Category Archives: Policy

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