior that poisons department culture and alienates public trust.

Consistency + Policy + Documentation = Actionable

Law enforcement officials know better than most that policy is most successful when it is steadily enforced. When it comes to creating a social media policy, consistency is everything. Not only does it strengthen the efficacy of the process, it helps maintain an internal culture of integrity and accountability that is integral to a functioning agency. 

What makes a policy actionable? First, we like to say that consistency plus policy and documentation equals an actionable process. An actionable policy for law enforcement defines the nature of social media posts, clearly states what is not permissible, and outlines consequences and disciplinary processes for infractions. Is it ever appropriate to post photos taken while on the job? What about politically or racially charged language, as seen in recent firings over social media?

Documentation may be the trickiest part of this process. In order for a social media policy to function efficiently, an agency must ensure that dozens, hundreds, or thousands of employees are maintaining department standards in digital spaces. As a steady stream of social media firing stories (see here and here) create PR disasters for local departments across the country, how can an agency afford to stay ahead of the game? Enter social media screening, an efficient way to leverage web and social data to maintain department policy throughout the employee lifecycle. By utilizing a social media screening service, a law enforcement agency can easily screen candidates as a prerequisite for employment as well as oversee current personnel’s public social data for intolerance, violence, or other acts that violate agency policy.

Create an infrastructure to ensure enforcement

Enforcing a social media policy via a screening service requires infrastructure in order to be a viable, compliant process. An agency must first have permissible purpose as well as require disclosures and authorization as required by the FCRA. Similarly, an agency must also provide a plan for adverse action, consumer disputes and reinvestigations, as well as reasonable policies and procedures concerning accuracy. As a CRA, Social Intelligence works with law enforcement agencies directly as well as through our partnerships to provide support and/or direct handling of this process. With the right tools, a social media policy can be a powerful mechanism for managing toxic workplace behavior and rebuilding workplace culture.


Questions? We’d love to walk you through the basics.