Social Media Policy Concerns and Challenges – some content for the SMEM March Meeting

Post by: Kim Stephens with input from Lea Shanley
Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Next week on Thursday, March 24, the  social media and emergency management (SMEM) initiative will host a joint day of learning and networking at the NEMA Mid-Year Conference. From the CrisisCommons wiki page: “SMEM volunteers will lead a day of open discussions to share best practices between practitioners as well as subject matter experts from academia and the private sector.”
Organizers have put together  a day that will allow for numerous break-out  sessions in order to focus on specific topics in-depth. Lea Shanley and I will be facilitating a session that addresses the topic of social media policy for public sector entities. We have proposed an objective for the session, with the hope that participants will edit it to include their expectations and what they hope to learn. As it stands now–quite simply:
To outline and identify policy concerns/challenges and legal constraints with regard to the use of social media within the emergency management community.”

What do we know?

This problem has been dealt with by many organizations, at the  local, state and federal level. This has given us quite a bit of background information and best practice examples. Lea and I have compiled some of the most relevant sources, (with help from a visit to and my own bibliography) and I’ve listed them in this post. Although the SMEM session probably will not cover every aspect detailed here, these sources are a great reference point for anyone looking to write a social media policy for their agency.

In particular, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) have a tab on their website detailing social media policy considerations. Some of these issues deal specifically with law enforcement, but most relate, at least tangentially, to all emergency response personnel.  The five key components they urge agencies to address:

  1. Scope. Determine what areas the policy needs to cover. Once the scope is determined, consider the areas below that apply to the areas you have chosen to cover in your policy.
  2. Official Use. Social media tools can be used for many purposes and are valuable for many day-to-day operational activities in law enforcement agencies. It is integral that authorization for and administration of any department sanctioned sites are clearly articulated.
  3. Personal Use. Content posted by law enforcement, even off-duty and under strict privacy settings, has the potential to be disseminated broadly and fall into the hands of defense attorneys, criminals, and members of the community. Any improper postings can ultimately affect an individual’s credibility, employment status, and their agency as a whole.
  4. Legal Issues. Issues such as First Amendment rights, records retention and public records laws, and other federal and state statutes must be considered while crafting a policy. Many legal issues surrounding social media have not yet been settled within the court system, so having clear guidelines in place becomes even more imperative.
  5. Related Policies. Many issues surrounding social media use may be resolved by citing other policies that are already in place within your agency, including Internet Use, Electronic Messaging, Code of Conduct, and Media Relations. The IACP’s National Law Enforcement Policy Center offers model policies on these topics.

Another potential concern not addressed by the IACP is “Terms of Service Agreements” with social media providers. The federal government (GSA in particular) has ironed out some of these issues and has a resource tab on the website listing all of the relevant information. However, local and state governments are not included, per se, in those agreements with providers.  For state and local governments NASCIO and Attorneys General have Negotiated Model Facebook Agreement. This agreement addressed many concerns state and local governments had with Facebook’s terms of service, which in effect, could have eventually hindered their ability to use the platform:

“Facebook has specifically agreed to modify the provisions of its terms and conditions to:

  1. Strike the indemnity clause except to the extent indemnity is allowed by a state’s constitution or law;
  2. Strike language requiring that legal disputes be venued in California courts and adjudicated under California law;
  3. Require that a public agency include language directing consumers to its official Web site prominently on any Facebook page; and,
  4. Encourage amicable resolution between public entities and Facebook over any disputes.
  5. All of these modifications will immediately apply to state and local government agencies already on Facebook. “
Example Policies
There are numerous state, local and non-governmental agency (as well as business) sample policies on the internet. In addition, there are numerous articles that outline policy concerns that should be addressed before implementing a social media communications strategy. Quite a few of these resources are written with the federal government in mind, however, they are worth a look for state and locals since some of the issues are quite similar.
Records Storage:

How to Design a Policy:

Best Practices & Examples:

Other Related Articles and blog posts:

I hope to see in you in D.C.!

One response to “Social Media Policy Concerns and Challenges – some content for the SMEM March Meeting

  1. See you all on Thursday at NEMA.

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