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Taming the Wild West

Bay Head
Puts Social Media Guidelines in Place

Billl Curtis 
By Bill Curtis
Mayor, Borough of Bay Head

For many, social networking seems to have been around forever. But, for many businesses large and small, for governmental agencies and municipalities, it is a brand new phenomenon that has to be contended with.

With "pay to play" rules, the increased litigiousness of our society, and social networking showing no signs of going away, municipalities, like businesses, have to find a way to deal with the ethical changes that come along with this medium of communication.

Having your employees involved in the community where they live and/or work can be a good thing—so long as the networking is done correctly. You can't just give your employees a free rein and hope for the best. But, in all fairness to them, you can't blame them for violating rules that don't officially exist. You need a social networking policy that clearly spells out what is and isn't allowed, both at work and outside of work if they represent the borough, city, township, or village.

Bay Head recognized that doing nothing and hoping for the best was not acceptable. In fact, it is irresponsible. We recognized we needed a social networking policy in place.

To get this done, we assigned the task to Councilwoman Barnes who researched what should be covered, how it would best fit Bay Head, reviewed it with borough employees and our legal counsel, wrote it and rewrote it, then presented it to Mayor and Council for their approval.

Social network diagram showing boys and girls connected to each other

Following are 10 criteria we looked at when formulating a written social networking policy for Bay Head.

These are the criteria we suggest all municipalities look at when developing policies:

  1. Develop a Clear Philosophy What is your overall attitude toward social networking? Should it be strictly forbidden for personal use? May it be used for municipal business? All sites are different; how do you restrict its use?

  2. Clearly Define "Social Networking" The term means different things to different people. You may want to name specific sites in your written policy. However, since new sites are always popping up, be clear that your policy is not limited to only the sites identified therein.

  3. Identifying Oneself If employees identify themselves as employees of the municipality they become, to some degree, a representative of the municipality. If you allow network users to identify themselves as employees of the municipality, require that personal blogs and personal posts contain a disclaimer that clearly states the opinion(s) expressed there are theirs and not those of the municipality.

  4. Endorsements Some sites provide an opportunity to write recommendations or referrals for others. If users do this as a representative of the municipality, it could give the impression your municipality endorses the individual being recommended. For that reason alone, you should not allow it.

  5. Referring to Municipal Employees, Constituents, Residents, or Vendors This is never a good idea. Don't allow it without the express, written consent by the party and even then it is not good policy.

  6. Proprietary or Confidential Information Because social networking is somewhat informal and sites have varying levels of security, breaches are possible. Make it clear to your users that proprietary information is not to be discussed, ever. You may want to define what information is off limits (i.e. financial and personnel information and information about residents).

  7. Terms of Service (ToS) Most sites require users, upon signing up, to agree to abide by a ToS document. You should hold employees responsible for reading, understanding and complying with the ToS of the sites they use. One such requirement prohibits users from giving false names or false information, so don't require your users to give a pseudonym when signing up.

  8. Copyright and Other Legal Issues Require your employees to comply with copyright/plagiarism laws, libel and defamation issues.

  9. Productivity Impact Make it clear that social networking activities are not to interfere with the employee's stated job responsibilities.

  10. Disciplinary Action Your policy must include consequences for infractions.

With these 10 points in mind, we formulated Bay Head's Social Media Networking Policy which is as follows:

  1. Personal blogs, social networking websites, and multi-media websites (including, but not limited to, websites such as Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter) should have clear disclaimers that the views expressed by the author in the blog are the author's alone and do not represent the views of the Borough of Bay Head. Be clear and write in the first person. Make your writing clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of the borough.

  2. Information published on your aforementioned blog(s) should comply with the borough's confidentiality and disclosure of pro-prietary data policies. This also applies to comments posted on other blogs, forums, and social networking sites.

  3. Be respectful of the borough, other employees, residents, constituents, vendors and independent contractors.

  4. Social media activities should not interfere with work commitments, priorities and responsibilities.

  5. Your online presence reflects the Borough. Be aware that your actions captured via images, posts, or comments can reflect that of the borough.

  6. Do not reference or cite borough employees, residents, constituents, vendors, or independent contractors without their express consent.

  7. The Borough of Bay Head logo may not be used without written consent.

  8. Recognize that you are legally liable for anything you write or present online. Employees can be disciplined by the borough for commentary, content, or images that are defamatory, pornographic, proprietary, harassing, libelous, or that can create a hostile work environment. You can also be sued by borough employees, residents, constituents, vendors, or independent contractors, and individual or entity that views your commentary, content, or images as defamatory, pornographic, proprietary, harassing, libelous or creating a hostile work environment.

We strongly encourage you to formulate a policy for you municipality if you haven't already done so.
Consider each of the 10 points in our guidelines and tailor a policy to suit your munipality.

The social media network phenomenon is going to continue to grow.

It isn't going away. We are going to continually monitor our policy for appropriateness.



Originally published in New Jersey Municipalities, Volume 89, Number 3, March 2012


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