Monday, August 6, 2012

Twitter Olympics

Many athletes competing in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London were reminded that they are restricted from releasing olympic related information through the use of social media. "Rule 40" states from the IOC, that use of social media (twitter, facebook, or other related websites) that athletes or authorized persons, shall not release information (Ie: name, photographs, media press releases) associated with the athlete's sponsors during the 2012 games. Many athletes feel this is a violation of their right to freedom of speech. Can the fire service learn from this? Well if your fire department doesn't have a social media policy they better get one soon. Social media is becoming the fastest growing headache for Fire Chief's, City Managers, Mayors and/or Labor Lawyers. It was noted that in the past month alone, that Philly, Baltimore City, and Indy have released new social media policies. Alot of firefighters will say, is there really a need for such?
Well in the past, through internet stories I can recall images of an accident showing a victim’s face, or the accident scene with some gruesome details. These actions may violate privacy concerns, and/or federal HIPAA laws, etc. It wasn't long ago we were debating about cartoon figures that depicted firefighters, medics and hospital staff interactions. Then there was the youtube release of a duty crew hanging in a dayroom being video taped during a staged prank with a bad guy coming in with a gun. And lately their have been "tweets" releasing operational readiness or as some see it as "lack-of-readiness" during the economic downturn. Releasing information about the lack of manned apparatus, or paramedic staffing may seem like the best way to gain public support for the cause, but is it?
Many firefighters feel that our right to freedom of speech is the "catch all" for not accepting a newly implemented social media policy. Curt Varone has told his audiences that our First Amendment Right is a complex law that doesn't give a person broad rights of free speech like many often assume. So before anyone decides to speak negatively about your chief, officer, fellow co-worker or the department itself, you might want to rethink before clicking the post tab. Often times these actions are the end of a firefighter's career. The reputation of the person being attacked can become tarnished and ultimately never regained. This can and has tarnished the career of many good leaders as well. Social media policies are not designed to restrict your voice, it is to protect the employees, the department and everyone's reputation. The fire service is built on the trust and security with the public, media relations is a big part of that protection. The absolute best protection for the entire fire department organization is to have a well thought out social media policy. A policy that everyone understands and can adhere to. For those who were in the fire service before the influx of personal computers, tablets and PDA's, it was unheard of for a firefighter to write an open letter and send it to newspaper with a signed signature. Why was that? Well to be honest, everyone knew that "pen to paper" was powerful, and if written in the negative, it always had reprocussions. What the fire service of today needs to do is educate the latest generation of "computer savy" firefighters, that the power of the keystroke has the same consequences.
Take Care and Stay Safe Brothers..... Tap the Box Baby!