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Appeals process now instated for Facebook bans

Three years into the first interactive municipal Facebook page in Macomb County, users of the City of St. Clair Shores’ Facebook page can now appeal if they are banned from the site.

Communications Director Mary Jane D’Herde said that, “since Day 1,” the city has had its Terms of Use published in the “notes” section of the page, banning such things as profanity, hate language, nudity and the encouragement of illegal activity of any nature. In three years, she said, six users and one business have been permanently removed from posting on the site for violating the terms of use. Unlike other aspects of the city’s Communications Department, however, there was no appeal process or recourse for those kicked off.

But after debate at the March 4 City Council meeting, the Terms of Use now has an added section describing how users can ask the city to relent its ban and allow them back on the page.

“An appeal … shall be submitted to the Communications Commission in written form and addressed to the Communications Director,” it reads. “The Communications Director shall notify the members of the Communications Commission within three business days of the appeal … (which) shall be addressed by the Commission at a regularly scheduled meeting.”

It further states that appeals will be subject to a majority ruling by the commission, which will be final.

After much debate, the city decided there would be no time limit for appeals, since D’Herde and the Communications Commission has no way to contact the user to alert them to the ban; Facebook does not publish email addresses for its users and now charges business pages to send a private message to a user.

Because of that, Councilwoman Candice Rusie pointed out, the user may have no idea it has been banned from the page until the user tries to post again and discovers he or she cannot.

D’Herde said the appeal, which must be in written form, could be in any written form: typewritten, handwritten and delivered, emailed or even jotted down on a napkin. She said she typically would remove a post containing vulgar language first, giving the user a chance to repost it without the offensive words, before outright banning a user. The decision to ban a user is brought to the attention of the city manager and decided on with help from the Communications Commission.

“I don’t do this in a vacuum,” D’Herde assured council members. “You have, as a user, certain responsibilities, and one of them is to know what the rules are.”

The motion adding an appeals process to the Terms of Use passed unanimously. For the full language, visit www.scsmi.net, click on the Facebook link on the right-hand side, and then click on notes.