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August 24, 2010
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John Rivera Technology Helpdesk
with John Rivera

P1 Tech Help: Facebook and the law officer

Facebook has proven its ability to aid in revealing criminals, threatening job security, and limiting (even eliminating) personal privacy

I have previously written that the internet has not only changed the way we live and work, but it has also changed the way we socialize. There is a proliferation of social network websites such as Myspace, Twitter, and Facebook that have made it easier to connect with current friends and re-connect with old ones. This month I am focusing on Facebook, because it is a website that is used by many current PoliceOne members, and has been the subject of many recent news articles, coming under scrutiny for how it is used by its members. Facebook has proven its ability to aid in revealing criminals, threatening job security, and limiting (even eliminating) personal privacy.

Facebook has has aided in solving crimes when suspects decide to brag about their exploits (failing to recognize any downside, such as the fact that officers can log onto the Internet too, discovering incriminating “status updates” and “wall pictures”). For instance, if someone is suspected of dealing marijuana and there is a big pot leaf next to his profile picture on MySpace, that is what we in the force call a clue. Facebook is a news stream-style page that allows anyone to see someone’s “wall posts,” as well as that person’s friends’ posts, if he or she has not changed their privacy settings. If this is the case and someone has left comments regarding illegal activity on their page, it is easy for police to identify them as a suspect.

These same privacy issues can not only reveal a criminal, but can leave an honest person jobless. Just one single poorly-worded post has the power to end someone’s career. For example, a single working mother was recently terminated from her job because of a post she wrote on Facebook — a comment that took her less than a minute to post had lasting repercussions. It is a fact that due to the increasing use of social networking sites, employers are actually Googling the names of potential employees to find their Facebook page. This is done in order to see what kind of a person they may be hiring. It just goes to show that the very sites we use recreationally to communicate with friends can hinder our potential employment.

Many of us — despite preferring a fairly private life — do not consider that our social networking pages make our private business someone public. What I mean by “somewhat public” is if you do not set your privacy settings to “friends only,” it could be read by anyone, as I stated earlier. However, the majority of us do not bother with the settings, leaving a majority of our private lives completely public. Another way to read someone’s profile is to navigate through a friend’s profile. Thanks to some recent changes Facebook has made, it is easier than ever to find someone just by navigating through their friend list. This is just one more reason to be careful what you post.

As police officers we are proud of what we do, but we all know that there are people in society who do not like the police. Just as potential and current employers are navigating Facebook, I am sure there are some who are doing the same thing, in an attempt to discredit police officers with the things they post on their Facebook walls. For example, we officers have been stressed to always act as if we’re being videotaped — don’t say or publish anything that could tarnish your credibility. Another piece of good advice is to not write anything derogatory in your notes about a particular situation unless it is a direct statement. Use this same example when you’re posting thoughts in your social network page. We are living in a global community where people we do not know have the ability to view what we write.

Don’t get caught in a weak moment and publish something that may come back to possibly hurt your credibility or possibly your career. Even if you go back later and delete what you wrote, it is out there.  You cannot completely erase it. 

If you can’t post something nice, don’t post anything at all.

About the author

John Rivera is a Patrol Officer with the Bremerton Police Department. John’s career BPD started as a Volunteer Reserve Officer and while he volunteered his time as a reserve officer he work as Police Officer at Naval Base Kitsap. He was hired full time in 2006 and attended the Washington State Police Academy. While at the academy, John was selected as the class “Techy” to help with the technologically deficient class instructors. Before John’s law enforcement career, he gained his computer experience through earning a degree in Computer Programming and then working in the computer industry as a Network Administrator and Systems Engineer for several companies.

Contact John Rivera

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