The Municipality of Powassan is considering creating a social media policy but Mayor Peter McIsaac says he doesn’t want to make it look like the town council is trying to censor its employees.
Coun. Debbie Piekarski put the proposal together which would control statements made on the municipality’s Facebook page.
Piekarski wants it understood that her proposal keeps the Mayor as the spokesperson for the municipality and that town employees would need the mayor’s permission before posting on Facebook.
However McIsaac had concerns with this approach saying residents ask a lot of questions on the municipal Facebook page “and they get answered (by staff) before I even see them.”
“I don’t want people coming to me to OK everything that goes out,” McIsaac said. “It would be a nightmare.”
However, Piekarski said the policy was not designed to affect normal, everyday questions from the public.
“It’s to address commentaries that staff may choose to publish,” she said.
Piekarski said the aim was to not have town employees express their opinions about local government on the municipality’s Facebook page.
“It’s the opinion pieces we have to be careful about,” Piekarski said.
“Because we use Facebook so much, it opens the channels for people to get emotionally involved and we have to be careful about that. This is where the mayor or the mayor’s designate is the respondent.”
McIsaac agreed a large number of conversations take place on the municipal Facebook page but told Piekarski the proposed policy takes council down “a slippery slope.”
McIsaac said the town workers also have their own personal Facebook accounts.
“We don’t want staff to perceive we’re trying to censor their private Facebook page and that they can’t talk about what’s going on in the community,” he said.
McIssac said what further complicated the matter is there are instances where a person reading a Facebook posting misinterprets the meaning.
Deputy Mayor Randy Hall agreed and said once something is misunderstood “then it escalates.”
Although Hall agreed the municipality needed a social media policy, he wanted a legal opinion so that a lawyer could clarify whether the proposed policy actually censors municipal employees.
McIsaac welcomed Hall’s suggestion adding a Facebook debate “can go sideways so fast” that a point is reached where people open themselves up to libelous situations.
Piekarski told council she’ll rework some of the language in the proposed policy.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget