You know what they say about cringey viral videos, right? They’re hard to describe, but you know one when you see it.
Many people, myself included, cringed when a video surfaced last week of an NYPD officer in Brooklyn dancing on TikTok , a stint that eventually led to him being “flown” to Staten Island as punishment (no offense to anyone from Staten Island.)
Though the criticism seems appropriate, many have rightfully pointed out that police departments regularly publish videos of officers taking part in fun and humanizing activities like dancing, or playing basketball with kids, so why do we think it’s so distasteful when a cop does it on their own account? And why do some of these videos get tons of likes, while others are just painful to look at? During my time as director of social media at the NYPD, I’ve had plenty of experience with both fun and cringe videos. There’s often a fine line between the two, but here are some guidelines that should help:
Know your department policy – if you’re a cop, your department might have a policy about personal use of social media, or at the very least what constitutes as appropriate conduct in uniform. It may be pretty vague, and they will be able to decide when they can use it to discipline, since “appropriateness”, much like TikTok videos, is in the eye of the beholder. The cops that do get away with private accounts are those who represent themselves and their agency in an appropriate manner on private accounts, and bring more positive than negative light to the uniform.
You are never off duty – if you are authorized to make a video or choose to make one any way, remember that on social media, you are never off duty. Like it or not, you represent your uniform well after your tour ends, yes - even on your private account. It doesn’t mean you can’t behave like a normal person, but you need to still appear respectful and professional. Keep in mind that the public will always view you as an officer so long as you’re in uniform, and even if you aren’t but your profile clearly indicates your profession.
Get an opinion outside of your peer group – always ask for another opinion before posting anything fun, or really anything for that matter. Try to reach beyond your fellow officers and ask a friend or maybe even a supervisor you feel comfortable with. At the NYPD I’d always ask a police cadet - they are young and aren’t afraid to tell you when you’re being embarrassing.
Always assume you’ll go viral - sure, most of your videos won’t have that many views, but you always have to assume everything you post can find it’s way to your boss, the press, your first grade teacher and everyone you know. Nothing on social media is private – ever. Not private accounts, not stories that disappear after 24 hours, and not private messages. Screenshots are forever.
The easiest thing to do of course is not post anything fun, but where there is no risk, there’s also no reward. Cop social media content shouldn’t just be guns and mug shots - it's important to show a human side and even let your hair down from time to time. But do so in a way that respects your uniform and role, and leads to reward rather than...Staten Island.