Monthly Archives: July 2012

Module 3: Social Media Policy–Citizen Conduct and Comments


This module specifically looks at policies directed toward citizen conduct and/or comment policies. We will discuss the other necessary policy components in following modules. 

Learning Objective

To gain an understanding of social media comment policy and how to write terms of use for your social sites.

Before jumping in the social stream, your organization should:

  1. Determine  “terms of use” for citizens visiting your social sites;
  2. Define internal response protocols for negative comments and inappropriate posts;
  3. Determine  how  your organization will listen to and moderate the conversation to ensure inappropriate comments are detected and deleted. (We will discuss monitoring tools in future modules.)

When building a social media presence the goal is engagement: getting citizens to comment and participate in a conversation. Citizens, however, don’t follow a script nor do they always make appropriate comments. This necessitates defining and being upfront about your expectations and what actions you will take when people violate your stated policy. It is also important to remember, however, that if someone is being critical of you, your organization, or your elected officials, that doesn’t mean you should delete their comment. The fact that you are on a social site means your organization is going to risk getting both positive and negative feedback. See this handy chart from the US AirForce (page 7) about how to handle negativity. For instance they suggest: “When you speak to someone who has an adversarial position, make sure what you say is factual and respectful. No arguments, just correct the record.

In general, when writing “Terms of Use” you should:

  • Prominently state that the site is not being monitored to provide emergency services or assistance or for crime reporting;
  • Detail what kinds of content is allowed or is advisable for users to post: whether or not photos or video are allowed  (this involves personal privacy protections and copyright laws); and for sites that deal with health topics, no personal medical information.
  • Explain that users cannot post advertisements or spam;
  • Detail what you will do if something inappropriate is posted, including deleting the comments and potentially blocking the person from the page;
  • Explain and/or link to applicable laws;
  • Explain that by using the site, users unconditionally accept your terms and conditions of use;
  • Provide information about what part of the organization is monitoring the page;
  • Explain that third party links do not represent endorsements.
  • Explain that Records Retention Law might require records created or received by employee be preserved.

There are a couple of other things to keep in mind. You cannot pre-approve comments on Facebook, they are posted immediately for everyone to see until you remove them: this necessitates your organization proactively monitoring the page. Blogs and YouTube, however, do have settings that allows pre-approval of comments.

Follow Examples

Agencies new to the social scene, or even ones that want to improve, can look to other government agencies or public health organizations as models. There are many great examples to choose from. Below are some snippets that demonstrate the key points above.

–The Boston Police Facebook page provides a good example of how to be  upfront about expectations and terms of use. They state in the “about” section on the front their Facebook page: “Comments to this Web site will be monitored and we reserve the right to edit for obscenities.

–The United States Courts YouTube comment policy also outlines expectations: “Comments are moderated, meaning all messages are reviewed before appearing. Please show respect toward others and keep comments civil.”

–The Toronto Police Service Facebook page “Terms of Use” explains who is monitoring the page and the purpose of the site:

This is an official Facebook page of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This page was created to provide people who live and work in the Greater Toronto Area, or others with an interest in the TPS, access to information about the TPS and a platform to interact with the TPS. This page is monitored and managed by the Corporate Communications section of the TPS.

Massachusetts General Hospital, “Guidelines for Participation in Mass General Social Media,” does a good job discussing the kinds of content people should or should not post if they want to protect their own privacy:

For your privacy, you should consider carefully before posting personal medical information to the internet. Please remember that your posts and comments are available for all to see. Public Health blog comment policy outlines expectations about staying on topic:

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain “on-topic.” This means that comments will be posted only as they relate to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post.

 I also like their privacy statement:

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as Social Security number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, your comment may or may not be posted on the Blog. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. You have the option of posting comments anonymously, but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Massachusetts.Gov explains the fact that the State law requires records to be retained:

Please note, that Records Retention Law of the Commonwealth requires the Mass.Gov portal team to preserve records created or received by a state employee. Pursuant to this retention requirement comments posted or messages received via an official state agency page on a third-party web-site (such as an official agency profile on a social network) will be treated as state governmental records and may be permanently archived. Information that you submit voluntarily through social media sites associated with this agency where such information is publically available, including your name, city or town, and the substance of anything that you post may be disseminated further by being posted online at this website or be publicly discussed by a member of the administration.

