§ 2-230.15. Guidelines for Use of Social Media Sites  

Effective on Wednesday, April 3, 2019
  • (a) Electronic Communications and Computer Usage Policy. All employees are responsible for understanding and following the City's Electronic Communications and Computer Usage Policy, in addition to this Policy.  

    (b) First Amendment Protected Speech. Although the City can moderate the social media sites that accept comments from the public (such as blogs and wikis) to restrict speech that is obscene, threatening, discriminatory, harassing, or off topic, employees cannot use the moderation function to restrict speech with which the City merely disagrees (i.e. subject matter restrictions). Users have some First Amendment rights in posting content to public social media sites hosted by municipalities. Moderators must respect those rights by posting all comments other than those excluded for specific legitimate reasons, as referenced above.

    (c) Copyright Law. Employees must abide by laws governing copyright and fair use of copyrighted material owned by others. Never reprint whole articles or publications without first receiving written permission from the publication owner. Never quote an excerpt of someone else’s work without acknowledging the source, and, if possible, provide a link to the original.

    (d) Conflict of Interest. Employees are prohibited from using social media to engage in any activity that constitutes a conflict of interest for the City or any of its employees.

    (e) Protect Confidential Information. Never post legally protected personal information that you have obtained from the City   (e.g., information that is not public record under the Public Records Law or whose dissemination is restricted under applicable Federal or State privacy laws or regulations). Ask permission to publish or report on conversations that occur within the City. Never post information about policies or plans that have not been finalized by the City, unless you have received explicit permission from your supervisor to post draft policies or plans on the department’s social media sites for public comment.

    (f) Consider Your Content. As informal as social media sites are meant to be, if they are on a government domain or a government identity, they are official government communications. Social media sites will be sought out by mainstream media – so a great deal of thought needs to go into how you will use the social media in a way that benefits both the City and the public. Employees should not comment about rumors, political disputes, or personnel issues, for example.

    (g) Handling Negative Comments. Because the purpose of many social media sites, particularly department blogs and wikis, is to get feedback from the public, you should expect that some of the feedback you receive will be negative. Some effective ways to respond to negative comments include:

    1) Providing accurate information in the spirit of being helpful;

    2) Respectfully disagreeing; and

    3) Acknowledging that it is possible to hold different points of view.

    (h) Respect Your Audience and Your Coworkers. Do not use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in your department’s workplace. Do not be afraid to be yourself, but do so respectfully. This includes not only the obvious (no ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, threats of violence, etc.) but also proper consideration of privacy and of topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory— such as party politics and religion. Do not use your department’s social media presence to communicate among fellow City employees. Do not air your differences with your fellow City employees on your department’s social media’s sites.

    (I) Use the Social Media Site or Identity Only to Contribute to your Department’s Mission. When you contribute to your department’s social media site or identity, provide worthwhile information and perspective that contribute to your department’s mission of serving the public. What you publish will reflect on the City. Social media sites and identities should be used in a way that contributes to the City’s mission by:   

    1) Helping you and your co-workers perform their jobs better;

    2) Informing citizens about government services and how to access them;

    3) Making the operations of your department transparent and accessible to the public;

    4) Creating a forum for the receipt of candid comments from residents about how government can be improved; and

    5) Encouraging civic engagement.

    (j) Mistakes. The City policy is that once something is posted, it should stay posted. Only spelling errors or grammar fixes should be made without making the change evident to users. If you choose to modify an earlier post, make it clear that you have done so—do not remove or delete the incorrect content; provide the correct information and apologize for the error. Ways to accomplish this include:

    1) Strike through the error and correct; or

    2) Create a new post with the correct information, and link to it from the post you need to correct or clarify.

    Either method is acceptable. In order for the social media identity or site to achieve transparency, the City cannot change content that has already been published without making the changes clearly evident to users.

    (k) Media Inquiries. City or department social media identities or sites may lead to increased inquiries from the media. If you are contacted directly by a reporter, you should refer media questions to the Public Information Officer.

    (l) Personal Comments. Make it clear when you are speaking for yourself as a resident or stakeholder, and not on behalf of the City of Lake Wales. If you publish content on any website of the City and it has something to do with the work you do or subjects associated with the City, use a disclaimer such as this: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the City’s positions or opinions.”

    (m) Employee  Profile. If you identify yourself as a City employee  ensure your profile and related content is consistent with how you wish to present yourself to colleagues, residents and other stakeholders.

    (n) Defamation. Be aware that employees acting in their individual capacity (not on behalf of the City) are not immune from defamation claims. Under the law, defamation is established by showing that the defendant published a false, non-privileged statement about the plaintiff to a third party that either caused the plaintiff economic loss or was of the type that is actionable without proof of economic loss.  Avoid statements that may be interpreted as defamatory.

    (o) Records Retention. Social media sites will contain communications sent to or received by employees, and are therefore Public Records. Ensure that the City or department retains a copy of the social media content in accordance with Public Records Retention Schedules. Review the third party social media service provider’s terms of service for its record retention practices. Note that while third party social media providers will most likely save your content for some period of time, they generally will not save it indefinitely. To the extent their policies are inconsistent with Public Records Retention Schedules, the City or department should retain copies of social media posts such as by printing or otherwise storing periodic “snapshots” of the social media sites.

    (p) Open Meeting Law. Be aware of the Open Meeting Law and possible violations for improper deliberations outside of a posted meeting. A series of individual postings on a social media site cumulatively may convey the position of a quorum of a governmental body regarding a subject within its jurisdiction, and may constitute improper deliberation among the members of a board or committee.

(Ord. No. 2019-06, § 1, 4-3-19)