Policy: Social Media Use


The Michigan State University Police Department (Department) endorses the secure use of social media to enhance communication, collaboration, and information exchange to streamline processes and foster productivity. The purpose of this policy is to establish this Department’s position on the utility and management of social media and provide guidance on its management, administration, and oversight.


Social media provides a potentially valuable means of assisting the department and its personnel in meeting community outreach, problem-solving, investigative, crime prevention, and related objectives. This policy is not meant to address one particular form of social media; rather social media in general, as advances in technology will occur and new tools will emerge. This policy identifies potential uses that may be explored or expanded upon as deemed reasonable by administrative and supervisory personnel. The Department also recognizes the role that these tools play in the personal lives of some Department personnel. The personal use of social media can have bearing on Departmental personnel in their official capacity. As such, this policy provides information of a precautionary nature, as well as prohibitions on the use of social media by Department personnel.


Blog: A self-published diary or commentary on a particular topic that may allow visitors to post responses, reactions, or comments. The term is short for “web log.”

Page: The specific portion of a social media website where content is displayed and managed by an individual with administrator rights.

Profile: Information that a user would provide about themselves on a social networking site.

Social Media: A category of Internet-based resources that integrate user-generated content and user participation. This includes, but is not limited to, social networking sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Groups), microblogging sites (Twitter), photo- and video-sharing sites (Instagram, Flickr, YouTube), Wiki’s (Wikipedia), blogs, and social news sites (Digg, Reddit).

Social Networks: Online platforms where users can create profiles, share information, and socialize with others using a range of technologies.

Location Based Social Networking: Sites (such as Swarm and Yelp) where users “check in” at venues or other places to share their current location with other users

Speech: Expression or communication of thoughts or opinions in spoken words, in writing, by expressive conduct, symbolism, photographs, videotape, or related forms of communication.

Wiki: Web page(s) that can be edited collaboratively.



Department Sanctioned Presence

Determine Strategy

Where possible, each social media page shall include an introductory statement that clearly specifies the purpose and scope of the agency’s presence on the website.

Where possible, the page(s) should link to the Department’s official website.

Social media page(s) shall be designed for the target audience(s).

All Department social media sites or pages shall be approved by the Chief of Police (Chief) or designee and shall be administered by Department approved personnel, or as otherwise determined.

Where possible, social media pages shall clearly indicate they are maintained by the Department and shall have Department contact information prominently displayed.

Social media content shall adhere to applicable laws, regulation, and policies, including all information technology and records management policies.

Content is subject to public records laws.

Relevant records retention schedules apply to social media content.

Content must be managed, stored, and retrieved to comply with open records laws and e-discovery laws and policies.

Access restrictions may be placed based on current information technology security best practices

Social media sites may become sources of malicious applications and viruses.

Some sites may not be available to all users

Access may be granted through security firewall, as needed

Where possible, social media pages should state that the opinions expressed by visitors to the page(s) do not reflect the opinions of the Department.

Pages shall clearly indicate that comments will be monitored and that the Department reserves the right to remove obscenities, off-topic comments, and personal attacks.

Pages shall clearly indicate that any content posted or submitted for posting is subject to public disclosure.

Pages shall clearly indicate that social media sites are not monitored 24/7 and anyone seeking assistance in an emergency or to report a crime should call 9-1-1.

Department Sanctioned Use

Department personnel representing the Department via social media outlets shall do the following:

Conduct themselves at all times as representatives of the Department and, accordingly, shall adhere to all Department standards of conduct and observe conventionally accepted protocols and proper decorum.

Identify themselves as a member of the Department.

Not make statements about the guilt or innocence of any suspect or arrestee, or comments concerning pending prosecutions, nor post, transmit or otherwise disseminate confidential information including photographs or videos, related to department training, activities, or work-related assignments without express written permission.

Not conduct political activities nor private business.

Employees shall observe and abide by all copyright, trademark, and service mark restriction in posting material to electronic media.

