Police are being advised to use a “selfie” of their favourite animal as a Facebook profile picture – to combat the threat of being blackmailed.
The Courier has obtained the 16-page guide issued to officers and staff to reduce the risk of “the wrong people” accessing their personal information.
The guide gives advice on how to stay safe while accessing sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube as well as dating and online gambling sites.
The advice stated: “Be aware of who can see your personal social media pictures – particularly your profile images.
“When interacting online or using any social media channel, Police Scotland personnel must be aware and consider the impact their actions might have, not only on themselves but also Police Scotland.
“Be mindful that there’s a risk you could become a target, be knowingly primed for information, blackmailed or could leave yourself, family and friends vulnerable to personal threats.
“As we’ve already mentioned, please think about which photo you are using as your profile picture, and remember that this can often be viewed by anyone searching for your account.
“If you’re worried about this, we’d suggest not using a photo of yourself in case you are recognised.
“Instead, you could use a generic photo – for example one of your favourite animal.”
Police are also asked to consider using a shortened version of their name on their profile to “make it more difficult for people to find your account”.
The guide said it has been known for defence lawyers “to research social media sites and use personal information to question police officer’s credibility and reliability in court”.
Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative MSP for North East Scotland, said: “It is disappointing that we have got to the stage where Police Scotland feels this type of advice has to be dished out to officers.
“The public want the police to be visible.
“However, it is a sad day when resources are tied up on worrying about Twitter instead of getting on with the job.
“Animal selfies should be the last thing that officers are thinking about.
“When they do use social media – in their own time – I think the police have a duty to act responsibly and set a good example.
“The same applies to others in the public eye – including politicians.”
Staff were also given advice on how to disable locations services to “prevent someone tracking your movements and identifying your home address or place of work”.
Officers are also told not to give away too much personal information if using dating sites as it says some profiles “may be run by blackmailers”.
The Courier asked Police Scotland how many complaints have been received with regards police officers’ use of Twitter or social media.
The force said the information would prove too costly within the context of the fee regulations – estimating it would cost “well in excess” of the £600 threshold.
Police Scotland was also asked how many officers have been internally disciplined in each of the past two years with regards social media use.
Again they refused to give the information on cost grounds stating that every complaint case would require a “manual examination to extract the data requested”.
Earlier this year a police officer from Perthshire was reprimanded by his bosses following a foul-mouthed online rant against a drink-drive suspect.