Town Of Fairfield Social Media Policy In The Crosshairs of ACLU
A new policy in Fairfield governing town employees actions on social media sites is drawing criticism from the ACLU of Maine.It raises the question, Do these policies violate First Amendment rights?Fairfield’s town manager Joshua Reny said town officials had heard rumblings from some residents and a few town employees about some town employees’ inappropriate posts on their Facebook pages. But Reny says the town council had already started considering implementing a policy back in April before the complaints were heard.The new policy in Fairfield forbids town employees from posting obscene or sexually explicit language or images.They’re also not allowed to post anything that negatively affects the public perception of the town.Perhaps the most controversial part of the new policy, at least in the eyes of the ACLU of Maine, asks any town employee who becomes aware of a posting that violates the new policy to notify their supervisor immediately for follow-up action.Reny says the policy simply asks town employees to act like responsible adults on their social media accounts.”You know there are limitations to what employees can say off-duty if it’s affecting the reputation of their employer, if it’s making derogatory comments about fellow employees. You just can’t say whatever you want,” Reny said Tuesday.Folks at the ACLU of Maine disagree. While they don’t have a problem with policies governing employees actions at work, they say this goes too far.Legal Director Zach Heiden says, just because somebody goes to work for the government doesn’t mean they give up their constitutional rights.”The problem here is that the city seems to be requiring people to refrain from expressing themselves on matters of public concern even in their private time and their private spaces where nobody would think that that’s the town’s speech,” Heiden said. “It seems to require employees to rat out one another if they become aware if problems or somebody not following the rules and that’s generally not allowed.” Reny says the policy is not meant to have employees monitoring each others’ social media accounts in order to “rat out” anyone. “However, if there’s something happening in the workplace and it’s impairing relations among employees, or it’s causing some type of a disturbance, on-duty hours when people are at work, then a supervisor needs to know about that.”Reny said when it comes to a social media policy for their employees, he considered Fairfield to be a bit behind the times. Fairfield modeled their social media policy after similar policies used in other municipalities and at local police stations and fire departments. Reny says employee disputes being carried inside the halls of work from outside the workplace is nothing new. Social media just brings it to a new level. “The only difference here is it’s in the digital world and it’s permanent,” he said. “An employee at that time, 50 years ago, might have been able to say, ‘I didn’t say that.’ Then it’s he-said-she-said. Well now there’s proof. Whatever gets put on the internet, it never goes away.” Reny says the town council may take another look at the policy to see if it’s accomplishing its intended goal.