Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Facebook Page Not a Website Under the Open Meetings Act

An individual filed a request for review with the Illinois Public Access Counselor (PAC) claiming that a municipality violated his freedom of speech by deleting his comments from the municipality's Facebook page.   The request for review also claimed that the municipality's Facebook page was a "website" as defined by the Open Meetings Act and, therefore, the municipality was required to post meeting notices and agendas on the Facebook page in accordance with the OMA. In an opinion issued on October 31st, the PAC ruled in favor of the municipality, and found the individual's allegations unfounded. 2012 PAC 21667.

First, the PAC determined that the request for review did not provide a factual basis to support a violation of the OMA based on an alleged First Amendment violation.

Second, the PAC looked to the language of the OMA and found that it does not address a public body's use of a third party social media site such as Facebook. The PAC determined that there was nothing in the OMA to suggest that the legislature intended to extend the duty to post notices and agendas to websites that are neither under the control of, nor maintained by, the public body.  In any event, the PAC determined that the municipality operates its own website separate from its Facebook page where it does post copies of meeting agendas and minutes as required by the OMA.

Finally, the PAC concluded that the municipality uses its Facebook page to inform residents of upcoming meetings and events within the municipality.  According to the PAC, posting information on Facebook concerning meetings and events does not violate OMA.

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