TBM plans to create town Facebook page, but council has concerns about comments

·3 min read

The Blue Mountains is moving forward with a plan to create a town Facebook page, but members of council remain concerned about a recommendation to allow public comments on the site.

Council, at its committee of the whole meeting on April 26, considered and debated a staff report highlighting an updated Social Media Strategy and Policy, which included a recommendation to create a Facebook page for the town that would allow public comments on each town post.

The public comment portion of the recommendation generated consternation around the council table and plenty of debate, with councillors noting that open public commentary had caused serious issues on Facebook pages of neighbouring communities, with the Town of Wasaga Beach eventually disabling comments on its Facebook page.

Tim Hendry, manager of communications and economic development and Carling Fee, communications and economic development coordinator presented the policy to council.

“Social media is a useful tool for information,” said Hendry.

Staff recommended allowing public comments on the Facebook page and explained that the social media strategy provides avenues for staff to moderate and, if necessary, delete inappropriate comments. However, staff acknowledged that the Facebook page would be monitored during regular business hours and not at night and on weekends.

Members of council raised several concerns about the commenting recommendation including: legal liability and the onus being placed on staff to monitor the comments section.

“Certainly it’s a difficult balancing act. In the extreme case that there are people who abuse this, they can be restricted from posting,” said Mayor Alar Soever.

Councillor Paula Hope said a town Facebook page is a new way for the municipality to engage in dialogue with residents and the community.

“I would argue quite strongly for the fact that we need this platform,” said Hope. “It’s worth trying. If there is a problem, it’s something we can check out and re-visit.”

The possibility of legal liability for comments posted on the town’s future Facebook page, during times when staff are unable to monitor the site weighed heavily on members of council.

“I’m getting less comfortable with the comment section turned on all the time” said Councillor Rob Sampson as the discussion went on.

Deputy Mayor Peter Bordignon had similar concerns.

“The liability outweighs the benefits of having a comment section,” said Bordignon.

Councillors asked members of staff if it was possible for the Facebook page to have the comment section turned off during times when monitoring is not possible. Staff said they would do further research on the matter and report back to council in the near future.

“There is no way to have no risk. The best defense is a good policy,” said Director of Legal Services Will Thomson. “Can we make the risk zero? No we can’t, but we hope the benefits outweigh the risks.”

Mayor Soever recommended a “short leash” for any commenters posting abusive or inappropriate material, with those posts being removed immediately.

“Ninety-nine per cent of our residents will use it responsibly. There will be some that don’t,” he said. “I don’t want to disadvantage the 99 per cent because of the one per cent who don’t know how to be responsible.”

The committee voted to proceed with the creation of a town Facebook page and members of staff will report back to provide more information and answers to outstanding questions from council on the recommendation to allow comments on the page.

Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca

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