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Bald Head Island updates social media policy after WECT report on officer’s questionable posts

Bald Head Island implements new social media policy after discriminatory posts
Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 11:21 AM EST
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BALD HEAD ISLAND, N.C. (WECT) - The Village of Bald Head Island is now requiring all employees to sign a new Technology/Social Media Policy, revised just two weeks after WECT did a story highlighting the questionable social media posts of one of the town’s police officers.

Thursday morning, a Village spokesperson shared a copy of the new policy with WECT, which was officially revised on December 16. Before that, the Village had no social media policy.

The new policy addresses social media communication by employees both on and off the job. It states in part, “Employees should recognize the difference between freedom of expression as a general citizen and freedom of expression as a public employee of the Village.”

Regarding personal posts on social media, the policy reads, “The Village of Bald Head Island will neither encourage nor discourage employees’ personal participation in off-duty use of personal/non-Village issued equipment, on any social media platform. However, employees should be aware that their First Amendment rights are not without limit. Social media content that is not related to matters of public concern or which concern the employee’s job duties may not have First Amendment protection.”

“Furthermore, social media content by employees regarding matters of public concern that interferes with the efficient and effective provision of services by the Village of Bald Head Island may not be protected... To help ensure that no one mistakes an employee’s personal postings with official Village communications, you should not post videos, photographs, or other images of yourself in/with/alongside of Village of Bald Head Island property, including but not limited to vehicles, uniforms/clothes, offices, logos, or other easily identifiable Village objects.”

A law enforcement officer who works for a different agency but was Facebook friends with Bald Head Island Police Lieutenant Steven Allen Butler brought his questionable posts to WECT’s attention. That officer, who asked not to be named, was concerned Butler’s disparaging posts against women, minorities, and liberals cast all law enforcement officials in an unflattering light.

Adding to the concern, Butler was wearing his police uniform in many of the posts on his personal Facebook page. He also had a Village of Bald Head Island public safety vehicle as his profile picture, blurring the lines between his personal beliefs and his position as a police officer.

Butler did not return a message WECT left for him before the first story published, or another attempt to reach him after the town updated its social media policy.

After WECT showed Bald Head Island administrators screen grabs of the posts in question, which were only able to be seen by people who were friends with Butler on Facebook, the offensive posts were taken down at the urging of town officials.

Butler had previously posted images of Confederate flags, encouraging people to “stand up for [their] heritage,” and noting he was “proud of my Confederate ancestors.” Other posts disparaged George Floyd, the African American man whose 2020 murder at the hands of police officers prompted world wide protests about police brutality and racism. Butler also posted and reposted images that demeaned women and liberals.

Butler has worked for the Village of Bald Head Island for ten years. Other than being asked to take his posts down, town officials say he was not disciplined over the matter.

All town employees are now required to sign a written acknowledgement that they have read and agree to comply with the social media policy. The policy warns employees that failure to comply “may result in coaching, counseling and/or disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.”

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