Township staff reviewing controversial changes to social media policy

Little more than a week after being approved by council, changes to the Township’s social media policy are being reviewed by staff following online criticism from residents.

The revisions approved March 26 prohibit employees from using their social media accounts to “comment or question any of the Township of Brock’s policies, procedures and decisions of council” and also precludes staff from identifying themselves as municipal staff on social media.

As well, the policy states that staff should not share posts from the Township, such as public notices or press releases, or “post material that reflects poorly on the Township of Brock.”

Council’s approval of the policy immediately caught the eye of several residents on social media, including some that have questioned whether the restrictions infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Cannington resident Walter Schummer even penned an open letter to local politicians criticizing the measures.

In responding to numerous questions about the policy from The Brock Voice in recent days, CAO/Clerk Thom Gettinby noted that the revisions were suggested following a staff review.

“We canvassed the area municipalities in Durham – Ajax, Scugog, Oshawa, Clarington,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“I would assume that all municipalities have a policy in effect.”

While it’s true many municipalities have instituted social media policies, an online review shows that most don’t extend to personal posts of employees and none appear to specifically prohibit staff members from questioning decisions of council.

When asked to provide examples of similar restrictions in other municipalities, Gettinby declined and encouraged the Voice to reach out to them directly.

The social media policies for Oshawa, Whitby, Uxbridge, Scugog, Barrie and the County of Simcoe place no restrictions on personal posts, instead focusing only on procedures for municipal pages.

Seven others – Ajax, Clarington, Pickering, Kawartha Lakes, Georgina, Ramara and the Region of Durham – have no formal social media policies posted online (the Voice has requested more information).

Only two municipalities, Orillia and Peterborough, have adopted policies pertaining to employee posts and both appear to be far more generalized than that of Brock Township.

The policy in Orillia notes that employees must “conduct themselves as representatives of the City at all times.”

“Employees are expected to conduct themselves professionally both on and off duty. Where a staff member publically associates him or herself with the City, all materials associated with his or her page may reflect upon the City. Inappropriate comments, photographs, links etc. must be avoided,” it reads.

As well, staff are prohibited from posting content that violates the Criminal Code or the Ontario Human Rights Code, as well as proprietary and confidential information and discriminatory statements or sexual innuendos involving the City of Orillia or any of its employees, managers, customers and vendors.

The City of Peterborough’s policy is quite similar but applies only to those that have identified themselves as a member of municipal staff.

“Notwithstanding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, those who identify themselves as a City representative during their personal use of social media must hold themselves to the same level of professional conduct as required by relevant City policies and procedures and their applicable code of conduct,” it reads.

The policy even includes a link to the Charter.

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