Honolulu police sued over deleted Facebook posts – your thoughts?

Home Forums Citizen Engagement & Customer Service Honolulu police sued over deleted Facebook posts – your thoughts?

This topic contains 28 replies, has 16 voices, and was last updated by  Justin Herman 7 years, 7 months ago.

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  • #168624

    Anil Chawla
    Participant

    Saw this in the Public Information Officer group on LinkedIn today and I thought that it raised a lot of interesting questions: http://www.necn.com/08/22/12/Gun-group-sues-Honolulu-police-over-Face/landing_politics.html?&apID=0fcf663519b840bca0adf5efd2114bee

    The article states that, “the lawsuit is the first in the nation that deals with deleted social media posts”. The core question this lawsuit raises is whether or not a government social media site presents a public forum in which communication cannot be controlled by the government.

    What do you think?

    How are folks currently mitigating these types of risks?

    Do you have an example of a social media policy that does a good job at addressing these issues?

  • #168680

    Justin Herman
    Participant

    This is completely frivolous, and likely does not represent a legitimate concern – I’m just as likely to get sued by Steve Ressler for beating him at Govloop Fantasy Football (which I will). This lawsuit is likely more driven by the desire to publicize the issue – hence why it is an advocacy group suing the department. That being said, any agency’s standard comment policy can cover this as well – just to make sure, they should paste it directly into the Facebook page to dispel immediately even the perception of mishandling.

  • #168678

    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Great questions, Anil. Please see my recent post, “Facebook & Free Speech: govies fired for “Like” —

    https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/facebook-free-speech-govies-fired-for-like?xg_source=activity

  • #168676

    Steve Ressler
    Keymaster

    Remember I got Peyton Manning bud…Peyton Manning.

  • #168674

    Steve Ressler
    Keymaster

    That’s kind of wild

    I’m a fan of EPA’s (which is as Justin said standard comment policy pasted into page)

    “Please share your thoughts and ideas. We’ll review comments according to our comment policy:http://www.epa.gov/epahome/commentpolicy.html . For information about your privacy and other policies”

  • #168672

    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    FYI — the web link no longer connects to the article.

  • #168670

    Anil Chawla
    Participant

    David, thanks for the heads up. I just fixed the link.

  • #168668

    Anil Chawla
    Participant

    Nice example, thanks Steve. It’s too bad Facebook makes it a little cumbersome to implement such a policy in practice, since the moderation must occur re-actively rather than pro-actively (aside from using the blacklist feature).

  • #168666

    Lisa Wilcox
    Participant

    I agree Justin

  • #168664

    Lisa Wilcox
    Participant

    Good article

  • #168662

    Joseph Porcelli
    Participant

    Yes, frivolous.

    From a tactical perspective:

    1) Policies needs to be in place

    2) Employees need to be trained to moderate against policies

    3) A log/database/archive of moderated content needs to be maintained

  • #168660

    Joseph Porcelli
    Participant

    Like.

  • #168658

    Hannah Ornell
    Participant

    I agree with you Justin. I don’t see why the Honolulu police shouldn’t be allowed to operate their facebook page as they see fit. I don’t see this as the first in a wave of facebook free speech debates but rather an attention-seeking gimmick.

  • #168656

    Hope OKeeffe
    Participant

    Frivolous or not, my personal belief is that it may be useful for feds to talk about this case in social media trainings. Up to now, we’ve been telling folks that because of First Amendment concerns they can’t delete Facebook posts and blog comments based on disagreement with their content. This adds some weight to that hitherto hypothetical concern.

    My personal belief is that when government opens up social media sites for comments, we create a limited purpose public forum. We can then moderate based on time, place, and manner concerns — whether the post is on topic, etc. — but not based on disagreement with its viewpoint.

  • #168654

    Dale M. Posthumus
    Participant

    Although the suit may be for publicity, I don’t think it is frivolous. It is not about whether the HPD can maintain their Facebook site as they choose, but about maintaining it according to the policies they established. If it was intended to be more or less an open forum, then they have to accept the good with the bad. If they want it only as a source of information for their own purposes, they can do so, but they must be explicit and clear about what won’t be accepted. I don’t have any more information, but from the article, it appears that the police had not set policies to prevent the kinds of postings of the group, but changed their mind without changing their policy. They could still do that.

  • #168652

    Anil Chawla
    Participant

    Joseph, I think you nailed it. Unfortunately, it’s not clear that the police department followed any of these three guidelines. #3 is especially going to bite if this case lives on and they are required to produce discovery.

  • #168650

    Ed Breaux
    Participant

    The Honolulu police sound like they need some social media coaching. Nevertheless, the lawsuit has no merit. I think Justin is right: It’s a grab for media attention.

    The Honolulu police should use a Moderated format to handle their censoring discretely.

    From a marketing perspective, it’s usually best not to censor, but rather to respond to points of disagreement. It’s a perfect chance to make one’s stance clear.

    If a post to a forum is clearly off topic or in violation of forum rules, a polite e-mail is all that is required, and the post can be removed. If this is what happened, then the Honolulu police should have told this to NECN, and NECN should not have even published this frivolous news. If NECN did not contact Honolulu police before publishing, then shame on them! They just fed into the gun group’s primitive marketing engine. That’s not news!

