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East Providence City Council Reviews Social Media Policy

The lingering matter of the city's social media, particularly its Facebook page came to a head at the Council's most recent meeting.

The item, on the docket at Councilman Britto's behest, was in part a follow up to a resident, local social media commentator Kevin Oliver, who raised concerns at the February 6th meeting during public comment.  Oliver's concerns included there were odd postings on the City Facebook page, including edits at 4am and a a post described by Oliver as "written by a third grader." Oliver questioned "who has the password" and later at that meeting, Chief Information Officer Kelly Ahrens admitted to the postings, stating they were meant with the best intent if not executed well. Ahrens had been covering the social media responsibilities of the then absent Robin Robinson.

Mr. Britto also wished to address the administration's social media policy that had been a matter of controversy at the November 7th meeting, which Mr. Britto was absent from due to work commitments. The policy promulgated by the city administration would have limited what Council members could have posted on the city Facebook site. The policy at the time also contained an error, with the intent of restricting the city social media pages from sharing posts by council members, it was actually written in reverse, restricting a council member from sharing a city social media post. Based on the feedback from Mr. Botelho, Ms. Sousa and Mr. Faria at that time, City Manager Tim Chapman agreed to remove the language regarding the city council.

In the February 20th meeting, Mr. Britto stated he wanted a social media policy put in place but until then all social media should be in the hands of the IT department. Councilwoman Anna Sousa made the point that social media is important to communicate to residents as it is now how most people get their information. That being said, there needs to be some kind of moderation but at the same time be careful of censorship.

Councilman Joseph Botelho felt that the social media issue is systemic of a larger communication issue within the city. He brought up the public reaction to the notice about the recent water quality situation. He said the way the letter was written to the residents caused a lot of confusion. Botelho stated he felt the city needs a communications director that would manage social media and review any communications emanating from City Hall, regardless of format.

A lot of the back and forth related to clarifying the current process, whether council members were posting directly or whether Ahrens and Robinson were the only individuals with access. 

It was brought up by Tim Chapman that they can’t post any photos of any council members 120 days prior to election. He said it was unfair that council members demand that the IT department post certain items. Botelho responded that no city council member can tell anyone in any department how to execute their job responsibilities and asked who was doing it. No one was named.

The council discussion did not come to a firm conclusion other than that a policy would be developed.