How social media deepens the divide between public safety agencies

When we publicly share our distrust of the people we respond to emergencies with, we can expect the public to be disgusted and disappointed in all of us


Tweets, photos, and Facebook posts can make anyone a news cycle sensation.

A Philadelphia Fire Department paramedic is the latest EMS provider to embroil himself in a media firestorm and spark discussion about social media do's and don’ts.

The disturbing picture of two black men pointing guns at the head of a white police officer has been widely circulated after appearing on the Instagram feed of Marcell Salters. Was the post a racist and detestable provocation of police officers? Or was it a courageous act of free speech about social injustice? We will never fully know what motivated Salters to post the photo.

What we do know is that division and distrust between fire and EMS, or EMS and police, or fire and police has existed long before this photo was shared. Social media reduces the friction to exploiting or worsening those divisions. And when we publicly share our distrust, dislike, or even hatred with the people we respond to emergencies with, we can expect the public to be disgusted and disappointed in all of us.

Salter's distrust of the police, an opinion that is not likely unique to him and exhibited in the photos and posts, isn't solved with a longer, more in-depth social media policy.

Should Salter be disciplined? Probably. Will suspension or retaliation do anything to improve the divisions in public safety? Not likely.

Public safety leaders, make sure you are asking the right question in regard to this and other social media incidents. Instead of asking, "What will I do if this happens here?" you should be asking, "What will I do to make sure division and distrust in our ranks doesn't happen here?" 

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