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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tweeting into Trouble?

Social networking has created a new way we socialize and conduct business and is changing the way we communicate with our friends, families, colleagues, and clients.  More than one-third of American adults have a profile page on a social networking site.  Many local governments recognize that it would be shortsighted to ignore this rapidly growing source of communication. But, in the rush to create a community Facebook page, government officials may not be aware of the legal issues unique to government use of this emerging technology. 

Are Village officials participating in a meeting when they post comments on Facebook that would be subject to the Open Meetings Act?  Are postings on a government social networking site subject to FOIA and records retention laws?  Is a public forum established if individuals can post “comments” on a community site?  Can objectionable material be removed without implicating the First Amendment?  Can employees be disciplined for derogatory Facebook comments about their employer?

Before diving too deep into the social media pool, a community should put in place a website and social networking policy. That policy should include provisions for a site moderator, standards for appropriate public interaction and posting of comments, guidelines for record retention and compliance with FOIA and the Open Meetings Act, and an employee access and use policy, at a minimum.  Disclaimers should be posted on the site reserving the right to remove submissions that the moderator finds objectionable, including vulgar language, personal attacks, or offensive comments that target or disparage any ethnic, racial, or religious group. Also key is education of government employees and officials regarding appropriate use of social networking and how use might impact the government employer.