The US Army’s policy for users on their facebook page has some really good language as well:

While this is an open forum, it’s also a family friendly one, so please keep your comments and wall posts clean. In addition to keeping it family friendly, we ask that you follow our posting guidelines here. Posts will be removed and users may be banned permanently if they violate the guidelines listed below.

  • No graphic, obscene, explicit or racial comments or submissions nor do we allow comments that are abusive, hateful, vindictive or intended to defame anyone or any organization.
  • No solicitations or advertisements. This includes promotion or endorsement of any financial, commercial or non-governmental agency. Similarly, we do not allow attempts to defame or defraud any financial, commercial or non-governmental agency.
  • No details about an ongoing investigation or legal or administrative proceeding that could prejudice the processes or could interfere with an individual’s rights will be deleted from this page.
  • Apparent spamming or trolling will be removed and may cause the author(s) to be blocked from the page without notice.
  • No copyrighted or trademarked images or graphics. Imagery posted on the Facebook wall should be owned by the user.
  • No comments, photos or videos that suggest or encourage illegal activity.
  • No documents of any kind should be posted on this page.
  • You participate at your own risk, taking personal responsibility for your comments, your username and any information provided.

Additional Resources

There are MANY resources to choose from when writing your policy. For a compendia of social media policies see this resource page at idisaster. Other resources:

Your Turn


Module 2: What are Social Media Anyway?

What are social media?

Before we get too far into all of the various uses of social media for emergency management, public health and crisis communications, it is important to define what is meant by “social media”.

The formal definition:  Social media allow for lay users to collectively author, moderate and share information free from the restrictions of traditional information dissemination. (See below for more definitions.)

This pic above (I can’t find who created it give attribution) was widely circulated and discussed because it so aptly describes not only the various social channels, but the culture of those channels–all with the idea of a person discussing a mundane activity of eating a donut. The funniest contrast is between the direct statement made on Twitter: “I’m eating a donut” versus LinkedIn’s “My skills include donut eating.” The author gets in a joke at Google’s expense as well. Google’s social network has not lived up to their expectations.

What does this mean for first responders?

The concept of sharing is an important distinction between social media versus traditional media. Although the above graphic doesn’t depict this component explicitly, people expect two-way conversations and interactions on these networks…thus the name “social” media. Furthermore, users can choose to follow very specific kinds of content.  For example, if  a person watches a traditional news broadcast they are going to hear what the producers have decided is important: If a tornado goes through three towns and one of them has some really dramatic images, you can guess where the media is going to focus. In contrast, social networks will provide hyper local information, generated by the people in the community that have been impacted, are responding and volunteering.

How would the above graphic look after a crisis? Experience shows us that people share almost instantly what is happening to them. (See also the screen capture from one of the spontaneous Massachusetts 2011 Tornado facebook pages.)

This user generated content can be turned into situational awareness information for responding organizations.  Response personnel can monitor these networks to determine what the public sees, hears, feels, etc about the situation–as well as ask and answer questions.

For those of you unfamiliar with the terminology of social media here are some more general definitions:

  • Blog: A self-published diary or commentary on a particular topic that may allow visitors to post responses, reactions, or comments. (Hint–this website is a blog) 
  •  Post: Content an individual shares on a social media site or the act of publishing content on a site.
  • Profile: Information that a user provides about himself or herself on a social networking site. (e.g. I’m eating a donut”)
  • Social Networks: Platforms where users can create profiles, share information, and socialize with others using a range of technologies: twitter, facebook, foursquare, instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, LastFM, G+.
  • Wiki: a website whose users can add, modify, or delete its content via a web browser using a simplified markup language or a rich-text editor. Wikis are powered by wiki software. Most are created collaboratively. Wikis can be community websites and intranets, for example. Some permit control over different functions (levels of access). For example, editing rights may permit changing, adding or removing material. Others may permit access without enforcing access control. Other rules may also be imposed for organizing content. [1] Source: Wikipedia: “Wiki”

More Definitions

Here are a few definitions, as well as some examples, of the popular networking sites. Keep in mind, however, that there are numerous social sharing sites in use, and new ones continually come online.

Twitter is a real-time information network and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and receive small bursts of information called Tweets. Each Tweet is 140 characters long, but can also include links to photos, videos and conversations.  The service has over 140 million active users as of 2012, generating over 340 millions tweets daily and handling over 1.6 billion search queries per day. Unregistered users can read the tweets, and registered users can post tweets through the website interface or on other twitter client applications, Short Message Service (SMS), or a range of apps for mobile devices.

