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Trending: Tennessee town's policy on social media backfires

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Posted at 7:00 PM, Dec 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-23 06:50:28-05

The small Tennessee town of South Pittsburg has a troll problem, at least according to city leaders.

South Pittsburg is home to some 3,000 people and, just like everyone else in America, they love their social media. But city leaders have had enough.

“Criticism is one thing,” Mayor Jane Dawkins is reported as saying at this month’s commissioner meeting by the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “Out-and-out lies and untruths — that’s another thing. Those kinds of things are the things that will be directed.”

A vote was soon taken after the mayor’s comments, and the city’s new “all-inclusive” social networking policy passed, 4-1.

Now, anyone professionally connected to the town (including employees, contractors, volunteers, etc.) is banned from taking to social media to “publicly discuss information about other employees and/or volunteers not approved for public communication.” The resolution also warns against Facebook posts, tweets, videos, forum posts and blogs that might be defamatory or libelous in nature.

And in this case “Big Brother” is watching, “[People] should have no expectation of privacy whatsoever,” the policy says. Those who violate the policy can be reprimanded.

Problem solved? Not exactly. As you can imagine, the move only emboldened the free-speech activists. Almost immediately a Twitter parody account was created for the mayor.

“Once again i need to clear up a rumor. I am not a 40-foot long apex predator from the Cretaceous era. Thanks @MarionCountyTN #StayPositive,” the fake mayor tweeted.

It goes downhill pretty quickly after that: “Rumors of an underground goat sex ring comprised of its elected officials in my town are exaggerated. @TimesFreePress.”

Commissioner Jeff Powers, who brought the resolution forward, is also being parodied 140 characters at a time. His fake account states that he and the mayor had “relations” at last year’s holiday party.

In all seriousness, social media policies aren’t anything new. My company has one and I’m sure your employer does as well. Governments have them as well. The University of Tennessee has posted guidelines on its website, and federal workers are also under a policy depending on what agency they work for.

What’s getting people riled up about South Pittsburg’s policy is its vagueness.

At the meeting, Powers said, “The first thing everyone wants to say is, ‘I can’t post anything on Facebook.’ Well, you can. Just not [anything] that sheds a negative light on any person, entity, board or things of that nature. You can go ahead and post all you want.”

Twitter seems to take issue with that. “Any temperature below 0 is henceforth banned. #DownWithNegatives,” the parody Jeff Powers account tweeted out.

John Kunza is the digital managing editor. He may be reached at 865-342-6822 or john.kunza@knoxnews.com.