There’s been a lot of social media news this year, some positive, some negative. But the one issue that rears its head repeatedly is the one of privacy – people just can’t help sharing things, even when it could cost them their jobs.
News has emerged that in recent years, at least two UK police officers were sacked, seven quit and around 150 faced disciplinary procedures after posting inappropriate content on Facebook.
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The wrongdoings included harassing ex-partners and colleagues, and posting comments relating to other police officers’ wives, whilst some even suggested they’d beaten up members of the public during protests.
Among the more serious accusations were revelations that details of police operations had been shared on Facebook, whilst others had attempted to ‘friend’ crime victims.
Details were released to the Press Association on the back of a request made under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act, and it outlines the apparent blurring between police officers’ private and professional lives. But this isn’t the first time public bodies have gotten into hot water this year over social networking activities.
Back in October, Big Brother Watch, a UK-based civil liberties organization, placed a similar freedom of information request regarding the NHS, the UK’s public health organization. It reported that there were more than 800 confidentiality breaches in the past three years, across more than 150 NHS trusts. One such incident, at the Nottingham University Hospital NHS Trust, resulted in a member of staff being dismissed after posting a picture of a patient on Facebook.
Indeed, it seems people have still to come to terms with the open-all-hours, public nature of social networks and fail to realize that their activities are visible to the whole world. One of the police officers with the Hampshire police force was fired in 2009 – without notice – for posting a racist comment on Facebook.
The figures were gleaned from 41 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, and covered between 2008 and 2010. But there was also a case this year where a police officer was sacked for calling a fellow officer a “grass” and a “liar” on Facebook, whilst also harassing a female colleague.
The figures also showed that seven officers – including two special constables from the Dorset force and one from Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Essex, North Wales, and South Yorkshire – resigned following complaints regarding inappropriate content posted to Facebook.
One police officer from Devon and Cornwall Police was fined three days’ pay in 2008 for calling for violence against suspects in custody. Under a video posted of a young knife-wielding man who was being tackled by cops in a police station, he noted: “Look at this stupid c***, hope he gets a good f***ing shoeing in the cells.”
A total 187 complaints were made against officers over their use of Facebook, with nine officers given final written warnings, 47 written warnings and one receiving a formal warning.
“Social networking is seen as a risk by all forces and authorities, but there are limited or inconsistent policies around what is acceptable, what you should do, what you shouldn’t do”, said Roger Baker, who led a review into police corruption for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC). He continued: “We found a significant blurring between people’s professional lives on social networking sites and their private lives which may be in the public domain and private lives which probably should remain extremely private.”
Facebook now has 800m users around the world, with half the UK population – 30 million people – holding an account with the social network. But as we reported yesterday, 300m people around the world now access Facebook via a mobile app, meaning that people can update and post comments wherever they are, and often without fully considering what they’re posting.