HINSDALE, N.H. — Hinsdale’s police chief has been on the job for 16 months and recently he found himself in an unusual place — in jail. Facebook jail, that is.
“It’s been very frustrating,” said Chief Charles Rataj, about his time in social media limbo.
Rataj has been posting monthly updates to the Hinsdale Police Department’s Facebook page, including COVID-19 statistics, traffic stop numbers, community events, resources for town residents, and even his recollections as a member of the Vermont National Guard in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Typically I make these posts on Sundays and Wednesdays,” posted Rataj after being released from Facebook jail. “I leave Facebook running in the background and it essentially operates as a second email account of sorts. This way people can reach out to HPD to communicate they need help and then we move the conversation to either phone, formal email or in person.”
Rataj wrote that Facebook apparently had two issues with the HPD page that resulted in him being sent to jail.
“First was that HPD had become ‘influential’ and second was that we were considered ‘unverified.’”
Rataj wrote that he was bemused as to HPD’s influential status.
“Our posts typical are viewed by about 2,000 to 5,000 users, with occasionally more or less,” he wrote. “A few rare times, we’ve hit 15,000 or more viewers, but that is not often.”
And Facebook’s insistence that the HPD page be verified was apparently linked to Rataj using Facebook on a computer, rather than his mobile phone, where location services are used to track a person’s activity.
“Essentially, Facebook was concerned that the Hinsdale Police Department could be hiding behind a VPN that allows it to appear as if we are anywhere in the world,” wrote Rataj. “By forcing us to use a phone and turning on all of Facebook’s permissions, we could be tracked in a way that no computer ever could and they did it all legally.”
Rataj, who doesn’t have his own personal Facebook account, said he was forced to download the app to his phone to get out of jail, but he’s still not setting up his own personal page.
“My views for the public are posted right here and I feel that it would be bad for both the public and the police to have a person’s private account tied to the government,” he wrote on Facebook.
“I feel like we live under a microscope as it is,” he told the Reformer. “And it’s so easy to misconstrue how things are written. The public needs to have trust in its officials. The easiest and safest course of action is to not have a personal page.”
Rataj said while his officers have personal Facebook pages, he doesn’t think it’s fair to make them administrators of the HPD site, taking a chance of confusing their personal posts with official posts.
“While researching pages even more influential than ours, I found that Facebook was requiring addresses, dates of birth and a form of identification for every person who uses said page and that each person that is able to use the page must have a personal, verified Facebook account that is attached to said page,” Rataj wrote on the HPD page. “I dearly love how HPD’s Facebook is working, but I’m not sending Mr. Zuckerberg my driver’s license and other personal information.”
Rataj reiterated what many people should already know by now.
“First is that we all know that nothing is really private on Facebook,” he wrote, “but I think that they are data mining people far more then we realize. Be careful what you share and what permissions you give them.”
Rataj said downloading the app to his phone appears to have placated Facebook at this time.
“I’m back on the computer again for now, until Facebook decides that I’ve committed a high crime or misdemeanor again and locks us down,” he wrote. “I will continue to do these informational posts. People in the community are relying on us for information. While I am unhappy with Facebook, it’s more important that I keep in touch with the public.”