‘People are passionate’: Council debates social media policy

The draft policy will be updated to include community and council feedback ahead of final ratification, which is expected at the May 15 meeting

Social media will remain, but how the City of Collingwood will leverage the tool while balancing employee well-being with residents’ freedom of expression remains to be seen.

During the committee of Monday’s full meeting, councilors discussed proposed changes to the city’s social media policy, which is currently being updated for the first time since its inception in 2016.

“I am pleased that this policy is moving forward. Social media is here to stay. So many people today only get their information from social media. We need to use this tool,” Mayor Yvonne Hamlin said during Monday’s meeting.

The policy includes updated comment standards for the city’s social media channels, including a ban on profane, obscene, racist, or otherwise discriminatory content; personal attacks, insults or threats; plagiarized material; commercial advertising; Violate any local statute, state or federal law, or encourage illegal activity; confidential information released without consent; Promote political candidates or content deemed inappropriate by the city.

Any commenters who do not follow City guidelines may be blocked or prevented from further commenting on City social media pages.

Under the updated policy, employees who manage the city’s social media are protected by the city’s health and safety policies, which include the city’s policies on discrimination, violence and harassment, and the city’s social media spaces are considered an extension of the workplace.

As of now, the City of Collingwood has a Facebook account (6,100 followers), Twitter (5,477 followers), Instagram (733 followers), YouTube (3,090 followers), and LinkedIn (2,067 followers). The city also oversees the social media pages for the Collingwood Museum, Collingwood Public Library and Simcoe Street Theatre.

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“We cannot monitor our social media channels 24/7. Only two of us are capable of that,” Christa Carter, manager of public relations and communications with the city, said during Monday’s meeting.

count. Christopher Baines expressed disbelief that just two employees manage all of the city’s social media profiles.

“How do you not burn out in this job? I just don’t know how to live a productive life with sanity,” Baines said.

Carter said it can be “tiring” reading repeated negative comments from users.

“I take it personally sometimes too, but I’m very passionate about it,” she said.

Under the updated policy, there are also rules for council members, committee/board members and staff regarding their personal social media pages when sharing city content.

Members are not permitted to make derogatory remarks or express opinions that could be considered derogatory of the City, and if staff/councillors/members of Friends of the City make derogatory remarks in their comment sections, they are encouraged to remove those comments.

“We have a higher standard than the residents. We all play a role in making sure the community’s image is maintained,” Carter said.

count. Kathy Jeffery said social media surveillance scares her a lot.

“We have information that we need to share with the public that need it. I don’t think it’s a good use of our staff’s time to go through these posts to decide whether or not they’re worded correctly,” she said. “We need to hear from people, but I’m not sure it is, and I feel there is a conflict between the staff and the Council about being a part of this conversation.”

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“Our leeway to influence those decisions is here,” she said.

Jeffery noted that the city welcomes public feedback through several other avenues, such as public deputations, polls, and email, that don’t require near-constant moderation.

“People are passionate, and they can’t resist the urge to come out and debate, wherever that is. There are many other ways to do that,” Jeffery said. “There are many other priorities for our staff besides trying to monitor conversations.”

Carter clarified that there is no easy toggle on social media to turn off all comments, saying that disabling comments entirely would require disabling comments on each individual post, which could be more time-consuming than the current system.

count. Brandon Houston said he has concerns about committee members’ personal social media accounts and how it could affect freedom of expression and the right to debate.

Amanda Pegg, executive director for business and community services, said the city had received some feedback on the draft policy, which would be incorporated into an updated version that would be presented to council on May 15 before a final vote.

“We’re going to look at the policy again to see how we can make sure we’re not violating human rights,” Pegg said. “That’s definitely not our intention. Our goal is to create a respectful workplace for our employees.”

“I think it’s about being a good person and a good member of this community. I say this to my sons all the time: if you’re launching something that’s going to exist forever, make sure it’s something you want to associate with your name,” Pegg said. “Even if it’s deleted, it’s still there.”

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Council members voted unanimously to recommend adoption of the draft policy. count. Deb Doherty was absent.

The final policy will be put to the vote of Council members at their regular Council meeting on May 15th.