Potential Uses

Social media is a valuable investigative tool when seeking evidence or information about

Missing persons

Wanted persons

Gang participation

Crimes perpetrated online (i.e., cyberbullying, cyberstalking)

Photos or videos or a crime posted by a participant or observer

Any criminal investigation

Social media can be used for community outreach and engagement by

Providing crime prevention tips

Sharing educational information about the Department

Offering online-reporting opportunities

Sharing crime maps and data

Soliciting tips about unsolved crimes (i.e., Crime Stoppers, text-a-tip)

Social media can be used to make time-sensitive notification related to

Road closures

Special events

Weather emergencies

Missing or endangered persons

MSU Alerts

Persons seeking employment and volunteer positions use the Internet to search for opportunities, and social media can be a valuable recruitment mechanism.

Background Investigation

This Department has an obligation to include Internet-based content when conducting background investigations on employment applicants.

Search methods shall not involve techniques that are a violation of existing law.

Vetting techniques shall be applied uniformly to all employment applicants.

Every effort must be made to validate Internet-based information considered during the hiring process

Personal Use

Precaution and Prohibitions

Barring state law or binding employment contracts to the contrary, Department personnel shall abide by the following when using social media.

Department personnel are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites to the degree that their speech does not impair working relationships of this Department for which loyalty and confidentiality are important, impede the performance of duties, impair discipline, discuss tactics or methods of operation, and harmony among coworkers, or negatively affect the public perception of the Department.

As public employees, Department personnel are cautioned that speech on- or off-duty, made pursuant to the official duties that owe their existence to the employee’s professional duties and responsibilities, is not protected speech under the First Amendment and may form the basis for discipline, if deemed detrimental to the Department.

Department personnel should assume that their speech and related activity on social media sites will reflect upon their office and this Department.

Department personnel shall not post, transmit, or otherwise disseminate any information to which they have access as a result of their employment, without written permission from the Chief or designee.

For safety and security reasons, Department personnel are cautioned not to disclose their employment with this Department, nor shall they post information pertaining to any other member of the Department without their permission. As such, Department personnel are cautioned and recommended to not do the following:

Display Department logos, uniforms, or similar identifying items on personal web pages.

Post personal photographs or provide similar means of personal recognition that may cause them to be identified as a police officer.

When using social media, Department personnel should be mindful that their speech becomes part of the worldwide electronic domain. Therefore, adherence to the Department’s code of conduct is required in the personal use of social media. In particular, Department personnel are prohibited from the following:

Speech containing obscene or sexually explicit language, images, or acts and statements or other forms of speech that ridicule, malign, disparage, or otherwise express bias against any race, religion, or any protected class of individuals.

Speech involving themselves or other Department personnel reflecting behavior that would reasonable be considered reckless or irresponsible.

Engaging in prohibited speech noted herein, may provide grounds for undermining or impeaching an officer’s testimony in criminal proceedings. Department personnel thus sanctioned are subject to discipline, up to and including termination.

Department personnel may not divulge information gained by reason of their authority; make any statements, speeches, appearances, and endorsements; or publish materials that could reasonable be considered to represent the views or positions of this Department without express authorization.

Department personnel should be aware that they may be subject to civil litigation for:

Publishing or posting false information that harms the reputation of another person, group, or organization (defamation)

Publishing or posting private facts and personal information about someone without their permission that has not been previously revealed to the public, is not of legitimate public concern, and would be offensive to a reasonable person

Using someone else’s name, likeness or other personal attributes without that person’s permission for an exploitative purpose

Publishing the creative work of another, trademarks, or certain confidential business information without the permission of the owner.

Department personnel should be aware that privacy settings and social media sites are constantly in flux and they should never assume that personal information posted on such sites is protected.

Department personnel should expect that any information created, transmitted, downloaded, exchanged, or discussed in a public online forum may be accessed by the Department at any time without prior notice.

Any employee becoming aware of, or having knowledge of, a posting, or of any website or web page in violation of the provision of this policy; shall notify a supervisor immediately for follow-up action.