How to protect your online reputation

Much like having an excellent credit score at the credit reporting firms, a good online reputation can smooth the path for a badge bearer


Seattle Police officer Ian Walsh was captured on video in June 2010 — the video footage wasn’t of the law enforcer getting a medal at an awards ceremony. The Officer Walsh video went viral after he was captured on tape using force on two jaywalking women — a 17-year-old and a 19-year-old — who resisted his lawful commands. Walsh was later cleared and the 17-year-old has since apologized, but the videos, blogs, and comments keep coming. The YouTube video has garnered millions of views.

For law enforcers, reputation is a large part of a toolbox which helps to accomplish a dangerous and complex job. We often see how we are viewed in the real world, but seldom ponder the virtual world. That’s changing — we see more articles now on what to do and what to not do on Internet sites — but our reputation is also impacted by what we do on the streets that later ends up online.

Arenas of Credibility
There are a number of different arenas in which your reputation manifests itself. On the asphalt, there’s the all-important “street cred.” Back at the office, there’s how the higher ups view you. In the courtroom, cases are won or lost in part due to a police officer or deputy sheriff’s reputation for credibility and honesty. And in the patrol cars, there’s the ever-important perspective that your brother and sister badge bearers have of you.

While at least some people have thought to check up on their credit score reputation, very few do so with their virtual credibility. They don’t know if they are thumbs up or thumbs down in the world of the web. This is vital in the era of cell phone cameras and online blogs and commentary. Few professions are as much in the public eye, and online world, as that of the law enforcement officer. Once it’s online, it’s out there and can’t be retrieved, called back, or deleted.

Your name and your reputation are vital assets for today’s law enforcers. Your “cred” can make your job easier or harder. Much like having an excellent credit score at the credit reporting firms, a good online reputation can smooth the path for a badge bearer. Online videos, blogs, and postings can enhance your reputation, or can trash it.

Virtual Thugs
For some time now, numerous law enforcement agencies have investigated crimes which occurred via or were documented on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, and others. While we have used these tools to keep an eye on our investigation targets, so too have they put the Internet bull’s-eye on the backs of our uniforms.

All walks of life are now wired. It’s not just the stereotypical pocket protector nerdy computer geek. White collar criminals, motorcycle gangs, street thugs, and teen gang bangers are tapping keyboards posting comments, pictures, videos, and blogs on law enforcers.

I have long advocated transparency in what we do and applaud the exposing of brutal, unprofessional law enforcement which happens from time to time. Most officers are good, honest hard working crime fighters who don’t want the few bad apples to stay in our midst. The web has helped to that end, but it has also unjustly targeted the reps. of some straight arrows trying to do a tough job. Recall the case of Seattle Officer Ian Walsh mentioned in the opening of this article.

Reach of Online
The power and reach of the Internet and social media surprises even computer savvy folks. Here are some interesting tidbits that underscore the point.

• According to Reuters, social media has overtaken porn as the number one activity on the web
• Mashable reported that in November 2010, Twitter passed the 30 billion tweet mark
• Experian Hitwise said in March 2010 that Facebook has passed Google as the number one viewed site
• According to TG Daily, the second largest search engine is now YouTube
• LinkedIn claims that a new member joins them every second
• Social Web says that (as of March 2010) if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest at 400,000,000 population on Earth — behind China (1,336,450,000) and India (1,178,436,000)
• BizNik said that are over 350 social networks

Beyond the usual guidance I have written about in previous articles (including always assuming you are on camera and acting professionally as if your mother were watching), what can you do to check and enhance your online reputation? Are you thumbs up or thumbs down?

Here are a few tips to help you to find out.

Google Yourself
Many people have ‘Googled’ a prospective date, but Googling yourself is one of the best ways to check your own online reputation.

Type your name in quotation marks (for example: “Richard Weinblatt”) in the search box. Had I left off the quotation marks, I’d get a bunch of irrelevant search — the quotation marks narrow the search parameters.

You can search for everything or you can narrow it down to just blogs, video, photos, and a bunch of other segments of the web using the tools on the left side of the screen. You can also refine the Google search by date. The wonder wheel function allows you to search on the various permutations of your entered search term.

