Legal letter sent to social media sites from City of Nanaimo

NANAIMO – Discussion moderators told by City of Nanaimo lawyers to delete posts with ‘personal attacks’

The City of Nanaimo’s legal counsel is calling for ‘personal attacks’ against employees and discriminatory posts to be deleted from social media.

Valkyrie Law Group, on behalf of the City of Nanaimo, sent several social media page administrators, including Coun. Gord Fuller, formal letters last week in response to civic employees being identified by name or job title in online comments – several it claims are personal attacks.

The letter calls for page administrators to review and edit comments if necessary, delete all posts that are discriminatory or have negative comments about the competency and character of staff, and put up a notice to educate people where comments cross the line to potential harassment.

The correspondence has sparked a firestorm of debate on social media about the effect of the letter on people expressing their opinions, the letter’s necessity, and what its message is.

It is a human resources issue, according to Adrienne Atherton with Valkyrie Law Group, who said in an e-mail harassment can be felt by employees as a result of communications or social media comments made by the public “that are in the nature of personal attacks against identifiable staff” and comments can be connected to the workplace if they are directly or indirectly related to the employees’ jobs or functions at the city.

“The city has taken steps to fulfil its duty to protect its employees by bringing awareness of this issue to the attention of some group administrators who are publishing the comments, with a request that they exercise due diligence,” she said.

John Van Horne, the city’s director of human resources, said it’s difficult to speculate on what further steps the city could take. He said the letter is to respond to issues, but could not say if it’s risen to the level of complaint.

“From our standpoint, we realize that if this issue is out there and if we’re not saying this is an issue and not letting the Facebook groups know, then we just thought we weren’t doing what we could or should be doing,” he said.

According to WorkSafe B.C., employers have to take reasonable steps to prevent workplace bullying and harassment of workers – and not just within the walls of the physical workplace – and it’s entitled to take action if it believes its workers are being bullied.

“It’s fair to say we found nothing in the letter that was incorrect in terms of its interpretation,” said Scott McCloy, spokesman for WorkSafe B.C.

Don Bonner, who received a letter as the administrator for A Better Nanaimo, said there was concern with the letter because it tells how to moderate his Facebook group, but he is taking it as a suggestion letter.

“We think the city is covering their bases. In the event that someone does complain, the city can say, ‘well we told them not to do that,’” he said.

He also said a search of the site found no reference to anybody in the city other than the chief administrative officer, who he believes is a public figure and spokeswoman for the city and what she says can be commented on.

He does believe the letter had a “bit of a chilling effect” and said the take away is that the city has changed its policy on how people can talk about it.

Nanaimo Political Talk, Gord Fuller Municipally (A)Musing, and A Better Nanaimo Facebook pages received the letter.

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