Facebook: The best definition comes from Wikipedia (itself a collaborative social site) Facebook is a social networking service and website launched in February 2004. As of May 2012, Facebook has over 900 million active users, more than half of them using mobile devices. Users must register before using the site, after which they may create a personal profile, add other users as friends, and exchange messages, including automatic notifications when they update their profile. Facebook allows any users who declare themselves to be at least 13 years old to become registered users of the site. Similar sites include MySpace and Google +. Source: Wikipedia “Facebook”

YouTube is a free video-sharing website which allows users to upload, view and share videos. The company uses Adobe Flash Video and HTML5 technology to display a wide variety of user-generated video content. According to YouTube’s current stats, sixty hours of video are uploaded every minute, or one hour of video is uploaded to the site every second. Over 4 billion videos are viewed a day! YouTube videos can easily be embedded on other social sites including blogs and Facebook and linked to via Twitter. Other video sharing sites include Vimeo, vidiLife, Revver, DailyMotion, Break, and  Metacafe just to name a few. Source: Wikipedia “YouTube” and Statistics-YouTube

Flickr:  An image hosting website acquired by Yahoo! in 2005. This photo sharing service is widely used by bloggers to host images that they embed in blogs and social media. Photos and videos can be accessed from Flickr without the need to register an account but an account must be made in order to upload content onto the website. The company also has an app for use by mobile users. Other photo sharing sites include: SmugMug, Photobucket, SlickPic, dotPhoto, and Webshots, just to name a few.[1]  Source: Wikipedia “Flickr” And


Here are the some of the best resources specifically for government agencies.
  • Facebook for Government: looks at the many unique and interesting ways government agencies are using the Facebook Page platform. We highlight some of the best examples of how to optimize your government Page to be a useful and popular tool for constituents and Facebook users.
  • Although this site is by and for Federal employees, it has some very useful content.
  • IACP Center for Social Media In partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, the IACP launched its Center for Social Media in October 2010. The goal of the initiative is to build the capacity of law enforcement to use social media to prevent and solve crimes, strengthen police-community relations, and enhance services. IACP’s Center for Social Media serves as a clearinghouse of information and no-cost resources to help law enforcement personnel develop or enhance their agency’s use of social media and integrate Web 2.0 tools into agency operations.
  • Social Media at CDC The Center for Disease Control was one of the first Federal agencies to use social media and continues to set the standard for excellence. This site includes links to toolkit and many other helpful resources.

Your Turn!

Module 1: Top Five Reasons to Use Social Media for Emergency Management

 This post is for the doubting Thomas’s in the crowd. When talking to the first responder community about social media there are always people who are convinced that social communication tools are not helpful and/or dangerous.  This is why module number 1 looks at the benefits of engaging your community via social media.

Objective: To provide context of why social media is increasingly being utilized by first response personnel for crisis communications.

1. Everyone is doing it.

This is the type of rationale you might hear from your teenager: “But Mom, I want to because everyone else is!” Of course, the response to that is “Well, if everyone jumped off a cliff would you want to do that too!” But the fact is, social networking is the most popular online activity in the world.

“Social networking sites now reach 82 percent of the world’s online population, representing 1.2 billion users around the world. The social networking adoption trend largely mirrored the global Internet adoption curve, and grew proportionately, showing that as people began to get connected, they immediately began connecting with one another.” Source: ComScore

Not only are people on these networks but they spend tons of time there. “Nearly 1 in every 5 minutes (20%) of the time spent online was for social networking in the month of October 2011.” This is why employers don’t like these tools…but that’s another module!

But what implication does this have  for emergency or crisis communications

In Western Massachusetts I often hear that a lot of people don’t have access to the internet and/or that only young people use social media. Yet, during the aftermath of the spring 2011 tornadoes, people of all ages not only used these tools but found them to be the only way to communicate…for days. See this article (excerpt below) from “Social Media Played a Major Role in Western Mass Tornadoes.”

“The first slew of posts were jokes about Dorothy and Toto coming to Massachusetts. Within hours, hundreds of images and words of shock flooded online social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter as a series of tornadoes tore across Western Massachusetts on June 1.

“I saw pictures of the damage to my classmates’ houses [posted on Facebook] before the tornado even left the area,” recalled Laura Sauriol, 17, Monson’s Facebook heroine during the hours and months following the tornado.

