Facing increased criticism over the conduct of police officials and firemen, New York City has issued strict social media policies focused on tamping down the offending comments of its officers. New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly ordered the distribution of the new guidelines to regulate the comments and impact of the offers’ social media activities. The policy does not cover firefighters, though reports suggest a similar policy is under development.
As the New York Times reports, “police officers across the city checked their accounts to see if anything they had posted might run afoul of the new rules. Some edited their personal accounts to remove references to the department.” The Times quoted Roy T. Richter, president of the Captains Endowment Association. “Such an order is not unexpected. The only surprise is that the order was not put out before now.”
The new policy comes on the heels of incidents in which very public incidents involving social media, including racially inappropriate tweets that led to the resignation of the fire commissioner’s son. Kelly denied the policy was a direct result of the incident, saying the order’s development predated this latest incident.
Robert Gonzelez, a police training expert at John Jay College, has been quoted as saying the guidelines constitute “unauthorized censorship. Members of the NYPD are proud public officials and should be authorized to express that right on social media sites without retribution.
The NLRB has been very aggressive in voiding social media policies that interfere with the rights of workers to organize. The Operations Management Memo has found most social media policies overbroad. Among the limitations on social media policies, employees have the right to wear company logos even when protesting working conditions. Policies that prohibit their right to self-identify as employees or to wear uniforms outside of work are a violation of these rights.
Compare those policies to the NYPD guidelines as reported by the New York Times:
The policy restricts posting photos of other officers, tagging them in photos or putting photos of themselves in uniform — except at police ceremonies — on any social media site.
Employees are “urged not to disclose or allude to their status” online. Disclosing one’s employment could result in that person being ineligible for certain sensitive roles.
The New York Times correct lists other aspects of the policy as good practice and appropriate: “Do not post images of crime scenes, witness statements or other nonpublic information gained through work as a police officer; do not engage with witnesses, victims or defense lawyers; do not “friend” or “follow” minors encountered on the job.”
Once the initial bad press of online misuse fades, the issues of government limitations on employee’s social media will again rise to the surface as a significant issue for employment in the public sector. The NYPD guidelines provide fuel rather than direction for this debate.