  • #168648

    Michael Cohen
    Participant

    Hope OKeeffe’s comment below is correct — the Honolulu police department has been using Facebook as a limited purpose public forum. Consequently, if the police department deletes a comment based on viewpoint (or other protected speech), then that government agency is violating First Amendment freedom of speech rights.

    The Honolulu government is lucky that the lawsuit doesn’t seek money…

    If government agencies want to use the internet for public forums, then they should use a service such as Peak Democracy Inc’s Open Town Hall platform. Open Town Hall is modeled after a public hearing and is designed to enable government agencies to provide online forums that are civil and legal as well as insightful. The platform integrates with social media (i.e. Facebook and Twitter) — but only to generate community awareness and participation.

    To learn more about how over 50 government agencies have launched over 700 online public comment forums that have attracted over 80,000 online attendees, go to http://www.PeakDemocracy.com .

  • #168646

    Kevin Lanahan
    Participant

    We’ve gone over this before.

    Have a comment policy. You can have it say anything you want, but rudeness, profanity, personal attacks and misinformation should be on the list. Saying bad things about your agency should not, as long as they are not blatant lies and misinformation.

    Follow your policy

    Keep a record of any posts that are deleted.

  • #168644

    Peter Sperry
    Participant

    There seems to be a confusion regarding the role of policies for social media in government. An agency can have state of the art policies which reflect the latest best practices as agreed upon by the social media community. If they are not aligned with the the Constitution, federal/state law, and relevant federal/state regulations, the court will set them aside and apply the law. If the court determines an agency’s social media site is informing policy development, they are highly likely to require compliance with relavant open meeting, open comment laws and regulations. If an agency’s governing statutes and regulations require them to make public negative feedback at meetings or recieved during comment periods available for review, they are likely to be required to do so on their social media sites. Very few government social media sites have been challanged in court, yet. I cannot think of any Supreme Court rulings on the subject. That is likely to change over the next few years. Site administrators who wrap themselves in policy statements and think the subject is ended may want to have their legal departments carefully review those statement to avoid unpleasant surprises when they go to court. And yes, in today’s society, it is a question of when not if.

  • #168642

    Michael Cohen
    Participant

    Peter,

    You are correct (as noted in my comment above).

    It’s surprising how many social media experts and government people think that government use of social media and crowd-sourcing tools can circumvent First Amendment freedom of speech rights, public records request and retention requirements, and various gradations of Sunshine ordinances.

    Government agencies that use Facebook, Twitter, blogs or crowd-sourcing tools to inform policy development are at risk of law suits if protected language is edited or removed (and most language is protected under the First Amendment).

    For more information about how to manage those legal risks in order to have government online forums that are civil and insightful — as well as legal, contact Peak Democracy Inc (http://www.PeakDemocracy.com).

  • #168640

    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Also read and share comments on Facebook & Free Speech: govies fired for “Like”

    This post focuses on current litigation before the US Court of Appeals.

  • #168638

    David B. Grinberg
    Participant

    Thanks Lisa. Can you please share your thoughts via a comment?

    Facebook & Free Speech: govies fired for “Like”

  • #168636

    Greg Bennett
    Participant

    Frivolous? Not at all.

    If any government agency uses public funds and the agency’s prestige to administer a public forum and then suppresses comments solely because they disagree with the administrator’s personal political bias, that’s a very clear violation of the intent of the First Amendment.

    When a government agency creates a public forum, it needs to clearly state not only what’s not allowed, but also the intent of the forum; and have a place to sort out off-topic discussions. Provide a way for people to speak their minds, but don’t let it clutter up the agency’s core business.

    Facebook doesn’t strike me as the best platform for doing this. You really need a good way to sort discussions by topic.

  • #168634

    Ed Cunningham
    Participant

    Can someone direct me to a good social media policy? especially one for municipal? thanks.

  • #168632

    Anil Chawla
    Participant

    Ed,

    I like this one from City of Arlington: http://www.arlingtontx.gov/ooc/pdf/Section%2010-1%20Social%20Media%20Personnel%20Policy.pdf

    It is very thorough and does a great job of addressing general policies, comment moderation, employee usage, and record retention procedures for adherence to public records laws.

  • #168630

    Steve Ressler
    Keymaster
  • #168628

    Anil Chawla
    Participant

    Awesome list. What does the Approved column signify?

  • #168626

    John L. Waid
    Participant

    I think they are asking the second question first. The first question is whether or not the posts were deleted in the ordinary course of business. If so, then the nature of the posts doesn’t matter. Even assuming they were some sort of government record, they were properly deleted. It may be a records management issue. Not enough information is given.

    To answer the question, the courts usually analogize to paper documents. An author can control the information located on his own site. The fact that in this case the author is the government does not change anything. The courts require the government to follow the rules established for everyone. The reverse is also true. The rules established for everyone also apply to the government. The rules don’t change simply because somebody wants something and it isn’t there. There are, of course, limitations, but not enough information is given to identify them, if they are there.

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