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Panel ponders Columbia County social media policy

September 7, 2018

Acting chairman Bruce Rashke got a collective belly-laugh Wednesday from fellow members of the Columbia County Board’s Information Services and Property Committee, when he suggested a six-word policy for the county’s use of social media: “Don’t do it. It ends badly.”

That ship has sailed. Management Information Services Director David Drews said many county departments already have a social media presence, on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

What the county doesn’t have, however, is a comprehensive policy guiding what can be posted on social media sites, who is tasked with overseeing the county’s social media presence and what to do when something posted on social media does not accurately reflect county policies or procedures.

The county’s existing policy is neither detailed nor comprehensive, Drews said.

That’s why he has been working with Assistant Corporation Counsel Susan Fisher to draft a detailed policy.

The committee looked at the draft policy Wednesday, but wants time to study it.

Rashke, of the town of Wyocena, said he wanted to make it clear that any social media policy Columbia County might adopt would govern official county sites only, and would not affect what county employees can and can’t post in their individual social media accounts.

Columbia County’s most prominent social media presence is the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. The Department of Health and Human Services also has a Facebook page, as does the University of Wisconsin-Extension Columbia County. There are no posts on the Extension page, although at least two Extension programs, Master Gardeners and Future Leaders Active in Government, have active Facebook pages of their own.

Drews said one of the biggest issues with the county’s current social media policy is the lack of clarity regarding oversight. Many departments have employees who are assigned to oversee the department’s social media, but current policy doesn’t make it clear whether department head need to be aware of what’s being posted in the department’s social media sites.

The proposed policy is “very in-depth, making department (staff) aware that social media is not a place where they can do anything, at any time,” Drews said.

Rashke said the new policy needs to emphasize that department heads must actively monitor their department’s social media presence, and act whenever something is posted that shouldn’t be. For that to happen, they need to be trained, he said.

Examples of prohibited posts, as proposed in the draft policy, include:

• Anything promoting the perspective of a particular religion.

• Endorsements or non-endorsements for any political candidate, party or issue.

• Information that is protected by confidentiality laws, including the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

• Anything promoting a particular business or product.

Rashke said one of his main concerns about social media is what to do when something posted on a county department’s site – either by a county employee or by a member of the public posting comment – incorrectly states, or contradicts, the county’s official position.

In instances like that, the social media site should direct users to the appropriate area of the county’s website where the relevant policy, ordinance or resolution is posted.

County Board Second Vice Chairman James Foley of the town of Leeds asked whether a detailed social media policy is truly necessary.

It is, Rashke said.

“This is desperately needed if we have people working in this zone,” Rashke said. “It is a danger zone.”

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