Island Lake Facebook page shut down over political posts

Already a source of local controversy, Island Lake's official Facebook page disappeared from the Internet over the weekend.

The page, managed since its inception in 2011 by Trustee Shannon Fox, was taken down Saturday without warning or explanation. Several would-be visitors publicly posted on their own Facebook walls that they thought they had been blocked from the village page before realizing it had gone dark for everyone.

On Monday, Julie Tappendorf, one of the village's attorneys, said the page has been suspended because of a rash of postings violating the page's rules against “campaign activities, spamming and other improper purposes.”

Some comments were deleted because the small profile pictures that accompanied the remarks contained photographs of bright-yellow campaign signs supporting mayoral hopeful Charles Amrich and his slate of candidates.

“Until your profile picture is changed from a campaign slogan, your comments are subject to deletion,” Fox said in a Facebook message to one resident.

The Facebook page's content hasn't been deleted, Tappendorf said. She described it as being “temporarily unavailable” while Fox weighs how to best moderate the site.

Fox, who is supporting incumbent Mayor Debbie Herrmann and her slate in the April 9 election, wouldn't comment and referred questions to Tappendorf.

Tappendorf insisted Fox's own political leanings didn't influence her decision.

“The village applies its policy in a nondiscriminatory fashion by prohibiting all campaign content, not just the content of one particular political party,” she said. “It'd be just as bad if it were Mayor Herrmann's slate.”

Tappendorf said she didn't know when the site would resurface. Herrmann said it will be down until after the April 9 election.

Amrich is leading a slate called For the People. Herrmann leads the rival United for Progress team.

Fox has been criticized in recent months for deleting comments posted on the page by residents and activists.

The battle over the profile photos erupted late last week.

“It had come to our attention that there were repeated postings of political material as well as inappropriate comments on the page,” Herrmann said in an email. “We received a few complaints from residents who use the village Facebook page as the information vehicle it was intended to be.”

Adam Lewis was among the residents whose comments were deleted before the page was pulled from public view. His Facebook profile picture features the For the People sign.

“It's disappointing that what were legitimate posts by residents were deleted simply because of their avatars,” Lewis said in an email.

Resident Debra Jenkins, an outspoken For the People supporter, was outraged when she received a message from Fox that one of her comments had been spiked.

“When a government page takes this kind of action it is a violation of our First Amendment rights,” Jenkins said in an email.

However, Fox or other village officials are within their legal rights to delete comments because of policy violations, Tappendorf said.

Although the Facebook page is not a village website that's subject to the rules of the Open Meetings Act, it is an official communication page for the village, she said.

And under the law, village resources cannot be used to support or endorse political parties, candidates or referendums, Tappendorf explained.

As for Jenkins' complaint about the First Amendment, courts have ruled that a town's website is not a public forum, Tappendorf said. Additionally, a recent appellate court decision said a government's officials are allowed to choose what content is placed on its websites, she said.

“The village is authorized to control the message delivered through its online sites,” said Tappendorf, who has written about governments, social media and the law.

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