Social media policies

Fire and police agencies in Harford also have policies on social media use, which attempt to address the appropriateness of members being on Facebook or Twitter.

Gardiner said the Bel Air fire department's policy is established by the board of directors.

"The BAVFC social media policy designates the appropriate forms of approved social media and networking authorized by the BAVFC, as well as the disciplinary process for those instances which violate this policy," Gardiner wrote in an e- mail. "The BAVFC is bound to act according to and under order of the Board of Directors and/or designated legal counsel in regard to all forms of incident documentation and related permissions, especially in cases of probable, impending and previous legal action."

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Hopkins explained: "The policy is really focused on getting people to be responsible when they post."

He said the policy recognizes that members have civil liberties and abilities to use social media, but that they must be used wisely.

Dave Williams, with the Fallston Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Company, said use of social media is part of the department's standard operating procedures.

"Our members are reminded that activity which is illegal or contrary to the policies of the FVFAC are just that - illegal and against policy whether conducted online or offline, and that appropriate sanctions can and will be enforced. Expressions of one's opinions should not violate policy or negatively effect operations of the FVFAC," Williams said.

"Members are reminded that they should be respectful to others. That opinions should be stated as such, and to be cautious with their online statements as the reader may interpret the post in a manner not intended. Officers of the FVFAC are particularly cautioned that their statements carry additional weight as they are seen as Officers of the Fire Service even when online and identified as such," he continued.

About Aberdeen police, Budnick said, employees can not post criticism of police departments, the city of Aberdeen or the state, and must use good judgment with social networking, including refraining from discriminatory, harassing or derogatory language. 

Gilpin, of the Havre de Grace department, said they are in the process of completing a written social media conduct policy but have already expressed the rules to officers. These include not posting anything online that represents Havre de Grace police and the business the police department conducts, he said.

Such activities are "strongly discouraged" he said, not only for officer safety but because in situations throughout the country, cases have been thrown out of court as a result of information posted online.

The Harford County Sheriff's Office is revising its social media policy to include more specifics and has been for months, according to Capt. Christopher Swain.

Under the existing policy, deputies are not allowed to appear on websites such as Facebook in uniform, displaying equipment or anything that would identify them as deputies. 

Maryland State Police employees are prohibited from criticizing or ridiculing the state police or any other state agency. They are urged to "exercise good judgment," according to a spokesperson, who cited a few examples, including not harassing people, not encouraging immoral behavior and not broadcasting business of the department.

"It looks like they are taking the right step," Harford County Executive David Craig said Thursday about how the fire company leadership has handled the situation.

Craig said Facebook has been an issue in a lot of areas, such as employer hiring and employee conduct, but he also said he wasn't concerned about needing to have more oversight over firefighters, et cetera, as far as this issue goes.

He also said others could also learn from the Bel Air fire company example, adding, "Everybody begins to learn a little bit [about how they use social media]."

Craig noted a social media policy could be more nailed down "when we have a paid [fire] service," quickly clarifying that won't be "in my lifetime."