The Social Media Beat

Removing Offensive Posts and Blocking Those Who Post Offensive Comments

Removing Offensive Posts and Blocking Those Who Post Offensive Comments

By: Billy Grogan
Date: Friday, September 14, 2012

Billy Grogan

Billy Grogan is the Chief of Police for the Dunwoody Police Department in Georgia. Follow Chief Grogan on Twitter @ChiefGrogan.

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One of the best values for law enforcement agencies who use social media is the interaction that takes place between the agency and members of the community. Unfortunately, many agencies that use social media platforms, like Facebook, have opted to not allow comments thereby stifling community engagement. Reasons cited for not allowing comments vary but primarily fall into two categories.  The first is the fear of criticism of the department. This will not be discussed in this post. The second reason is the fear that inappropriate comments using vulgar language, racial epitaphs, or derogatory remarks will be posted.

Recently, one of the people who “likes” the Dunwoody Police Department on Facebook posted several comments which were derogatory in nature and were clearly racially insensitive. The comments were posted several times over the course of 3-4 weeks. The comments did not use profanity nor did they use any racial epitaphs. However, the comments were clearly racially biased toward African-Americans. Several open comments complaining about the offensive comments were posted as well. A comment was posted by the department reminding everyone to not post comments that were negative toward a group of people or racially insensitive. The department also removed several of the offensive comments. A message was sent to the person posting the comments advising they would be blocked from the department’s Facebook page if any similar comments were posted in the future.

Unfortunately, some people have difficulty changing their habits, especially bad habits. The subject again posted a derogatory comment toward African-Americans on the department’s Facebook page in response to a post by the department with details of a recent arrest. The department immediately deleted the comment and blocked this user from accessing the Facebook page of the Dunwoody Police Department.

As law enforcement’s use of social media continues to grow, many departments will face the important decision of whether they allow comments, the criteria used to remove comments if they are removed at all, and under what circumstances they will block a user if at all.

As mentioned previously, one of the key benefits of using social media is the engagement it creates with members of the community. If comments are not allowed on sites such as Facebook then the agency is missing a huge piece of the social media return on investment.  In addition, the question of whether the department should even use social media if no comments are allowed may even be appropriate. If no comments are allowed, the site is simply a bulletin board with no way to interact and no way to determine if what you are posting is even relevant or important to those who “like” your department.

If you allow comments, you must decide if you are going to allow all comments or limit them in some way. This is a potential minefield. You should never remove comments simply because they are critical of your department or any of your staff. Instead, focus on comments that use profanity, racial epitaphs, or that are derogatory in nature toward a group of people. Recently, a lawsuit was filed against the Honolulu Police Department for deleting comments on their Facebook page and the department has changed their comment policy as a result.  A best practice is to post your guidelines for removing comments on your social media site. In addition, a department could ask the person to repost the comments without the language or inappropriate content. A careful and well thought out approach to inappropriate comments will protect those young and impressionable individuals on your site as well as those groups targeted by the hateful or insensitive comments.

The decision to block a user is one that should not be taken lightly. Invariably, there may be individuals on your social media site who do not want to play by the rules. It is important that you have a clearly defined policy of how to deal with them. How tolerant will you be? How many inappropriate posts will you allow before blocking them? These are important considerations. Your answers will likely depend on the norms of your community.

When it comes to these sensitive issues, there are no hard and fast rules. There are few, if any, legal precedents established at this point in time. Instead, most agencies must get legal advice from their attorneys and act in what they believe is the best interest of their department and their community.
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    So you have found, or perhaps stumbled upon, The Social Media Beat, the blog for the IACP Center for Social Media Web site. The Social Media Beat is about three things: social media, law enforcement, and perspective. Here you will find a fresh outlook on the issues that are affecting law enforcement agencies and their personnel when it comes to social media.

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    Dionne Waugh

    Dionne Waugh is the social media guru for the Richmond Police Department. As a member of the Department's Public Affairs Unit since September 2008, she created and developed the agency's successful use of social media and continues to try and find new ways to improve the way Richmond Police communicate online. She has spoken about law enforcement and social media at more than a dozen conferences across the country in addition to the past four IACP annual conferences. Waugh is a former newspaper reporter who wrote about crime, police, and the court system for six years. That experience and an ingrained curiosity for what makes people tick has fueled her desire to improve communication between people. Follow Dionne on Twitter @RichmondPolice.

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    IACP's Center for Social Media serves as a clearinghouse of information and no-cost resources to help law enforcement personnel to develop or enhance their agency's use of social media and integrate Web 2.0 tools into agency operations. The Center is funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

    Leon Robertson

    Officer Leon Robertson is the Social Media Coordinator for the Hampton Police Division. Robertson has developed internationally recognized public safety messages, including the Jingle Bells “Holiday Safety Remix” in December 2013. He has extensive experience in graphic design, video & audio production, and managing various social media platforms. You can follow Officer Robertson’s efforts with the Hampton Police Division on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

    Tracy Phillips

    Tracy is a Senior Project Specialist with the IACP. She is responsible for managing the day-to-day operation of the DiscoverPolicing.org Web site and coordinating the site's social networking plan. In addition, Ms. Phillips provides writing, editorial, and technical assistance on a variety of association projects and activities, including police management studies, job analyses, executives searches, federal grants, and various research projects and proposals. She has more than 10 years of experience in state and local government, including work as a management analyst, performance auditor, and crime analyst. Ms. Phillips holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of Georgia and a bachelor's from Clemson University.

