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September 13, 2012

Re: NLC Webinar on New Facebook Policies

Dear Mayor:

As reported in our letter of September 5 (http://www.njslom.org/letters/2012-0905-Facebook.html) on Tuesday, the National League of Cities hosted a Webinar dealing with new Facebook policies regarding municipal government pages on that site.

League Webmaster, Dr. Morris Enyeart, and League General Counsel, Bill Kearns, Esq., participated. They have provided us with the following, which we share for your information.

  1. You do NOT need to change the web address (URL) of your Facebook page(s).
  2. You are required to change the Location Page Name which can be found as follows on your Facebook Admin Panel page (not personal accounts).
    Set Your User Name (note, after setting your user name, you can only change it once so do not use a person's name)
  3. User names must identify your Facebook page as a Government entity. For Example
    City Government Of
    City of _________ Government
    City State Government
    City, State City Hall
    City State Mayors Office
  4. We recommend you use something like:
    LincolnTwpNJGovernment and if you are one of the towns that share the same name with other NJ municipalities add the County e.g., UnionTwpHCNJ Government for Union Township Hunterdon County NJ.

If you do not make the change or add the User Name Location within 4 weeks after Facebook contacts the page administrator for your Facebook page, they will shutdown your administration rights and you can no longer control the settings in the page. You will then have to contact Facebook and prove you are the administrator and that it is an official government Facebook page in order to regain Administrator rights.

Why wait, make the change now if you need to do so.

Dr. Enyeart asked about backing up the site for government records retention compliance. The presenter recommended www.backupify.com to back up the site. Please note this is really only a disaster recovery process and does not satisfy the records retention requirements for New Jersey.
Mr. Kearns raised a question regarding the advertising, controlled by Facebook, which will appear on a municipal site, the concern being confusion regarding an implied endorsement of the advertisers’ products, services or positions. This is especially problematic for political advertisements or advocacy group advertisements.

Facebook personnel responded, “… at the moment we cannot remove ads from city pages. We find that people know that them appearing on your page does not mean you endorse those ads, but that Facebook has put them there. One thing you may consider doing is putting a note in the about section letting people know you do not endorse any ads on the page and they are something Facebook controls not the city.”

Another concern involves the posting, by Facepage visitors, of offensive commentary. A business can remove offensive comments and bar offensive commentators. That's fine for a business, but it raises serious First Amendment issues for a government. By allowing comments at all, you have created a public forum and it is legally dangerous to remove comments or bar commentators, based on the content of the comments.

Municipalities need to decide whether they will use Facebook as an interactive media, with two-way interaction, or just as a billboard to disseminate information, but not receive comments/information. Dr. Enyeart suggests that, with the exception of rare instances, it should be the billboard approach. It appears that is what most municipal Facebook pages are doing.

Facebook personnel advise that the majority of Facebook activity occurs between 9:00 PM and 10:00 PM. This is the opposite of municipal web page activity, where the most active time to 10:00 AM. It would appear that people going to Municipal websites are doing it from work, whereas the 18-24 age group that Facebook cites as the most active in their site does it at night when they get home and spend longer periods on Facebook socializing. This raises questions as to the effort and cost to create and maintain a municipal Facebook page.

If you are interested in seeing how the “new media” can help your municipality better serve your fellow citizens, consider attending our workshop session on Social Media at the League’s Annual Conference, on Wednesday, November 14th, at 9:00AM.

Very truly yours,

 

William G. Dressel, Jr.
Executive Director

 

 

 

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