Should Municipalities (Or Other Public Bodies) Have Facebook Pages?

A California town has decided not to have a Facebook page after being advised by its lawyer of the legal risks.

The ABA Journal has the story.

Excerpt:

The legal issues include:

  • May city officials remove vulgar posts and misinformation, or are the comments protected by the First Amendment?
  • If a quorum of city council members comment on a Facebook post, is it a violation of the open meetings law? Such laws require advance notice of meetings and an opportunity to attend, blogger Robert Ambrogi writes at the Media Law blog.
  • Is the city obligated to retain user comments under the state’s public records law?
  • Could the city face liability for employee comments deemed offensive in the workplace?

Would you give the same advice to a Canadian municipality? Other public body? How would you answer those questions here? I know lawyers are paid to perceive risks, but also to evaluate them. It seems to me prima facie (oops! we don’t use Latin any more in the Ontario government [not that I write as an official of same] … as a matter of first impression) that these risks are not all that problematic and that they could be dealt with by appropriate published policies.

The lawyer did go on to say that he didn’t want his client to show up in the law reports as a test case, and one can have some sympathy for that point of view.

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Comments

  1. The municipality already has a website, I assume. So why does it need Facebook? Facebook is a medium for social connection and communication. A political entity (or corporate for that matter) is not an individual with whom a person may carry on a conversation with or relate to on a personal basis. Is this just an attempt to “connect” with the current generation? I think so. Websites already exist where citizens and visitors may voice concerns or applaud the municipality. I agree with the counselor here, there is no point to it, and the risk for misuse and miscommunication is too high.

  2. Facebook is slowly creating webpages for all types of things, often mirrored from Wikipedia entries.

    The municipality might find that Facebook makes a page for them, without their control. They would have a lot less input, but also not have to worry about the risks identified above.