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City adopts policy for multitude of social media sites

(Nov. 29, 2013) City council passed the town’s first-ever social media policy this week, formally establishing a chain of command for Ocean City’s proliferation of municipal pages on Facebook and other networking websites.

“There’s no policy in place now that says, per instance, that a Public Works employee couldn’t start a page and call it the official Public Works site,” said city Communications Manager Jessica Waters.

“They presently do not have to go through me, but this would require that they do that.”

Waters noted that the town and its various divisions and departments now have dozens of accounts on various online services, largely Facebook but also including Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and others.

Although she directly oversees the city’s press releases and major announcements, the proposed policy would establish a protocol for employees managing these sites and give Waters some level of supervision over them, even though she cannot be on every site all the time.

“The department heads have employees who they ask to post certain things, with the understanding from me as to what is typically being posted,” Waters said.

Although the policy will go a long way to establish uniformity on civic accounts, the other half of the issue is what employees may be posting on their personal pages, an issue that many city officials have said privately causes them some stress.

“So we have staff that is out there talking about the town in what way?” asked Councilwoman Margaret Pillas.

The present policy, Waters stressed, “pertains more to official use” and less to what employees may say on their own when not acting as a representative of the town.

“We will have a policy on that coming subsequently,” said City Manager David Recor.

Waters did note, however, that a voluntary social media seminar will be held for employees on Dec. 4 and will advise them of best practices. However, given the strictures of the First Amendment, there is a fine line in what the city can regulate in the personal media of its employees, and whether or not an employee is still held up as such outside the workplace, or outside the work website.

“It was recognized that a policy for official sites is the way to go, but when you’re talking about personal use, trying to educate and empower people to make good decisions [on their own volition] is probably best,” Waters said.

“We advise employees to keep their behavior in social media the same as they would outside of social media.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight did reiterate, however, that anything posted by a private party to a municipal site is still subject to being removed for offensive or inappropriate material.

“We have every right to allow that post not to be seen,” Knight said.

“We have a disclaimer written into this policy about things that will warrant the removal of a post,” Waters said.

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