Attendees of the Fourth Annual Public Law Conference learned
about recommended boundaries on governmental use of social media
and ramifications of the commonwealth's changes to the Open Meeting
Keynote speaker Robert Nasdor spoke on the interpretation of the
OML by the Massachusetts Attorney General's office. Attorneys from
the Massachusetts Information Technology Division - Deputy General
Counsel Stephanie Zierten and Project & Social Media
Coordinator Jessica Weiss - presented a session on The Use of
Social Media by Government Agencies. The conference, which was
sponsored by Public Law Section, was held June 2 at the
Massachusetts Bar Association's Boston office.
While Nasdor acknowledged that municipal officials may need
clarification on changes to the OML, he said that small adjustments
can help municipalities meet the new requirements. He explained
that officials should consider three factors determining whether a
body must adhere to the OML:
- the body's charge
- whether the body is formally created
- whether it performs a public function.
The changes to the OML mandate that the chair of an official
body post a publicly accessible notice of the meeting, along with a
list of all reasonably anticipated topics, at least 48 hours in
advance. Attendees expressed concern regarding the specificity of
the topics listed, as well as the difficulty of finding an
acceptable public location for the notices.
Nasdor recognized these difficulties and explained that
recommendations for municipal procedures would be available from
his office in the Division of Open Government shortly after July 1.
He also said that different communities would find varying
solutions to adhere to the new rules. For example, some might find
a waterproof binder to be a good solution for listing notices,
while others might consider a large covered bulletin board or
monitor to be useful.
In their skills training session, Zierten and Weiss described
social media boundaries government officials should implement to
avoid potential legal problems.
"Every tweet is a public record," said Weiss. "Social media is a
tool to achieve communications goals … but right now, it's very
unclear what the implications are."
The biggest barriers to the use of social media by agencies
sites. While the terms of service are currently under negotiation
with Web sites such as YouTube, agencies can find some internal
solutions to avoid other problems.
While employers should clearly list their expectations regarding
employees' use of social media, responsibility falls on the
employees to live up to these guidelines.
Employees' behavior online should depend on whether the use of
social media is listed as a job function. Best practices should
include respecting the agency's acceptable use policy, listing a
disclaimer on Web sites and securing separate social media
identities for work and personal use.
Agencies should protect both themselves and their constituents'
First Amendment rights by clearly stating and enforcing both Web
site terms and comment policies on social media Web sites.
Remaining aware of public accessibility to online collaboration and
discussion is also important to avoid OML issues.
All agencies must also adhere to public records law by retaining
all information that appears on the Web site.