Beware the Power of One Social Media Post

I found myself in an interesting situation recently and am very curious how my take on it, compares to yours. I already asked many people I know professionally and personally and the response is quite split. I’m trying not to be surprised, and I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.

Here it is…
While working on a morning TV show, I had to be on the road while some people were just climbing into bed. You know it…part of my routine is to drive thru a local 24-hour coffee shop and grab my quick fix. Of course, I’m always in a hurry, always running late which makes me a bit agitated when, after placing my order, as I turn the corner to the drive-thru window, there’s a car in front of me—stopped. There’s never a car in front of me at this time of the morning, or night, whichever you might call it. It happens to be a police cruiser. Sure, the officer needs his java jolt too, but why isn’t he moving up to the window? What’s distracting him?
I try to wait patiently—who wants to honk their horn at a cop? I can see through his windshield though, there’s no car in front of him, which meant no car at the window, where, um, he should be. Thirty seconds go by, which feels like ten minutes when you’re in a hurry, not to mention the “I don’t like anyone or anything until I get my coffee” mood.

When I can wait no longer, I venture to pull past him, and right up to the window, trying not to look at him as I go around knowing I cannot trust myself to refrain from flashing my infamous annoyed look. Again, not what you want to do to a police officer, especially when you’re known for being “challenged” when it comes to keeping the accelerator in line with the speed limit. Sometimes.

“Hi, Catherine,” my favorite coffee shop worker friend says as she hands out my usual, as if nothing unusual is going on here.

“Hi…what’s up with him?” I nod my head toward the cruiser behind me.

“I don’t know!” she says, “he’s been there for ten minutes now, his order is sitting right here.”

Panic strikes me as I glance into my rear-view mirror to see a man with his head flopped back and mouth wide open.

“Oh my goodness, something is wrong,” I say.

“It is?” she bursts, “I can’t see him from here and I’m not allowed to go out there.”

I jump out of my car with so many things racing through my mind. Did he have a heart attack? Is he alive? Is he just asleep? If I startle him will he hit the gas or grab his gun?

As I cautiously approach the cruiser, I can see his driver’s side window is down and he’s still breathing. Shewww.

“Officer…” I say quietly.


“Officer,” I say more firmly.

His eyes open, his head jerks up and he looks over at me with a range of emotions evolving over his face: shock, fear, embarrassment, gratitude, and finally, back to embarrassment.

He was sleeping! Yes, somehow this man, this officer, sworn to protect us, was catching some “z’s” in his cruiser, engine still running, holding up the line at the drive-thru.

“Are you ok, sir?” I ask, just to make sure he doesn’t need help.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m ok,” he responds slowly as he maneuvers to sit upright.

“Ok,” I say relieved and trying to refrain from chuckling. Walking back to my car I can’t resist looking back to catch one more glimpse of the sleepy-eyed, boyish looking man in blue, and blurt out jokingly to lighten up the moment for him, “remember this next time you pull me over.”

He politely nods his head and grins. As I pull off, it strikes me just how lucky he really is it’s someone like me who found him. Replaying it all in my head it’s easy to see how tempting it might be to someone to take a picture of “sleepy cop” to share with the cyber world to get a laugh and a load of social media attention, or at least, share with his boss.

I can’t imagine the occupational violations there might be. The evidence in one picture snapped and shared in a matter of seconds would have the power to turn that man’s life upside down. Not only might it have cost him his job, maybe his career altogether, there’s the inevitable personal humiliation and who knows what else. An avalanche.

That’s my take on it—with some experience on what can, indeed, happen.

On the other hand, some very different thoughts on it I’m trying to, and probably should, understand. When I ask a co-worker, “what would you have done?” without hesitation, and with full conviction, her response is “I would’ve taken a picture.”

“You would’ve?” I ask curiously, struggling to be unbiased. “Why, why would you have done that?”

“He’s supposed to be protecting us, we pay him, someone would’ve taken a picture of me if they saw me sleeping on the job. What if something bad would’ve happened?”

“Would you have posted it online or social media?” I continue.



“Because he shouldn’t have been doing that. That was wrong and he shouldn’t get away with it.”

Others I talk to admit they would’ve taken a picture too, but aren’t so quick to say they would’ve posted or shared it. Instead the response was more like, “Hmmm, I would have to think about that.”

So, this is what’s it’s come to? We’ve hit that day when any of our mistakes, our bad decisions, our regrettable words, if caught on camera, by the right person, or should I say wrong person, are fair game. But none of us wants to do wrong. Right? Knowing we screwed up is usually enough cause for remorse and even cause for many us to beat ourselves up. Now, the stakes are so much greater, with the potential for anything to go viral, mistakes that not long ago would eventually fade away can manifest in a mouse click away forever.

While the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” intimates a picture tells the whole story, think of what would be missing in a picture of the officer sleeping on duty, behind the wheel. It would offer no explanation of why he was so tired. Maybe he has serious problems at home that are costing him any real rest. Maybe he took the wrong kind of cold medicine or allergy medicine before his shift. Maybe it’s some other hardship. Or maybe, he’s just downright irresponsible and is sleeping off a hangover. It didn’t take the embarrassment on his face I witnessed after I woke him to know this is a person in a moment of weakness. No matter what led to it, a picture of it launched into cyberspace (and most likely onto the local evening news) would be an instant indictment, and even if he offers a very understandable and forgivable excuse, even if he would be exonerated, that image would never go away. It would be attached to his name forever, google-style.

Yes, this is a hypothetical case, it didn’t happen to him, but people do find themselves in real scenarios like this more often than you might think. Just google that.

Don’t be Tempted

Sure, it can be tempting to take a picture of that guy whose butt is halfway exposed as he changes his flat tire. It can be tempting to start recording on your cell phone the mom in the grocery store having a meltdown with her kid who just won’t stop misbehaving. It can be tempting to take a picture of the police officer sleeping on the job. So to speak, we are all on standby with that finger on that cell phone camera button. Also, though, we all have bad moments, and these days when they happen in public, chances are a camera like yours is going to catch them. If not, there’s almost always a surveillance camera watching.

There are those situations where cell phone video or pictures prove so beneficial—where capturing the right images at the right time is going to solve a crime, perhaps bring justice, through the appropriate channels, that is. That’s one thing. Images taken to bring someone to their knees, or to make yourself shine in the social media spotlight is another, and being cognizant of your intentions and the power of a post, is yet another.

PS: To the sleepy police officer, thank you for giving us all something to think about, and although I don’t really expect you to give me a pass next time I’m speed limit “challenged,” I kind of think you owe me a coffee.

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