The Ethical Use of Social Media




Andrews, Ben

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Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT)



The medium of social media represents a paradigm shift for how police departments interact with the public. Citizens expect service from their public organizations including the unbiased delivery of public information. Law enforcement agencies can build credibility with the citizens by being transparent and providing the information that citizens want and need to make informed decisions. In order to ensure that organizations are acting in the best interest of the public, organizations should reframe how they are treating social media. Public organizations have a long history of utilizing various forms of public relations, and much academic study exists in regard to the ethics of public relations. When reframed in this context, the ethical use of social media becomes a relevant issue. This paper argues that law enforcement agencies should adopt policies that determine how they will use social media. The aim of these policies is to ensure that agencies act ethically. The possibility of increased fear of crime as a result of more information is addressed as a counter position. This paper argues that while the fear of crime is a valid concern it does not outweigh and ethical responsibility to provide accurate information to the public. Social media is a novel platform due to its ability to facilitate two way communication between public organizations and citizens. Social media allows departments to share information on a scale that was previously impossible. Departments routinely use social media to build community support. The use of social media to build narratives is addressed in this paper as a counter position. While such tactics are no doubt effective, this paper argues that these methods should not be the primary purpose of social media and should be carefully balanced with other forms of information.


Police ethics, Police and mass media