    Want to hear more from Tracy Phillips? Follow her and the Discover Policing team on TwitterFacebook, and on the Inside Discover Policing blog. You can also network with other police recruitment professionals in the Law Enforcement Recruitment LinkedIn group.

    Dave Norris

    Sergeant Dave Norris is a 21 year veteran of the City of San Mateo Police Department. He has worked in a number of positions including Juvenile Detective, Field Training Officer, Narcotics Detective, and Patrol Supervisor. Dave is currently assigned to Community and Media Relations and oversees day-to-day functions that involve the relationship between the police, the community, and the media. Dave is dedicated to the increase of community engagement through the use of social media. Under his management, San Mateo PD's direct subscribers to community alerts and public safety messaging has grown from several hundred to over 22,000.

    Chris Hsiung

    Captain Chris Hsiung commands the Field Operations Division at the Mountain View Police Department in California. Through the department Community Action and Information Unit (CAIU), he manages strategy, community engagement, and growth through the police department social media channels. Chris has been serving the Mountain View community for over 19 years and has held a variety of assignments within MVPD. These include detective assignments in Property Crimes, Person Crimes, and High Tech Crimes as well as collateral assignments on SWAT and the Field Evidence Team. He also serves on the planning committee for the Bay Area Law Enforcement Social Media Group (BALESMG). You can follow him on Twitter @chMtnViewPD.

    Lynn Hightower

    Lynn is the Communications Director and Public Information Officer for the Boise Police Department and has served in that role since October, 2003. Lynn also serves at the PIO for the Boise Fire Department. Lynn authors and manages the social media outreach for Boise Police and often acts as media spokesperson. She advises officers from patrol to command staff on media and public communications skills. Lynn joined the Boise Police Department after 17 years as a television reporter, producer, anchor, and news director. Lynn regularly instructs new officers at the Boise Police Academy and has given media and public communications presentations to dozens of federal, state, and local emergency responder agencies. Follow Lynn and Boise Police on Twitter @BoisePD.

    Billy Grogan

    Billy Grogan is the Chief of Police for the Dunwoody Police Department in Georgia. Chief Grogan was hired on December 17, 2008, after serving 28 years with the Marietta, Georgia, Police Department, to start a brand new department. On April 1, 2009, the Dunwoody Police Department began operations with 40 sworn officers and eight civilians providing police services to the 47,000+ residents of the City of Dunwoody. Chief Grogan embraced the use of social media from day one of operations. The Dunwoody Police Department began using Twitter the first day and has added Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Vine to their arsenal since then as effective tools to market their department and engage their community. Chief Grogan has written about the benefits of law enforcements use of social media, participated in several social media focus groups and lectured at the IACP, Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, COPS Conference, and many other venues. Follow Chief Grogan on Twitter @ChiefGrogan and the Dunwoody Police Department @DunwoodyPolice.

    Ben Gorban

    Mark Economou

    Mark Economou is the Public Information Officer for the Boca Raton Police Department in Boca Raton, Florida. His media and public relations background spans nearly 20 years. Spending nearly 15 years in radio and television news, Economou held many positions from assignment editor, reporter, anchor, and executive editor. After that, he served as the Director of Media Relations for Cote & D'Ambrosio, a Public Relations, Marketing and Advertising firm in Wickford, RI. He then served as head of Media Relations for Citizens Bank of Rhode Island, the 9th largest bank in the United States. Follow Mark on Twitter @BocaPolice.

    Frank Domizio

    Corporal Frank Domizio has been with the Philadelphia Police Department since 1997. He is currently assigned to the FBI’s Regional Computer Forensics Lab as a Forensic Examiner. Previously he was assigned to the Department's Office of Media Relations and Public Affairs where he was the Social and Digital Media Manager. Frank has spoke at several industry conferences and major universities on the topics of social media and content strategy.

    Tim Burrows

    Tim Burrows was a sworn police officer for 25 years with experience in front line operations, primary response, traffic, detective operations, and supervision. He has training in a broad spectrum of policing responsibilities including IMS, Emergency Management, computer assisted technology investigations, leadership, community policing, and crisis communications. Tim left policing but has remained involved through consulting with law enforcement on the advancement of communications and social media. Tim runs #CopChat on Wednesday nights at 9pm ET, to allow police and community members to connect and break down barriers. To learn more about him you can follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook or click here to contact him http://bit.ly/ContactTimBurrows

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