Officers of the law have got themselves into a spot of bother.
Freedom of Information requests – these are things that anyone can request as part of the government and its agencies’ bid to be seen as transparent and fully accountable – revealed over the past five years, police officers and civvies had crossed the line 828 times on social media.
While we see them as the law, evidently some see themselves above it.
I joined Tony Snell on BBC Radio Merseyside this morning to discuss in some detail these hundreds of breaches of policy and trust.
Police are us
Let’s be realistic here. We all have rules to follow. We all get policies and codes of ethics and sometimes we tread the line. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we have the sense to break the rules in private. And sometimes we don’t realise how wide we throw the net when we amplify our thoughts on social networks.
Yet noone is immune from the power of social media to ‘do a Carlsberg’ and reach parts unimaginable.
Out of control
I’ve long argued and railed hard against this idea, but I finally and wistfully concede social media is out of control. It has to be. We’re not mature enough, and nor is it, for a convergence of rational expression and platform to perform.
I’d riffed on this a long time ago – desperate to deny we weren’t ready and could handle it. In the time before I junked everything on my website and now the only way I can read stuff I once wrote is to look on partner websites.
We can’t handle ourselves. We can’t handle the truth. And we sure as hell can’t handle forever.
Permanence versus impermanence
Look back at your life in recent terms and rebuff the idea we are all looking for quick wins and instant gratification. Things that once seemed to last forever now expire in the blink of an eye. It’s the standard for how we live our lives and how many important things never stay the same to a certain degree influences how society ebbs and flows.
But social media, though it gives the impression by presenting users with a constantly changing river of updates, is in fact the close we come in any walk of life to producing something that will long outlast us. You can’t fight the Google, and the internet is going precisely nowhere.
What should we do?
So now the penny finally drops that as publishers via the mechanics of social media we can’t go shouting our mouths off without risking swift and life-changing retribution.
You can defame, be guilty of contempt of court, get charged for a tip scam, among other stuff. All on Twitter, or Facebook, or if there were enough people using it, Google+. There are eyes everywhere. And it is the eyes that will see you sent down or significantly lighter in the wallet depending on the crime you commit.
It doesn’t seem right the police are in the spotlight for harassing people or showing off their arms on social media. We look to them as our guardians, when some of their number are nothing more than little boys playing in a strange sandpit.
As we all do, with smaller weapons that we inadvertently wield from time to time to cause societal impact.
Wrong time, wrong place
Police haven’t done themselves any favours at late elsewhere in our global village. The horrors of #Ferguson – not only the incidents themselves but how innocents trying to capture the moment to share with their fellow virtual denizens have been threatened with death by upholders of ‘law’ – and a recent revelation that more bullets were fired in a single traffic incident in 2010 America than were shot by the entire German police force that year, paint a very bleak picture of a force seemingly in crisis.
— Thack ☁️ (@DaveThackeray) August 18, 2014
As a kid I looked up to plod among the pantheon of superheroes also occupied by sorcerors and wizards (we didn’t have Harry Potter back then). Today as a full-grown adult I’ve come to realise, much as I have with scientists and butchers, that we are all the same but for the tools we choose to use.
It’s not just some police officials who have discovered new tools and ways to break rules. It’s every one of us.