The bulk of the last Delaware City Council meeting was taken up by city attorney Darren Shulman training the council members about using social media.
A council member’s social media use can be subject to a public records request, Shulman said. For example, he said a state agency has been fined because it didn’t comply with emailed public records requests in a timely fashion.
“As you work on projects, I recommend trying to organize them in subject folders,” Shulman said. “It might take you forever to go through the hundreds and hundreds of emails you get, but if you have them organized well enough, you can get them to me faster.”
Shulman gave a real-life example of abusing work email where an official forwarded racist jokes that had been sent to him. He said even if it’s innocuous, the joke can be part of public records request.
“You can’t control what you’re going to get on your work email, but don’t forward it, just delete it,” he said.
Another example, involving text messages exchanged by staff during the “Bridgegate” political scandal in New Jersey, led Shulman to say: “Don’t be evil — don’t shut down bridges to keep kids from school just to make a point. Two, digital records are in many ways permanent. And texting (on a personal phone) can be a public record if it meets the definition of a public record.”
Facebook comments were also discussed. Shulman cited where one agency seeking comment was described as “Murderers! May God’s wrath be upon them!” and given one star.
“When you have a social media presence, it does allow for negative comments,” he said. “When you put yourself out there on Facebook, we can’t control what people do — unless you set up your system in a way that you can block comments, you have to leave them up there, unless they violate your use policies. You may have to live with some negative stuff on your page.”
In response to a question, he said negative comments on a personal Facebook page can be different than a government Facebook page. On the latter, offensive comments can be hidden, but not removed, in case there’s a public records request. Another response would be to state up front that such comments will be removed.
There is also a retention schedule for general correspondence, Shulman said.
A politician tweeting about her real estate business enters what Shulman called a gray area. He said the representative deleted the tweet a half-hour after she posted it, but it was still obtained. “Just because you deleted it, it’s still out there. Social media is forever.”
Setting up separate work and personal Twitter accounts were recommended, but Shulman said, “members cannot promote their private business while they’re conducting their public duties.”
A controversial tweet, whether posted on a personal or work account, can still reflect badly on the sender. Cited was Anthony Weiner, the former New York politician who was caught tweeting nude pictures of himself.
“Here’s some lessons: One, don’t be Anthony Weiner. Don’t send anything digitally that you want to be private. It can be screen shot or forwarded along. Also, be honest — if you post something insensitive or stupid on your page, say you’re sorry, and people will tend to be really forgiving.”
Even LinkedIn can be abused, as when a connection request was rudely rejected in a comment section. It went viral and made the news, Shulman said.
“You don’t want to be too snarky, because it can be forwarded along and it might make you look bad.”
Bill Cosby and negatives memes, and bad McDonald’s hashtags that were re-tweeted were used as examples during the presentation.
Council was advised not to disclose confidential information on social media; not to use council email addresses for personal use; and to be careful about who you follow and friend on social media.
Shulman even used an example involving himself and his brother, who were shown at a football game on national television. He said he was getting messages from people while still at the game, and noted that it could have been used against him if he was supposed to be at work.
“We’re in a world where everything is connected and something can happen really fast. Be careful about what you put out there, because someone can run with it.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.