Police cautioned over social networking use

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POLICE officers have been warned about the threat of criminals trying to befriend them through social networks to gain information.

The warning was issued after two officers were disciplined for posting information about police incidents on their Facebook pages.

Police chiefs have now issued an advice leaflet to all staff with guidelines on the acceptable use of social media sites.

The guide contains advice aimed at protecting officers’ personal security and ensuring that investigations are not compromised by postings on Facebook, Twitter or other sites.

The force would not disclose the nature of the postings by the disciplined officers, or the incidents to which they related.

Councillor Iain Whyte, convener of the police board, said: “The board are very supportive of this guide. Police officers have to be concerned about information getting out into the public domain and what they say about their work.

“People are often more open on social media than they would be in the course of their normal lives. Officers need to exercise the same caution as they would if they were speaking in public.

“Officers have very sensitive jobs and they have to be very aware of that.”

Police chiefs have ordered that officers do not display the Lothian and Borders Police logo on their personal profiles, or identify themselves as working for the force. It adds that officers should not “discuss your work in anything more than general terms ie ‘I had a good day at work’”.

Posting police emails on personal sites is also prohibited and photographs of themselves in uniform is banned along with pictures of “any item” which can identify the user as an officer.

Alongside the advice on social networking, the guide features parameters for maintaining blogs, citing that they should “always be respectful of Lothian and Borders Police, other employees and members of the public” while officers should not join groups “which may be considered inappropriate and/or offensive to others”.

It adds: “You should never, under any circumstances, disclose any operational information on the internet or social networking sites.”

A police spokesman said: “Lothian and Borders Police can confirm that a guidance leaflet on safe and appropriate use of social networking was issued to staff.

“The leaflet offers advice to officers on personal safety as well as highlighting their obligations in relation to ensuring the high standards of the force are maintained.

“This initiative is not unique to Lothian and Borders Police and has been instigated by officers who have sought and indeed welcomed guidance on the issue of social networking.

“Lothian and Borders Police is an advocate of social network sites as demonstrated by our use of Facebook and Twitter to interact with the community. The leaflet aims to support this view whilst protecting employees.”