Google Your Agency
Often people will put up videos or postings without knowing your name. But they do know the name of your department and you could be the one in that web writing or visual media. While this may take a little more time to check each out, you can narrow the time frame being searched by using the “more search tools” on the left side of the Google screen.

Set Up Google Alerts
You can set up a regular web search on your name or agency that will automatically generate an email to you at a frequency you determine (daily, weekly). This prevents having to remember and manually enter the search every time.

Search with SocialMention
A really neat site is SocialMention. Similar to Google, SocialMention allows you to search your name or agency — again, in quotes — on everything social media related or narrow it down to blogs, news, video, and whatnot. It searches more than 80 social media websites. You can also set up email alerts or RSS feeds to automatically notify you. SocialMention gives you great analytics on your online reputation. For example, at the time of the writing of this article, I plugged in my name (in quotation marks), and not only did I see tons of web stuff with my name in it, I also saw that I was mentioned an average of every five hours (with the last mention being four hours prior). I also saw that 80 percent of posters are passionate, indicating that 80 percent posted my name multiple times.

You can also assess the sentiment ratio of the postings which are classified by SocialMention as positive, neutral, or negative. Be aware though that the keywords in police-related postings, comments, articles, and the like may be viewed as negative by the site (such as the word “force” or “TASER”) and can skew the ratio results reported.

Do a Twitter Search
You can check out Twitter using the same name or agency search entries using a couple different websites. On Twitter’s search, you can look for key words in Twitter timelines other than your own. They have an advanced tab to enable molding of search term parameters. Another useful Twitter search tool is TweetTag.

These are the main ways of tracking your online reputation. There are other sites such as YahooPipes and BudURL. However, many of them are more involved. They are also geared more towards private sector businesses that require more in depth analysis.

Incorporate Online into Regular Safety Procedures
While the material out there on the web is irretrievable, it helps for you to know what is online so that you can do damage control on the home and business fronts. You can also try to minimize the online negatives by posting positive or explanatory comments, though sometimes it’s best just to ignore the critics and not pour gas on the fire.

Your safety is an issue not just confined to the streets. Like Officer Walsh in Seattle, you too can be targeted in the wilds of the World Wide Web. Make the monitoring of your online reputation a regular part of your safety routine.

About the author

Dr. Richard Weinblatt is a criminal justice educator, former police chief, police media commentator and an instructor in multiple disciplines. He has earned Florida Criminal Justice Standards certifications in general law enforcement topics, firearms, defensive tactics, and vehicle operations, as well as instructor certifications for Taser, pepper spray, and expandable baton. He holds the Certified Law Enforcement Trainer (CLET) designation from the American Society for Law Enforcement Training (ASLET) and is a certified AFAA Personal Fitness Trainer. Dr. Weinblatt is Dean of the School of Public and Social Services & Education/Assoc. Professor of Criminal Justice at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis, IN.  He previously served as Director of the Institute for Public Safety at Central Ohio Technical College near Columbus, OH, Professor and Program Manager for the Criminal Justice Institute at Seminole Community College near Orlando, FL, and Chairman of the Public Services Dept./Criminal Justice Instructor at South Piedmont Community College near Charlotte, NC. Dr. Weinblatt has worked in several regions of the country in reserve and full-time sworn positions ranging from auxiliary police lieutenant in New Jersey to patrol division deputy sheriff in New Mexico to reserve deputy sheriff in Florida and police chief in North Carolina. Dr. Weinblatt has written extensively on law enforcement topics since 1989. He had a regular column in Law and Order Magazine for a decade and he has also written for Police, Sheriff, American Police Beat, Narc Officer, and others. Dr. Weinblatt has provided media commentary on police matters for local and national media including CBS Evening News, CNN, MSNBC, HLN, and The Washington Post. Dr. Weinblatt earned a Bachelor’s degree in Administration of Justice, a Master of Public Administration in Criminal Justice, an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree in Educational Leadership and a Doctorate of Education. Weinblatt may be reached through www.TheCopDoc.com.

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  2. Officer Safety
  3. Patrol Issues
  4. Social Media for Cops

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