When Bend city councilors want to use social media, they shouldn’t be forced to say things they don’t want to. The Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a social media policy that does just that.
City staff and the Council developed the policy to catch up to technology. The city doesn’t have rules for councilor use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media. The policy fills that void. It tramples a councilor’s freedom of speech.
The policy makes a weak attempt to protect public records. Posts and tweets by councilors may be subject to public records requests. The policy’s answer is to direct councilors to maintain their own records of their social media. That may be a reasonable solution. It does not, though, guarantee that public records will be preserved.
The social media policy also directs what councilors should say. The policy says councilors who use social media to communicate with constituents should “include a link back to the city’s official website for detailed information.” But what if a councilor doesn’t agree with the information on the city’s website or the city’s policy position? Why should a councilor be compelled to include a link?
The proposed rules further direct that councilors should post a notice on any social media platform that they use to communicate city business. One part of the notice would make it clear that any posts are personal opinions and not an official page or position of the city. A second outlines that posts may be deleted and why. Those are far from outrageous, but the city should not set rules for what notices an elected official should post on their page or account. It’s not the city’s property.
Even though the policy often uses “should” rather than “shall” when telling councilors what to do with social media, the policy is included in a broader document that has teeth. It says the Council may investigate any councilor for violations. A councilor could be subject to public reprimand.
It’s not freedom of speech if somebody is forced to say something they don’t want to. The policy infringes on the First Amendment.