Police bosses have asked staffers not to post TikTok videos on shift, while the New Zealand Defence Force’s social media policy asks its personnel who use dating apps not to post pictures of themselves in uniform.
Police and the Defence Force’s policies, released under the Official Information Act, reveal fears that staffers posting about their work, while in uniform or on shift, will lower the organisations’ reputation, or jeopardise staff safety.
Police were so concerned that staff using the popular social media platform TikTok hadn’t lived up to “the expectations we have of staff of representing the organisation or our values” that it launched a TikTok-specific policy, regarding the use of the platform while in police uniform, in April 2020.
The policy “strongly recommends” staff not post TikToks of themselves in uniform, or share photos of themselves in uniform on social media, and asks them not to post on shift “where it may be perceived that you’re not focussed on the job at hand. There is a fine line between being light-hearted with policing, and not taking work seriously.”
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The policy came after claims in April that a police officer had behaved inappropriately on the channel. The Auckland officer was stood down and subsequently resigned following a complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority. According to the authority police property, cells and equipment were seen in the footage, which it described as “offensive and contrary to police values”.
Police said the policy was in the works before this because the app was the newest and fastest-growing platform. The policy reveals that someone had launched a fake NZ Police TikTok account, but that TikTok had refused to de-platform it. Police subsequently founded its own verified channel to monitor police-related content “that may have an organisational risk to it”. Police tried twice to have the account removed.
TikTok is an app for users to make and share short videos, with an estimated 500 million users. “The bar is low. The stakes are low. Large audiences feel within reach, and smaller ones are easy to find, even if you’re just messing around,” The New York Times has said of the platform.
Last year British police were warned about TikTok use after instances of footage emerging of uniformed police singing and dancing as part of viral challenges.
Police policy guided staffers to not post content on shift, not to film on police premises or where personal information was visible, for any filming to reflect best practices, citing physical distancing, correct use of PPE and “expected driving habits” as examples, and strongly recommended staffers not post content of themselves in uniform to social media platforms.
“Overall, don’t post anything that has the potential to bring Police into disrepute or negatively impact the reputation of Police,” the policy says. It asked staff to consider whether their posts would withstand colleagues’, communities and media scrutiny, if it was ethical, and if it met expectations of a high-performing culture. It asked employers to report content that was inappropriate for the police brand.
According to documents, the police was choosing not to spread itself too thin with multiple social media accounts, and TikTok was not part of its strategy. “Our focus is doing less social media channels, but doing them well.”
The New Zealand Defence Force’s social media policy shows its staffers have also been warned about posting photos in uniform, particularly while using dating apps.
“Don’t use a picture of yourself in your uniform as your profile picture,” the policy says. “While you may get more interest from potential partners with a profile photo of you in your uniform, you also open yourself up to more scrutiny.”
It stressed the importance of not divulging personal information on social media, fitness trackers and anything requiring online registration. It suggested users only fill in the minimum identity fields, to create a specific email address for social media accounts, and to only use a first name if possible.
It warned against posting locations, and suggested disabling GPS. “Always think twice before posting something and ask yourself how your (superior) would view the post in the cold light of day,” the policy said.
It reminded staffers that they were subject to the Armed Forces Discipline Act, and the Civil Code of Conduct and recommended they not post information relating to rank, locations, deployment information, dates, names, equipment and other capabilities.
“Even trivial information can be dangerous online for your mates and your loved ones. It could even get someone injured or killed,” the policy said. “Piecing together information through the Internet is a surprisingly easy task and adversaries are very good at connecting pieces of information together by using the trail of information we leave online.”
Its policy warnings came after a Defence Force staffer was tagged in a photo in uniform by a colleague, and she was subsequently harassed online.
A Defence Force spokesperson said its guidelines were developed from international best practice on maintaining the safety and security of its staff and while it drew on domestic and international experience, “the guidance is not a response to any specific event”.
The guidelines weren’t an order, but a guide.
Police’s executive director of media and communications, Jane Archibald, said it was active on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter but “TikTok is not as effective as other social media platforms for (police) to communicate messages to our communities, and it was necessary to communicate to staff about the expectations for the use of TikTok.”