Police officers are being targeted through derogatory and defamatory social media posts, but they can’t defend themselves.
Just 24 hours after R U OK? Day, an image was circulated on Facebook making “malicious” claims about a senior Tasmania Police officer.
It was not the first time an individual police officer had been targeted online, according to the state’s union.
More than 100 officers are now on active workers’ compensation claims in the state, and 40 of those relate to mental health.
Police Association of Tasmania president Colin Riley said officers were exposed to highly emotional incidents daily, including family violence, injured children, notifying family members about the death of a loved one, crash scenes, criminal assaults and murders.
And now with the growth of social media platforms, online abuse was adding to that trauma. Not only have police been targeted, but their families too.
One previous example involved a Facebook page naming an officer and his wife, and sharing personal details including her location.
Another officer’s personal photos were repeatedly posted to the page, while secret recordings of phone calls between police and the administrator of the page were shared.
More serious allegations were also made against other police after a YouTube video was shared by another social media user, naming at least four officers and claiming they had committed crimes.
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The police department said the officer involved in the most recent online attack had been contacted by the Tasmania Police Wellbeing Unit and provided with support and advice.
But Mr Riley said this was not done in a timely manner.
Writing to the police department this week, Mr Riley suggested that “documented proven strategies be developed to allow for immediate implementation of actions to protect officers from public attacks when they occur”.
“On social media we have had members subject to abuse, unsubstantiated criminal allegation behaviours and demeaning comments,” he said.
“Police officers have extremely thick skins, however, there are some inappropriate social media users that systematically and repeatedly attack and demean our members.
“The repeated nature of such, does cause negative wellbeing issues for those members, particularly when abhorrent false allegations are made.”
With strong restrictions around social media use for serving police officers, Mr Riley said members could not fight back against their attackers.
“The Tasmania Police manual clearly outlines these restrictions,” he said.
“As such, a police officer is greatly restricted in defending themselves when inappropriate, defamatory or offensive comments are placed on social media about them.”
The most recent post attacking the senior officer was reported to Facebook on several occasions, by both the department and individuals, but the social media giant initially said it did not go against its community standards.
Tasmania Police confirmed Facebook had since advised the matter had been “escalated as a priority to its content review teams who deal with the enforcement of Facebook policies on the platform”.
It was understood the police department had also contacted the administrator of the Facebook page where the post was published, and had referred the post to its legal services to investigate potential breaches of criminal law.
Despite their actions the post remained online for more than one week, and Mr Riley said the damage to the officer’s reputation had already been done.
“It is critical that Tasmania Police acts on an officer’s behalf in a very timely manner, with a documented proven response to protect them and take appropriate action when these types of comments are made,” he said.
“Presently, there are no police documented response protocols to respond to such matters, which leaves our members exposed.
“The response should not be ad hoc and the immediate wellbeing of members is the highest priority.
“We expect our police to protect the public, but who protects the police from these types of behaviours?”
Former police Commander and current independent MLC Ivan Dean said it was an “atrocious situation”, and while police had always been subject to abuse, this was on a whole new level.
“It is absurd, it is absolutely absurd, and the position of Facebook here is almost bordering on ‘we don’t give a stuff’, and that to me is just not acceptable,” he said.
“Why wouldn’t the department stand up here and support their police?
“What sort of message does it send to people wanting to get into the police service? It says that virtually you stand on your own in this career.”
Having been targeted previously himself, Mr Dean said it was something that had long lasting effects.
“I had a terrible accusation made against me as a police officer, and had to be investigated, and it was thrown out,” he said.
“But these are just examples of where people want to get back at the police.
“And this is such a small state, everybody knows everybody, and this could denigrate and severely damage a police officer’s reputation.”
Acting Deputy Commissioner Jonathan Higgins said mental health support was available for members “around the clock”.
“Tasmania Police is proud of the services it offers to support the mental and physical wellbeing of staff,” he said.
“Welfare support officers provide a statewide confidential service to assist with issues affecting officers, and to assist with referrals for counselling and psychological support.
“The Tasmanian Emergency Services Critical Incident Stress Management Program is available with confidential assistance, advice and referral services.
“Officers are also advised of the department’s actions relating to the content, and provided with advice regarding cyber bullying from the office of the eSafety Commissioner.”
The post about the senior police officer was removed from the Facebook page on Saturday.
- Lifeline 13 11 14
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