Southold officials will resume efforts toward creating a social media policy for the town — which was stalled due to the COVID-19 crisis — after residents complained that comments they left on the town’s Facebook page were taken down.
Councilwoman Sarah Nappa said at the June 16 work session that she received emails from residents about comments being deleted from the page. Nappa told the board it needed to be careful with the matter, as removing comments on the page could present a problem with freedom of speech guaranteed under the First Amendment.
“I wanted to bring it to the board’s attention and have the board discuss it for full transparency with the public,” Nappa said. “People knew that their comments were taken down and they wanted to know what was going on with that.”
In January, Southold officials began discussing creating a Facebook page for the town to get important information such as weekly events, news bulletins and other info to the public via social media. Those plans were placed on the back burner after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March and forced town offices to close soon after, according to town officials.
While town officials said the page was originally set up with the intention of not having comments posted, Lloyd Reisenberg, the town’s network and systems administrator who manages the webpage, said at the work session that there were several technical issues with Facebook due to policy changes they made last year that now made that difficult to do. Reisenberg said when comments that got through the page’s filters were posted, he “personally deletes everything” regardless of whether the comments were positive or negative.
“When I do see comments up there, and when they’re up there, as soon as I see them, I delete them,” Reisenberg said. “They’re gone, because the board determined at the time, ‘No comments.’ One-way communication. We can’t do that anymore. I wish there was a way … but that’s not how it works.”
Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Friday that a policy would likely include regulations that would prohibit all political discussion, defamatory comments toward town employees and personal attacks against town employees as its main points.
The board is also considering whether to hire an outside company or individual to manage the Facebook page to moderate comments and activity.
Russell said he would consider that idea if the town ultimately finds it cannot shut off all comment activity and added that he didn’t want to have any comments regarding national politics on the page.
“If they’re [users] going to go off on a discussion on national politics, like you see on every post you see on Facebook, we have no obligation to provide a forum for that,” Russell said. “There are other venues for that.”
Town attorney William Duffy said the plan is in draft form and would be circulated to the town board for further review. The board is expected to look it over by the end of the month.
Getting more social
- Southold currently has no social media policy regarding moderating comments on its social media, according to town officials.
- Town officials said they would like a social media policy to include language prohibiting foul language, attacking town employees or political dialogue or hate speech.
- Southold officials said they also plan to reach out to Long Island towns with strong social media presences, such as East Hampton Town, to get a better sense of what guidelines to create.