The Town of Oyster Bay has blocked four people, including two former town board candidates, from posting on Supervisor Joseph Saladino’s Facebook page for allegedly violating its code of conduct.
Town spokesman Brian Nevin said in an email that Saladino’s page — which serves as the town’s official page — has a policy of removing content that is “obscene, offensive or otherwise inappropriate” or “dramatically off-topic, overly-argumentative with other posters” or contains spam or repeated commentary. Nevin said the banned individuals, whom town officials did not identify, were repeat violators.
Eva Pearson, 46, a former Democratic candidate for the Oyster Bay Town Board, said she was banned after making a single comment on Republican Saladino’s Facebook page last month questioning whether it was ethical for him to post a comment about his favorite burger joint, which had also been a campaign contributor.
“I only posted one comment and it was immediately deleted,” Pearson said.
She said she didn’t recall posting anything on Saladino’s page from her campaign Facebook account and said that account was also blocked.
Several Long Island municipalities have written policies on Facebook comments that are similar to preliminary guidelines issued in 2010 by the New York State Archives, an office within the state education department that oversees record retention.
Those guidelines suggested that agencies consult with their “legal counsel for guidance on how to keep conversation civil without violating free speech.” The guidance also suggested that agencies create use policies and delete comments that violate those policies, which may include prohibitions of comments that are violent, obscene, racist, threatening, defamatory, advertisements, multiple off-topic posts by a single user and repetitive posts copied and pasted by multiple users.
Ned Newhouse, 58, a publishing executive from Woodbury, said more than a dozen comments of his on the town’s now-deleted Facebook page and Saladino’s page were removed and that he was temporarily banned.
Newhouse said his comments “were not obnoxious, snarky or threatening. They were perfectly reasonable concerns of a taxpayer that were critical but questioning.”
He said his most recent comment to be removed criticized Saladino for replacing the town’s Facebook page with his own, stating “I think it is wrong for you to take 100 percent of the credit for the activities of the TOB.” Deleting the post would be a “dummy move” that could open the town up to lawsuits, Newhouse said in the removed post.
Robert Freier, a former Democratic candidate for town board, said he also was blocked from Saladino’s Facebook page.
The question of how municipalities can address social media comments is the subject of a federal-court case under appeal. U.S. District Judge James Cacheris in Virginia last year ruled in Brian C. Davison vs. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors that a local official had violated Davison’s First Amendment right to free speech by blocking him temporarily on her official Facebook page.
It’s not clear when Oyster Bay’s policy was put in place. Saladino said last month he was unaware of residents’ comments being deleted.
“I’m not privy to that, I wouldn’t know,” Saladino said at the time.
Most posts on Saladino’s page praise the supervisor and the job he’s doing.
The Town of Babylon allows criticism of its government on its Facebook page where freewheeling discussions about town services range from praise to outrage. As taxpayers rushed to pay their 2018 taxes in 2017, users criticized the Babylon tax receiver’s hours and long lines, and those comments have remained on the page, as have critical comments about snow plowing.
“We have a policy against blocking anybody,” Babylon spokesman Kevin Bonner said.
The town uses Facebook’s built-in filters that hides comments using foul language, and the communications staff monitors comments.
“We’ve never had to delete comments,” Bonner said.
The town doesn’t have a written policy to deal with abusive comments that might get past the Facebook filter but the issue hasn’t come up, he said.
“If somebody violates Facebook policy, that’s something we leave up to Facebook to remove or not,” Garguilo said. “As far as the public goes, they have a right to voice their opinion whether it’s favorable or not.”
Garguilo said the removal of posts would only be done in consultation with the town attorney.
“I can’t see us blocking somebody,” Garguilo said.
North Hempstead’s policy allows the removal of comments that are “offensive, abusive, defamatory . . . or politically motivated,” or are harassing, deceptive, misleading or advertising. The town is working to develop a policy that would allow them to block users who ”continually use defamatory language” but spokeswoman Carole Trottere said that policy has not been finalized.
Long Beach’s policy includes a three-strikes provision that calls for “restricted access” for repeated violators who post vulgar, threatening, harassing language and make personal attacks.
Social Media Policy:
The New York State Archives, which sets record retention rules, suggested municipal policies on social media comments may include prohibitions against:
- Violent, obscene, profane, hateful, or racist comments
- Comments that threaten or defame any person or organization
- Solicitations, advertisements, or endorsements of any financial, commercial or nongovernmental agency
- Comments that suggest or encourage illegal activity
- Multiple off-topic posts by a single user
- Repetitive posts copied and pasted by multiple users
Source: New York State Archives