BRATTLEBORO - The Selectboard began a discussion Tuesday night on the town's growing use of social media.
At least three departments or committees use Facebook to share or gather information, or engage citizens in business, but the town has never established clear protocol for its use.
Selectboard member Ken Schneck said it was important for the board to be aware of how the town was using social media sites so town staff, and the public, had clear expectations.
The board members talked about the issue for about 10 minutes at their meeting Tuesday night, but decided to put the discussion off until more information could be gathered.
The board has had previous debates about the Selectboard's use of online blogging or communication during meetings, but the discussion Tuesday centered more around the use of Facebook and other social media sites.
The board received a copy of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns' nine-page model social media policy which addresses legal considerations, open meeting expectations, copyright infringement issues and account and content management.
The policy acknowledges that sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are "an evolving communications tool," but that "the benefits to be gained from social media must still be weighed against the risks."
Schneck, who is a proponent of increasing citizen input through electronic means, said he was going to gather more information to bring
He said it's important for the board to tackle the issue soon because departments are already engaging citizens in town policy and news without a clear policy.
The police department, the library and a committee use Facebook in three different ways, and Schneck said it could be confusing for citizens who are expecting their information or requests to be addressed.
"We desperately need a social media policy because citizens are going on Facebook with the same expectations and they are doing it in three different ways," Schneck said.
The board also talked about the town's new website, which includes e-mail links for the Selectboard members.
Town Manager Barbara Sondag warned the board that shared e-mail messages could create a slippery slope, and she said that while it is important for the town to make it easy for the public to contact board members, it is as important to keep all conversations and debates public.
"If you encourage that in citizens you need to figure out the fine line between ease of access and violations of open meeting laws," Sondag said. "We need to have more conversations. This is a real issue."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.