The City of Olathe, KS, along with many other cities around the world, is facing a Facebook dilemma. The popular social media site is cracking down on their page management policy, and according to their Facebook Page Terms, name guidelines must not consist solely of generic terms such as “beer”, “pizza”, and now geographic locations such as the “City of Olathe, KS”.
While the first two examples may not pose serious issues for users, city governments across the world are being forced to change their page names to adapt to the new interpretation of this policy. Erin Vader, Communication & Public Engagement Manager of the City of Olathe, KS, explained the city’s primary issue with the policy, stating, “the ‘City of Olathe, KS’ is our legally recognized name of record (like other cities across the country).”
For state and local governments, Facebook’s enforcement of this policy has left several city social media managers without administrative rights to their accounts, and has removed the vanity URLs from their page names. After being issued a generic notification via email, city accounts have been restricted.
Tom Brazelton, Web Communications Specialist of the City of Ankeny, IA, writes, “Disassociation from our [vanity] URL has effectively broken all of our links coming from our press releases and other links on our web site.”
Vader also indicated that implementing this change would pose a logistical nightmare for them: “First and foremost, ‘City of Olathe, KS’ is our brand. It is on all of our official correspondence. The Facebook URL is used on most if not all of our citizen communications.” She added, “Over the past few years, units of government have been slow to embrace the use of social media to connect with residents and stakeholders and it would be a shame to create one more obstacle that impedes progress on this issue.”
For Facebook, however, having city governments represent themselves on the site with a generic name may interfere with their Facebook “place” status updates, causing users to check in to city pages instead of geographic places. Moreover, as Brazelton reports, Facebook explained that in larger cities where multiple agencies may try to claim ownership of a generic name, this policy curbs name conflicts before they arise. Due to the fact that multiple government entities within a city, such as the Mayor’s Office and City Council, may want to utilize the generic city name for their respective pages, this policy prevents Facebook from arbitrating disputes.
Despite their rationale for enforcing this policy, retroactively requiring that cities change their page names without clear explanation has left many users frustrated and confused. As Kristy Fifelski comments, there is no clear language in Facebook’s terms that explains this policy.
With the number of government organizations utilizing Facebook and generating significant traffic on the site, it would be beneficial for them to clarify their policy for government users. Vader concluded, “I am concerned about how this will impact other cities across the country; particularly because there doesn’t appear to be much awareness about the issue, there is no standard process in place and cities receiving the notification currently have no recourse.”
While there is currently no recourse for individual cities, the National League of Cities has now become involved in the matter. They will hopefully be able to leverage their partnership with the 49 state municipal leagues to reach an acceptable agreement on the issue.