Scotland Yard told the Standard: “We’ve been undergoing a smartphone rollout for officers over the last few months. It is possible to download apps like maps, news, and transport apps on them, but not social media apps.”
The Met confirmed that it has already provided these newly locked-down smartphones to various police teams, but did not specify exactly how many of its 30,000 serving officers have been issued with one so far.
A spokesperson added that the social media ban does not include the messaging app WhatsApp, which many people consider to be a social network. However, this popular app can now only be used by Met officers or staff on a restricted basis and permission must be sought to use it, presumably on a case-by-case basis.
The move would appear to mark a significant policy shift from the Met Police, which has faced serious criticism over its officers’ misuse of social media and WhatsApp. These issues were all clearly highlighted in the Casey review, published last week.
Wayne Couzens, who is serving a whole-life sentence at Durham Prison for the kidnap, rape, and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in March 2021, was part of a WhatsApp group with other serving officers that was described by prosecutors Edward Brown QC in court as being “grossly racist, sexist, and misogynistic”.
Two Met Police officers were jailed for taking and sharing photos on WhatsApp of the murder scene of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in 2020, in a park in Wembley.
The girls’ mother, Mina Smallman, criticised the Met Police for its actions at the time.
She said: "You know you go to London to start to prepare the funeral of your dead children and then you’re forced to have a meeting with the IOPC and the then commander, to tell you that police officers that should have been protecting the area had actually taken selfies and sent them out to a dentist and a doctor and a WhatsApp group.”
The Met Police has also faced criticism over its officers’ use of TikTok during the pandemic.
During Covid lockdowns, chief constable Gavin Stephens warned the Met Police, and other forces, that it was inappropriate to put light-hearted dancing and singing clips on TikTok and other social networks as the country battled the pandemic.
Several police officers were investigated for posting jokey videos on TikTok while on duty. One Scotland Yard officer, thought to be called Jordan, put dozens of clips on TikTok in 2020 — including at least six when he was meant to be working to keep London safe, according to the Daily Mail.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) also found gross misconduct was proven against a Northamptonshire police officer, PC Aaron Parry, for posting “inappropriate” TikTok videos in July 2021.
Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents officers, said the new ban was a sensible move, although he admitted that social media was a useful tool for day-to-day policing.
Mr Marsh said: “With anything which is a workpiece of equipment owned by the Metropolitan Police, any iPad, iPhone, we should not be using any form of TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc.
“It is the easiest way for my colleagues to get themselves into trouble. Don’t use it. Full stop.”
He also called on Met Police officers not to use WhatsApp, partly due to the risk of managing inappropriate behaviours when these encrypted messages are shared.
Marsh added: “If you’re on a WhatsApp group and someone sends a message through and the wording is not right or something is incorrect. What should you do? Should you report it immediately to a senior officer?
“And if you report it to a senior officer, if that senior officer does not act immediately, are you to blame for that? We are getting officers in so much trouble for all these sorts of things, I would say categorically, do not use any of them.”
Aside from the issue of professional misconduct, this new move by the Met Police comes amid ongoing security and data-privacy concerns linked to social-media apps, most notably due to TikTok.
The UK Government has expressed its concern that sensitive data might be accessible via TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese internet firm ByteDance, to the Chinese government.
The UK government has banned the app on government-issued phones while the BBC has called on its staff to delete TikTok from corporate mobile phones.
London City Hall staff have also been banned from accessing TikTok on their phones, while the London Fire Brigade said its officers can’t access any social media, except for Microsoft-owned Yammer.
The Cabinet Office said the UK Government ban was being imposed because TikTok users must give information that includes contacts, user content, and geolocation data to Bytedance.
TikTok has been criticised by governments across the world. The US, France, and India are among those countries which have issued TikTok bans.
TikTok said it would make a statement once it had further details from the Met Police.