Highlands approves social media disclaimer
With a resolution approved 3-2 by Borough Council, Highlands officials, employees and volunteers are required to add a disclaimer to any of their posts on certain social media pages.
The proposal was put forward because of false and inaccurate information posted on Facebook, according to the text of the resolution.
It applies to any unofficial page devoted to the borough. However, the text went further to acknowledge that the Facebook page "Highlands New Jersey" is not an "official media outlet of the Borough of Highlands."
Resident John Schneider, administrator of the Highlands New Jersey page, said this is only an issue for Borough Council because the members don't understand how to use social media.
"The leaders of the town are making a bigger issue out of this than it needs to be," Schneider said. "The whole point is, you don't want to have a public official putting a disclaimer in every statement they issue."
The disclaimer, which applies to elected and non-elected borough officials, as well as any "employee, agent, representative or volunteer, including appointees to boards, commissions, committees or subcommittees," would state that the accompanying post does not represent an official statement on behalf of the municipality.
Councilman Doug Card voted against the resolution, calling it a waste of time.
"I will not have a disclaimer, and let them come after me," Card said. "There is no bite to it."
There is no punishment attached to the resolution, but Card said council members could find a way to discipline someone who fails to follow the rule.
Council members in favor of the resolution said it was not crafted to take away the rights of the public.
Chris Mills, a partner at labor law firm Fisher & Phillips in Murray Hill, said not every constitutional right is "absolute," and freedom of speech can be restricted.
"I would say that it is permissible to tell employees, 'If what you're about to post or say would leave any doubt as to whether you're speaking on behalf of the town or you're speaking on behalf of your own personal opinion, then you must put up such a disclaimer,'" Mills said. "That would probably be okay, but they'd have to phrase it very carefully."
According to an article on APP.com Thursday, at least two people have stepped down from appointments on public boards in response to the borough's new regulation.
A 10-year member of the borough's Zoning Board of Adjustment, Art Gallagher, resigned from his position. He also decided to step down from his post as vice chairman of the Highlands Planning Board, according to the APP.com article. In addition, Barbara Iannucci - the wife of councilman Doug Card, who cast one the two votes against the ordinance - resigned from her positions on the Environmental Commission and FEMA Long-Term Advisory Committee.