Huntington Beach City Council unanimously passed a policy that prohibits elected officials from blocking or deleting public comments on social media sites.
The city adopted the ordinance during a May 3 vote.
“This policy is the bare minimum,” Mayor Kim Carr said during the council meeting.
“If you’re an elected official … allow that content to be accessible to anybody who wants it; and if people want to reply, so be it. As long as it’s not offensive, or super hurtful.”
The new social media regulations will require councilmembers to dedicate their social media accounts to either the public domain, or personal accounts.
Councilmembers’ personal accounts should be intended for friends and family, and are not meant for discussing city-related business.
Official accounts that post specifically to address city-related matters are public domain. Comments from the public can’t be deleted unless they fall under certain exceptions, such as profane language.
City Attorney Michael Gates said he was concerned that the regulations weren’t clear enough. He said the wording of the regulation could deem all private social media content—intended by a public official to be private, for friends and family only—to become a public forum.
Due to Gate’s concern, the council amended the language of the regulation to say that the social media account used by a councilmember that discusses city-related business might be considered an official account, rather than shall be an official account.
City Manager Oliver Chi advised the council to “avoid talking about city-related duties, don’t carry out business on that [personal] account.”
“On any account where you do carry out and discuss city-related duties, then in those instances, just make sure that you’re not banning anyone or deleting their comments because you disagree with the perspective being offered,” Chi said.
Councilman Dan Kalmick said the regulations are long overdue.
He said the policy will “shield us from liability” from lawsuits that might occur from a city official deleting someone’s comment on social media.
“I don’t want to spend the city’s money because somebody limited somebody’s freedom of speech,” Kalmick said.
Councilman Tito Ortiz said he should be able to suppress other’s comments from his page that illicit “negative and racial slurs.”
“When it goes to my social media on my Instagram—that’s worldwide. The people who are very negative—I just don’t need that on my site, so I blocked it off,” Ortiz said during the council meeting.
He said that his Instagram will remain a personal account, while his Facebook will be a dedicated official account and part of the public domain.
“I’ll be able to block people on Instagram but not on Facebook,” he said.