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ACLU Sues Abbeville’s Mayor and Police Chief Over Social Media Policy

ACLU Sues Abbeville’s Mayor and Police Chief Over Social Media Policy

Here is an interesting case to follow over the next little while. The following is a reproduction from EINNEWS.

NEW ORLEANS — The ACLU of Louisiana has sued Abbeville’s mayor and police chief over a policy barring police from any social media use showing the city in a bad light.

The policy is so vague that the plaintiff, police Sgt. Colt Landry, can’t tell what he’s allowed to do on social media, said Marjorie Esman, ACLU Louisiana executive director.

“Could you post a photograph of a house that’s in disrepair even if you don’t do it for the purpose of pointing out the fact that it’s in disrepair?” she said. “Maybe it’s your house or your grandmother’s house. Maybe it needs a paint job. Somebody might say it sheds a negative light on the city. Could you post a negative review of a restaurant that served you a bad meal? … Could you say ‘There’s a pothole on my street and it’s been there a while and I don’t know why the city’s not fixing it?'”

Mayor Mark Piazza and Chief of Police Tony Hardy declined to comment Thursday on the lawsuit filed Wednesday for Landry.

Landry faces disciplinary action for a comment he made off-duty on a private Facebook page — a comment that became public when someone else shared it, Esman, said.

Esman wouldn’t give details because Landry’s hearing is still pending, the ACLU is not involved in it “and it’s not at all relevant other than it leaves him in a position where he doesn’t know what he can or cannot say in the future.”

The policy, copied in the lawsuit, forbids any police department employee from posting, responding to, sharing, liking, tagging or commenting on any social networking site to anything about the department or anything “which will give a negative view towards the City of Abbeville, the Abbeville Police Department or its employees.”

“Negative view” is defined as “any insulting, disrespectful, profane or derogatory Post, Comment, Private Message, “Like”, Share or Photograph directed towards the City of Abbeville, the Abbeville Police Department, its officials, employees or citizens.”

Esman said, “That leaves it up to the mayor and police chief to interpret, based on their own standards of what might make the city look bad.”

“Social networking sites have become a forum for both local issues of great importance as well national and international importance,” the lawsuit stated, comparing the city’s policy to foreign governments restricting Twitter feeds by dissidents.

“This type of restriction strikes at the very core of First Amendment rights and is antithetical to the values of a free society,” it said.

My thoughts…can the city and police chief make a policy that limits what city employees can say and do on social media? Sure they can. But the question is, how far can that policy stretch and to what degree can the policy restrict first amendment rights?

I believe that the city is going to be on the losing end of this one since the policy is so open to personal beliefs and interpretation. Think of it this way….

You go to Abbeville as a tourist and check-in to a local restaurant and order a meal. You then proceed to have the worst customer service experience, horrible food and get sick. Like everyone does nowadays, you tell your social media audience about your experience.

Next thing is a city employee sees your post, has had a similar experience at the same restaurant and “likes” your post or shares it.

According to the policy…that employee can face discipline.

How about a local person complaining about a pothole and a city employee says, “It’s a brutal spot to be driving. Hopefully it get’s fixed.”

Again, discipline.

All I can say is, I’m glad I don’t work for Abbeville or I could end up losing my job over this post.

All this policy does is takes away from progress, openness and transparency. Allow your people to shine and they will. Give them guidance and training and I bet you’ll find that they do incredible things for your town’s reputation. Have a policy like this and you might just get the opposite reaction.