“Everyone was posting so many questions,” said Sauriol. “Instead of having the information pass from one person to the next, I decided to make a group so that everyone could get the right information about what to do.'”

2. People are talking about the scene of an incident whether you want them to or not.

In the past, first responders had complete control over the flow of information from the scene, as depicted on the left. When something happened you could show up, assess the situation, determine what message you wanted to put out, craft a message for the press, clear it through the incident commander and maybe even the mayor, and then 3-4 hours later send it out or read it at a press conference. That was the past. What are we facing today?  This graphic below provided by Adam Crowe, an Emergency Manager and blogger, demonstrates why things have changed. The text reads: “Standard perimeter control cannot keep onlookers from uploading photos and information while the incident is taking place.” It is interesting that the text also states: “Posts to social media websites multiply geometrically, spreading inaccurate and sometime dangerous information.”  However, the reverse is also true: “Posts to social media websites multiply geometrically, spreading accurate  and valuable information.”  As noted in the example above from Monson, people posted images of damage almost in real time. The point: if you are not a part of that social conversation then you have ZERO influence regarding what is being said. You would also have no information about what the crowd knows–including access to those images of damage. Furthermore, if you are not listening to what is being said, then you have no way to understand what misperceptions are out there and what message corrections are required. In other words, you are in the dark.

3. Public expectations have changed.

The public participates on these social channels daily, this does not change during a crisis.  They expect, or even demand that public officials use these channels to not only inform, but include and engage with them throughout the response and recovery period. See this video by a fire chief from Washington State, Bill Boyd (produced by Agincourt Strategies) to gain perspective from first responders who are using these tools.

4. Social Media provide direct communication with your community in a crisis.

First responders and emergency management officials can now direct messages to the public about the crisis and the ongoing response without having to use the media to transfer and/or filter those communications. This is especially important for smaller towns that might not have media on scene at all.  This direct communication allows a more timely flow of information (e.g. you don’t have to wait for the evening news for your message to be relayed). Additionally, these channels are monitored by news organizations and therefore allow for “mini” press releases to occur as information becomes available.

“Our goal is to promote the organization, and at the same time keep residents informed of helpful tips,” the Fitchburg chief said, citing a Water Department advisory about how to avoid frozen water pipes,” he said.

5. Social media provide a redundant means of communication.

Currently there are multiple systems to provide information to community members: text messaging, email, phone alerts, etc. (It is possible that your community might be so small that you don’t have access to these technologies yet.) These systems do provide access to critical information; however, they are proving to have some limitations with our increasingly mobile and non-traditional populations (e.g. a system that makes calls to home phones will miss people who only use cell phones; television announcements miss people playing video games or watching recordings, and text messaging systems only provide a way to push content but not receive community feedback). Social media can provide another layer of redundancy in order to reach the maximum percentage of stakeholders and or community members. And…most social tools do not require a fee for the service.

Your Turn


Getting Started

Please see the “Welcome” tab if you have not already done so!

This “training blog” is under development in order to provide personnel (including individuals in all 10 of the DHS response disciplines) with information about social media and how it can be used before, during and after a crisis. The content will be tailored specifically to the Western Massachusetts region and answer the overarching question: How can emergency response personnel and their stakeholders (including CERT members) utilize social networks to connect with their communities, keep the public informed, and gain a much better understanding of  the unfolding crisis situation?

New content will be added weekly for use by WRHSAC constituents. 

If participants make full use of this site, they should…

  • Gain an understanding of the benefits and challenges associated with employing social media technologies in preparedness and crisis communications.
  • Understand how social media tools relate to the fire service, law enforcement, and public health missions (examples from local agencies, as well as from around the country, will be provided);
  • Understand what content should be included on social platforms in order to get the public to “like and /or follow” your organization when there is not a crisis;
  • Be aware of some of the best methods for informing the public during a crisis;
  • Understand how social networking tools, including video and image sharing sites, can be employed;
    • Participants will learn to use not just Twitter and FaceBook, but other platforms such as blogs, to disseminate as well as gather information.
  • Understand the resources required to support a social media campaign and have an effective presence;
    • Gain an understanding of how agencies and non-governmental organizations have employed the aid of volunteers to help with social media tasks.
  • Understand the “lay of the land.” Who else in Massachusetts is using social media to connect to communities? (This information will be displayed in text form as well as in a Google map format in order to provide visual geo-location information.)

If you have not done so already, please go to the registration tab, in order to tell us a little more about yourself.