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Wary officials hope you ‘like’ Riverhead: town set to begin using social media

The Town of Riverhead just got a little bit bigger — on the World Wide Web, that is. Riverhead will launch social media pages next week with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Chief of staff Larry Levy gave town board members a quick run-down on how each of the platforms works during today’s work session.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio was most concerned about the posting policy. “I don’t want this to turn into a political outlet. If we’re promoting events, that sort of thing, that’s fine, but it can’t have a political agenda.”

Councilman John Dunleavy pointed to the Town of Islip’s Facebook, which he said often posts about events council members attend.

Supervisor Sean Walter disagreed, saying that the nature of government is to be political. “Our jobs are political jobs, and anything we’re doing in the course of our duties can be posted there,” Walter said.

Levy clarified that the policy will prohibit “politically driven” posts. A campaign fundraiser wouldn’t be published he said, but a ribbon-cutting that a town board member attends would, since it’s promoting local business.

“Well, I’m sure we’ll see a lot more posts like that in September, October and November than in January, February and March,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard.

Hubbard also expressed concern about online comments. “Online… there’s a lot of vulgarity. I don’t want a town site to be filled with that.”

“Why do we even need comments? I don’t understand,” said Dunleavy.

Levy suggested a happy medium, leaving comments open at first and then seeing how people reacted. Other steps, like a profanity filter, could be taken before closing all comments.

The town will adopt a social media policy officially on Tuesday, and will launch its pages shortly afterward.

Many municipalities have been using social media for various purposes, some more regularly than others. The towns on the East End have been slow to join the social media ecosystem, probably because they are smaller and typically have more frequent in-person contact with more citizens than their larger counterparts in western Suffolk and Nassau. They also generally have fewer staff resources to devote to communications efforts.

The towns of Southampton, Brookhaven, Islip, Babylon and Smithtown have active Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Departments within some municipalities — including police and recreation departments — also have separate social media accounts.

Riverhead Town Recreation Department has been using social media, including Facebook and Twitter, for several years, to communicate with residents about program offerings, schedule changes and special events.

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