2013-11-14 / Opinion

City's Facebook Pages Questioned

To the Editor:

I have a small concern/issue.

Out at dinner last night I overheard a conversation about the city's website, and returned home to discover a small controversy on Facebook about the same topic.

I was intrigued to find out more. Upon doing my own research, I think there is something that should be looked at.

If you check out the city's official Facebook page (facebook.com/ CityofNewportRI), you will notice it appears to be very municipal and neutral in nature. The person in charge has been well trained and very careful not to link and share or provide publicity to local organizations.

I believe this is the way a city page needs to be run, in order to remain unbiased; otherwise, people will inherently get angry. Even if it doesn't affect them, it is just unfair if a public page is providing any kind of publicity to private entities (unless that publicity or those media rights have been justly granted)

Also note that, the page has been careful to link only to other municipal pages (the fire department and the police department).

Now take a look at the more recent page "Newport RI 375th Anniversary" (facebook.com/Newport375). This page appears to be nothing more than an extension of an already-established local media organization, "The Newport Buzz".

If there is not a public way for people to also access and advertise on this medium – and if Newport Buzz did not earn a contract (or maybe I am misinformed and they did), I ask you:

How is this fair?

The argument my lawyer friend proposed to me, as best as I can describe it, is that the city has essentially granted a for-profit organization media rights and coverage to an event in the city by allowing them to author the social media page for said event.

There is obviously a lot of money in the exclusive control of advertising for this event (via the power to administer the city's official Facebook page without guidelines in place to prevent it from being used for personal gain). It was then pointed out that the owner of Newport Buzz (I am told) is the son of the mayor.

This will only add to people's skepticism if this information ends up spreading (which it is currently doing all over Facebook).

I have written to City Hall to make our local officials aware of these porblems.

My friends suggestion was to remain neutral, similar to how the City's Official Page runs-- and no one can raise any issues.

I hope this can help prevent needlessly angry citizens and potential lawsuits.

Mary Rodriguez Newport

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