July 17, 2013

ACLU says new Fairfield social media policy violates free speech rights

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

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Under Fairfield’s new social media policy, the town’s employees, on their personal Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts, may not use speech:

• containing obscene or sexually explicit language, images, or acts and statements;

• that would negatively affect the public perception of the town and its departments;

• divulging private facts and personal information about someone without their permission that has not been previously revealed to the public, is not of legitimate public concern, and would be offensive to a reasonable person;

• involving themselves or other town personnel reflecting behavior that would reasonably be considered reckless or irresponsible.

Employees who violate the policy are subject to discipline up to and including termination.

It does instruct employees not to engage in name-calling or personal attacks.

One thing that distinguishes the Fairfield policy from many others is that the basis for it originated in law enforcement.

Much of Fairfield’s draft language came from a model policy that was drafted for police departments by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Reny said interim police Chief Joseph Massey suggested the Fairfield police department adopt a social media policy, which prompted the Town Council to consider a uniform policy for all of the town’s departments.

Reny said the council heard specific concerns about online statements made by certain employees a few months ago.

“There were some employees, just like in any town, that like to post comments on things,” Reny said.

Most people, he said, have used common sense in their online postings, and are already in line with the guidelines.

A reserve police officer for the town who had engaged in the unwanted behavior recently left the department, Reny said. “It wasn’t solely for that reason, but it was a component of it,” Reny said.

In addition “we recently separated a part-time librarian for negative comments made on social media about coworkers,” Reny said.

Reny said Fairfield’s policy was reviewed and approved by the town attorney before the council voted to adopt it unanimously last week.

A call to council Chairwoman Tracey Stevens for comment on this story was not returned before press time.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

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