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Town of Huntington sets social media policy

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone appears with the

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone appears with the town's Facebook page in his Huntington office on Sept. 22, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

Town of Huntington officials have introduced a social-media policy for those who post on town-run Web pages on such places as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Town Supervisor Frank P. Petrone said public comments are welcome as a way to share ideas and advance public dialogue. But, he added, there must be rules to set a tone that is appropriate on the sites.

"You want a site that people want to go on," Petrone said. "When people get on and monopolize things and the Internet trolling takes place, you know legitimate people think it's a waste of time and you lose the people you want to hear from."

The new policy was posted to the town website on Sept. 2, the latest town effort to increase decorum in its interactions with the public.

In July, the town unveiled its Rules of Decorum During Public Proceedings, outlining the use of recording devices, mandating courteous behavior, setting limits on speaking time and other dictates.

Petrone said the social-media policy is a pre-emptive warning to those who visit the town's various social-media websites.

It is designed to prevent inappropriate posts that might include random or unintelligible comments; comments supporting or opposing political campaigns or ballot measures; profane, obscene, violent, sexual or pornographic content and/or language; and encouragement of illegal activity.

Posters who repeatedly violate the policy face being banned, Petrone said.

Town spokesman A.J. Carter and Steven Carballeira, a town employee who works in Internet technology and handles the technical issues involving the town's social-media sites and Web, attended a conference this year in Reno, Nevada, to get ideas about interactive sites. One take-away was that governments need to formulate a policy on how to administer social-media sites.

The town based part of its policy on a book co-authored by Patricia E. Salkin, a Touro Law Center dean and professor, called "Social Media and Local Governments: Navigating the New Public Square."

Town policy creators also referenced social-media policies from Philadelphia and Redmond, Washington. "It outlines what is considered acceptable, what's not acceptable communications," Petrone said. "It's a comprehensive plan."

Salkin said having a policy and setting ground rules is a good idea if comments are allowed. "Local governments have to walk the line between allowing a public forum for speech, but on the same token not providing a forum where speech is offensive," she said.

Other Long Island towns have more informal policies.

Petrone said Huntington is creating a policy for staffers to make it clear what is acceptable, especially for those who are both employees and residents. "They wear a hat as an employee and as a private citizen, so there has to be a distinction and there has to be a policy to deal with that," he said.

Officials also plan to outline the use of social media during work hours, Petrone said.

"All too often, I'll get calls from people saying, 'Your employee, I want you to know, is on Facebook right now, and it's 2 o'clock in the afternoon,' " Petrone said. "So there has to be a policy to protect everyone, no surprises."

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