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Nov 2010
When it comes to social media, you never know who might be watching

As police officers, we’ve known for a while now that some of the best places to catch criminals bragging about their illegal activities are social media networks like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube. There have been hundreds of cases across the country in which postings have helped solve crimes, break up drug rings, identify gang members and even catch rampaging teens abusing the homeless. As Todd Wright of NBC Miami put it, “The Internet is quickly becoming a police officer's best friend.”

But common criminals aren’t the only ones getting tripped up by their online indiscretions. According to a recent report in USA Today, police agencies across the country are now reviewing content posted on social networks to screen potential police recruits. And these law enforcement agencies are not alone. A recent survey commissioned by Microsoft found that 79 percent of hiring managers and job recruiters in the United States review online information posted on social networking sites and blogs to screen job candidates, and 70 percent have rejected an applicant based on the information they found. The surveyed professionals believe that the use of this information for screening purposes will “significantly increase over the next five years.”

Over the last few years, a number of law enforcement agencies have fired police officers over inappropriate postings on social media sites. One of the most notorious cases involved a Washington State Patrol cadet who was given the option of either resigning or being fired after officials received a complaint about content on his Facebook page. And the scrutiny is sometimes not limited to Internet content. A few months ago, the nation’s highest court issued a decision in a case dating back to 2003 affirming the City of Ontario’s right to review text messages sent by Sergeant Jeff Quon on city-issued pagers.

The bottom line is that we should all exercise caution and good judgment about what we share online. It’s important to remember that anything we post on a MySpace or Facebook account, or any video we upload to YouTube, could be readily accessed by people we wouldn’t normally share things with – no matter how uninteresting or insignificant we think the posting might be. Many criminals have firsthand knowledge of social media sites. These individuals are sophisticated and proficient in locating people through internet websites.We urge our members to make any and all of their social networking accounts private and accessible only to your most trusted associates. Be extra careful, and don't post anything that you wouldn’t want a criminal or prospective employer (or your mom!) to see.

Below are links to the Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter privacy policies, as well as explanations on how to change privacy settings. The last is a general guide on how to protect your online reputation.

  • You can’t be too safe.



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