Originally published for The Sun Chronicle on Feb. 7, 2017.
NORTH ATTLEBORO – Representative Town Meeting member Paul Couturier’s bigoted Facebook comments last March targeting Muslims and African Americans spurred conversation on appropriate use of social media by town officials.
Some advocated written guidelines for town officials; others said such a policy would abridge officials’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
A year later, selectman candidate James Lang, 60, has dropped out of the race after his own Facebook posts smearing Muslims caused another flash point Tuesday, and the town is no closer to a social media policy.
So, where do other selectmen candidates in the April 4 town election stand on such a policy:
Keith Lapointe: “I always thought the social media policy is a narrow approach. We need a clearcut code of conduct that elected officials should adhere to, that is updated and relevant to the times we live in. A social media policy is part of that, but not the entire fix.”
Patrick Reynolds: “Right now we have a social media policy for town employees, but it’s more difficult with elected officials. But I think this is where the press and public steps in and puts pressure on people to hopefully do the right thing.”
Michael Thompson: “We all have a right to the freedom of speech. And I’m not going to stop what you say or the way you say it. If we lose that, we start to lose other freedoms. Instead, you’ll be judged by the people.”
Mark Williamson: “I have a background in human resources, and my experience in developing social media policy can be useful for the board of selectmen. Part of what needs to be considered is making sure (any policy) does not illegally restrict someone’s right to express their opinions, while ensuring respect and offering appropriate guidance for officials who do elect to use social media.”
Anne Lonzo: “This is something we need to be taking on as a board. We’ve started to work on our social media policies. The Massachusetts Municipal Association has a workshop on that and are starting to provide guidelines on how other communities are doing it. It’s now coming to the forefront because social media is important in so many ways for town functions, but it also needs to have strict guidelines.”