Mayor Michael Nutter's administration last week issued a communications crackdown for firefighters and paramedics, banning the workers from using social media
while on duty and placing severe restrictions on their off-duty use that effectively bars them from even mentioning the fire department or city on private social networking accounts.
Social media use of any kind is now forbidden while on duty, as is non-job related, non-emergency cell phone use. And while off duty, fire department employees can't in any way identify themselves as members of the department on social media networks, which includes posting photos showing any part of the uniform or even depicting the fire department's
name, badge, logo, patch or vehicles, the seal of the city of Philadelphia or any city
When the new policy was announced, no social media outcry echoed as loudly as the response from Twitter account "IAFF Local 22" @IAFF22, which purports to represent the city firefighters and paramedics union Local 22.
The account has been for months blasting the Nutter administration, including the city's recent appeal for the second time of a contract awarded to the union by an independent arbitrator and the lack of department resources wrought by budget cuts and the contract dispute.
Though @IAFF22 wasn't specifically named in the department-wide memo sent Wednesday, the move has some wondering if the account's increasingly personal attacks didn't factor into the decision to impose an immediate clampdown as the terms of a permanent, comprehensive social media policy the department has supposedly already drafted are put into place.
The first rule of the fire department is: you do not talk about the fire department. That includes details of fire department incidents and discussion of internal department politics and proceedings. Such as commentary like this.
If followed, the policy will put an end to the most damaging public-relations aspects of @IAFF22's tweets – including those issuing pointed public warnings to avoid swaths of the
city for lack of emergency personnel and equipment or to
avoid having emergencies at all.
The policy also bans employees from discussing ongoing criminal or civil investigations, precluding mention of a recent lawsuit filed
against the city by Local
22 in an attempt to force the Nutter administration to implement the terms awarded by an independent arbitrator, which the city is appealing for a second time.
The policy sets an ethical standard for online communications, banning workers from sending or posting offensive or discriminatory material and from transmitting on or off-duty information or photos of themselves that may bring their reputation into question or that are "inconsistent with the duties, ethics and oath of office of a firefighter
or paramedic." Also forbidden are the posting of inaccurate information and personal attacks.
Plus rumors or content that can be deemed harassing or defamatory.
@IAFF22 came blaring to life last April after a period of near-dormancy, seemingly galvanized by the on-duty deaths of firefighters Daniel Sweeney
and Lt. Robert Neary, which union officials have since contended were caused by missteps in fire department management.
As relations between the Nutter administration and the union further erode in part due to contract dispute-related pay freezes and rolling station closings termed brownouts, the union's criticisms have become only more caustic.
Though the account shows no signs of shutting up – its last posts are dated Friday, two days after the new social media policy was issued – a cursory review illustrates that if the standards are enforced, @IAFF22 will have little left to tweet about. Which may very well be the point.