Selectmen address Facebook issues

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

A formal policy for “social media” like Facebook and Twitter is coming soon to the Town of Bridgton.

The Bridgton Board of Selectmen held a special meeting late last month, in order to enter into an executive session for the purpose of discussing personnel matters in the Bridgton Police Department, as a result of the letter of retirement they received from Chief of Police David Lyons.

Afterward, during the open session of their Oct. 29 special meeting, the selectmen raised some concerns regarding the Facebook page that the Bridgton Police Department members maintain, Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said.

According to Berkowitz, “The Board members were reminded that many of their concerns were incorporated into the draft policy called ‘ElectronicCommunications, Equipment and Use Policy’ which they had received at their Oct. 26, 2010 regular meeting. The general concerns were related to being able to access the Facebook page without restrictions or subscription, timely and accurate content and the use of information that had not been approved or vulgar language that some viewers had posted…Having stated their concerns, the selectmen left the issues with the (Town) Manager.”

So, what happened?

Well, a message appeared on the Bridgton Police Department Facebook page on the night of Oct. 29 that read: “Per the Board of Selectmen and the Town Manager, all comments from the public on this Facebook page will be disabled tonight at midnight.”

Yet, Berkowitz said it was not his intention, nor that of the selectmen, to shut the Police Department’s Facebook page down, nor was it their intention to prohibit comments from the public.

However, Berkowitz said the intent is to have town departments’ Facebook pages “be more for informational output.” He said the public is always free to call the town office, write or e-mail letters to him and/or the selectmen, or come by the town office to offer input and suggestions and to express their concerns.

The town manager said he met with two Bridgton police officers late on the afternoon of Oct. 29 to discuss the status of the Department’s Facebook page, following the selectmen’s meeting.

“When I met with the two officers, I indicated several points of concern from my perspective, as town manager,” Berkowitz said. “I said I wanted (the Police) Department’s Facebook page to have the same qualities as the town website does — free access — where you don’t need permission for access.”

“At some point, we’re ultimately liable, and the public holds us accountable,” Berkowitz said.

The proposed “Electronic Communications, Equipment and Use Policy” that the selectmen were expected to adopt at their upcoming meeting on Nov. 9, states, “A Town approved social media site must allow access to the information by all who attempt to access the social media site and may not arbitrarily deny any access to the content as posted. However, the site may not indiscriminately allow some links to other sites that do not adhere to principles enumerated above while denying links to others. In those circumstances, the town manager is authorized to remove the offending content, links, or site until further review is conducted. Social media sites may vary but in all cases where this form is approved by the Board of Selectmen for use by a department, the site shall not permit the posting of individual photographs, opinions and comments, except within the context of a survey and must be linked from the department’s website page for easy access by any viewer. In addition, the following statement shall appear on the social media site: ‘The nature and purpose of establishing a social media page or site is to provide you, the viewer with accurate, up to date and timely information. Your comments and opinions are welcomed and we encourage you to contact us at 647-8786 since this site does not provide for such postings.’”

The goal for the town’s website and social media pages is “control and guidance,” said Berkowitz. “That’s the standard we’re using,” he said.

“They are meant to be informational,” the town manager said. “And, websites are becoming dinosaurs — people want instantaneous information. Information in general, like Reverse 9-1-1 — there’s not a problem with that being put on Facebook and the (town) website. Without a local daily newspaper, or radio station, there is a need for Facebook content that is timely and accurate.”

However, if citizens want to comment on certain subjects or departments, they can establish their own website or Facebook page to do just that, said Berkowitz.

“If individuals want to establish their own Facebook page to make their comments, that’s fine — but not on our social media pages,” the town manager said. “I take full responsibility for coordinating social media on Facebook, even from the departments in town, such as the Police Department and the Recreation Department.”

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