The Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) has put together new social media guidelines for all employees following a string of high-profile incidents of staffers posting what was deemed offensive material online.
The new policy came together after two people were fired, several others were disciplined, and the resignation of FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano’s son as an EMT—all for posting offensive material on social media and in one case images of patients with derogatory comments on a website.
An FDNY spokesman said the new policy would “more comprehensively address the issue of both on- and off-the-job use of social media.”
The department already had existing rules and regulations in place that broadly covered what firefighters, EMS and civilian employees could say online. It was the existing policy that led to the recent terminations and disciplinary actions for “posting prohibited and/or offensive materials/information on social media sites,” the spokesman said.
The FDNY’s social media turmoil began when the New York Post reported that Joseph Cassano, the son of the FDNY commissioner, had posted a series of messages on Twitter that suggested hatred against African-Americans, low-income families and Jews. Cassano suspended his Twitter account and resigned as an EMT shortly after the story broke.
In a statement, the elder Cassano said he was “extremely disappointed in the comments posted online” by his son, and that they did not “reflect the values—including a respect for all people—that are held by me, my family and the FDNY.” He said he’s worked hard to make the FDNY more diverse. “There is no place—and I have no tolerance—for statements that would harm the good reputation we enjoy due to our honorable service to all New Yorkers.”
Soon after the Cassano story broke, the New York Post also uncovered others in the FDNY who had posted pictures of patients online, along with negative comments, and another EMS official with a Twitter account filled with racist comments.
The social media problems faced by the FDNY are an example of what every agency faces today as the use of digital technology expands, giving anyone the ability to post information online and often times anonymously. There are an estimated 500 million active users on Twitter worldwide and 1.06 billion on Facebook, according to the latest statistics, and many of them post right from their mobile devices—and many while at work.
Although the FDNY may be the largest agency of first responders to be hit with a social media scandal, it’s far from the only one in the country that has faced some social media induced problem. For example, in 2012 a Texas court ruled a CareFlight paramedic was “justly fired” after a Facebook post about wanting to slap an unruly patient.
Social media expert Greg Friese, MS, NREMT-P and director of education at CenterLearn Solutions, LLC, says agencies can’t stop every bit of bad information from being posted, but they can work to create an atmosphere where it doesn’t happen so often. The key, he says, is “training that includes the organization’s social media and Internet use policy, discussion of actual examples, scenarios and cases, and encouragements of a way to use social media as a tool for good to promote the value of the organization and as a provider to the community.”