While more and more public agencies have harnessed the power of Facebook and other social media sites to get their message out, it is not without meeting some administrative challenges. Questions often arise as to whether all users should be allowed to comment and if all comments should be allowed, and towns vary in how they police their sites. Further, what are the retention rules applicable to this type of communication, and what “records” are subject to OPRA?
These issues may be increasingly subject to challenge in the courts.
One example concerns the City of Trenton, which was sued following its denial of a record sought after the plaintiff in the case, Richard Lord, was blocked from the City’s Facebook page for posting a comment critical of the City.
A Mercer County judge has ordered the City to disclose what the City claims is an “internal” memo written by the City Clerk regarding its social media policy. The City, which claimed the memo was “deliberative” because, in part, the social media policy had not yet been adopted, had until 11/4/2016 to comply with the order or appeal.
It was reported by the Trentonian on 11/7/2016 that the memo, termed “innocuous” by open government advocate John Paff, was released by the municipality. Paff said he feels the memo shows that the municipality is making an effort to comply with public records laws, in fact. The last line of the Clerk’s memo is interesting. It reads: “A public entity cannot have a public Facebook page and then decide what they can censor in and…censor out.”
See our case summary for more information: