City sets guidelines on social media use

HARLINGEN — The city is laying down the law on employees’ use of social media.

City commissioners have approved a policy setting guidelines on work-related and personal use of social media such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

The Texas Municipal League and other organizations offering employee training recommends cities set such policies, Assistant City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez said yesterday.

“Social media is growing and more cities are using it for dissemination of information,” Gonzalez said in an interview. “We want to make sure we have something that explains what’s expected at work and what’s expected on their own time — what they can do and what they can’t do.”

Gonzalez said the city has not had problems with employees’ use of social media.

The city’s 10-page booklet encourages employees to use social media to spread information such as city promotions.

“The city would like to supplement its public relations efforts and increase communication methods with its citizens through the use of social media avenues,” the policy states.

“In order to increase the methods in which residents communicate and obtain information online, city departments are encouraged to use social media to reach a broader audience, streamline processes, enhance communication, collaboration, information exchange, promote city events and assist in dissemination of information to the public.”

The policy sets several restrictions on employees’ use of city social media sites.

“Use of social media must not compromise data confidentiality and integrity and must be done in a manner that is in good taste and is not offensive to our citizens,” the policy states. “Personal use of city social media outlets by city employees is prohibited. No employee or volunteer shall under any circumstances utilize the city logo on their personal social media sites.”

The city’s department heads will oversee employee compliance with the policy, the handbook states.

“Departments must keep an updated list of user names and passwords associated with the department’s official social media accounts,” the policy states.

The policy prohibits departments from using social media sites to promote politics.

“Departments should never ‘follow,’ ‘like’ or link to political sites,” the policy states. “Departments should also not use social media to take positions regarding political issues that are pending before the Harlingen city commission and should avoid following or liking partisan sites that take positions on candidates or campaigns.”

The policy also sets guidelines on employees’ personal use of social media.

“While an employee’s use and comments made on social media sites are subject to First Amendment protections, employees are not permitted to engage in off-duty conduct that impacts the performance of their duties or that reflects unfavorably on the city,” the policy states. “Employee’s personal use must not be attributed to the department, city or employee’s job function at the city

According to the policy, “references to personal email addresses as the contact information is prohibited.”

The policy does not specify punishment for any violations.

The policy prohibits

* Profane language

* Explicit sexual or harassing content including likes to such content

* Violent or threatening content

* Solicitation of commerce, commercial activities, fundraising or sponsorship

* Illegal activity

* Information that may compromise the safety or security of the public or public systems

* Political activities by city employees

* Personal information about employees

What employees can’t do

* Employees may not use a work email address to register for social media or other sites unless the purpose is directly related to the employee’s job.

* Employees may not represent, imply or permit the perception that the employee speaks for the city, department or elected officials.

* Employees are prohibited from using ethnic slurs, personal insults or obscenity or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in the workplace. It is generally inappropriate for the government to take a stand on political or religious issues.