Facebook flap has Olathe, Overland Park, other cities concerned

On the ground Overland Park is a geographic location, but in the virtual world of Facebook that’s not allowed.

The social media giant has informed Olathe, Overland Park and an unknown number of other cities that they have to change the names of their pages.

“Your Facebook Page, ‘City of Overland Park, Kansas,’ is in violation of our guidelines because it is too close to the name of a geographic location,” Facebook notified that city by email on July 26, adding that the city must take action within two weeks or lose the administrative rights to its page.

Olathe got the same notice. Officials in both cities were alarmed that their efforts over the years to build a following on their municipalities’ Facebook pages could be wasted.

“Most cities have a Facebook page,” said Tim Danneberg, a spokesman for Olathe. “It’s an exceptionally cost-effective and timely way to reach people and provide important information.”

He cited a snowstorm two years ago and a boil order last summer.

“On major issues, we will have 10,000 people coming to our Facebook page,” Danne-berg said.

Similar concerns and frustrations were being reported in other cities in the United States and abroad.

“We have been telling people that to go to the Overland Park page, you look for the ‘City of Overland Park,’ ” said Sean Reilly, spokesman for that city. “This has been going on for years. So, all of a sudden it’s changing.”

Kansas City was notified earlier as it was trying to address an unrelated problem involving its Facebook page.

“It’s really kind of bogus because that is our legal name,” said city spokesman Dennis Gagnon.

A National League of Cities spokesman said that organization was looking into the situation. A post about the flap appeared last week on govloop.com, a social network for governments, and was reposted Monday on huffingtonpost.com.

Attempts by The Kansas City Star to reach Facebook were responded to by the OutCast Agency, a communications company employed by Facebook.

“We want to make it easy for people to connect to different parts of their local city governments,” the response said. “Since there are many organizations that make up a city, we have asked page administrators to designate their specific department (e.g. travel/tourism bureau, mayor’s office).”

Facebook’s online help center says places with generic location names like “New York,” “Ontario” and “Switzerland” are not allowed to have “admins” because no one person can singly represent a geographic location. They have to be more specific.

“New York City — Mayor’s Office,” for example, is acceptable, as is “Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.”

But the communications giant appears willing to compromise with cities.

Olathe’s Erin Vader was finally able to make email contact last week with someone at “the Facebook team,” who assured Olathe it could keep its URL, its admin and all its nearly 1,600 “likes.”

But the city was informed that its page name was automatically changed to “City of Olathe, KS Government.” Overland Park’s Facebook page has been changed to “Overland Park City Hall.”