Facebook isn't just for teens investigating their latest love interest anymore. As social networking Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter gain popularity across generations, many branches of town government are catching on to the trend and using them as a way to communicate with residents.

Facebook isn't just for teens investigating their latest love interest anymore.


As social networking Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter gain popularity across generations, many branches of town government are catching on to the trend and using them as a way to communicate with residents.


Some officials, though, are worried the technology is progressing faster than they can manage. Others say a town's presence on social networking Web sites takes away from the "official" aspect of town government.


The Franklin Police Department has been using Twitter for more than a year to post news updates, emergency information and arrest logs.


Gary Premo, communications director for Franklin Police, said he never thought more than 1,000 people would want to follow the department on Twitter.


"It was the brainchild of Sgt. Brian Johnson. He's a tech-savvy guy, he started it up and we ran with it," Premo said. "People love the information, knowing we're not just behind closed doors. We're transparent and we post on a daily basis. A lot of people love to read it."


People can sign up for the police department's tweets to be sent via text message to their cell phones, Premo said, which is helpful in the event of emergencies.


"For emergencies we use reverse 911, but we send (tweets) about accidents, road closures, and we update it when it's clear," said Premo.


The department also has a fan page on Facebook that has more than 300 fans.


Premo recently posted a video of a car that had rolled over and then was towed away.


"I'd like to think (there's a safety message) but I think people look at it and say 'ooh' and 'ahh,"' Premo said. "As a police department, people don't think much about us, but they like to see pictures, who was arrested and what goes on in town."


After the police Twitter page caught on so fast, Franklin Fire Chief Gary McCarraher started one for his department.


"We post safety tips, press releases, major code changes, notices of consumer product recalls," McCarraher said.


The Twitter page has allowed the department to get important messages out quickly, he said.


"If you were to write a press release, it'd take about half an hour to do it properly. But with Twitter ... you can get the message out within five minutes," he said.


But McCarraher knows new technology comes with challenges.


"Someone e-mailed us who needed emergency assistance, which is frightening to us. We don't monitor it that way," he said. "So we are starting to see citizenry in ways we aren't able to manage. Luckily it wasn't an emergency but a call for service. It was on the weekend and I just happened to turn on my laptop."


Jim Cozzens, station manager at Hopkinton Cable Access who is also responsible for the town's Web site, said the idea of the town using social networking has come up many times.


Cozzens said the town wants to make sure its online presence isn't a burden. The town uses reverse 911, he said, and people have asked to be removed from the telephone messages it sends.


"It's a real balancing act," said Cozzens, adding that it takes time to update a Facebook or Twitter account. "How many things can you support?"


With a tool like Twitter, Cozzens said people who do not necessarily need the information would be able to access it.


"That's the draw, a million people can look at what I'm doing right now," he said. "But for community government, our audience is within our borders."


Hopkinton Police Chief Thomas Irvin said he is considering a Nixle site for the department, which is a lot like Twitter, but is more targeted to specific people in specific communities.


"It allows us to get information out that doesn't rise to the level of an emergency phone call," said Irvin. "In an emergency, it's going to be one more thing you're asking someone to do ... but its benefits are worth putting the burden on someone to keep up."


Irvin said the Nixle account will be connected to a Twitter account that will update simultaneously when the department posts.


Holliston town officials aren't interested in social networking. Technology Director Charles Corman said the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.


"The town's Web site is for informational purposes, and in no way does commercial advertising or promoting. It's for town-sponsored events and that's all we want to use it for," Corman said.


Those sites could also compromise the town's security, he added.


"We don't need anyone going out there and importing a hazard into the system. One of the worst things are Facebook viruses and malicious software. You may think you're getting something legit and then you have more pop-ups than you know what to do with. Scans can take up to six hours to get rid of it - that's nothing I'm interested in."


In Medway, the public access station is using Facebook to direct people to videos of selectmen and School Committee meetings they've recently uploaded.


With many people using the Internet to watch television shows, cable studio manager John McLaughlin said it was only natural for them to branch out as well.


"People are moving away from television and watching videos on YouTube, and people with DirectTV do not get the public access channels," McLaughlin said. "This way, they can see what we are doing without having access to the television."


McLaughlin said he hasn't had any bad experiences with Facebook.


"You can limit who posts to your page, and still allow people to comment. We've never had any issues with people posting bad comments," he said.


Mendon Town Clerk Margaret Bonderenko isn't so sure. She has reservations about the town getting involved in social networking sites.


"It could be turned into a blog, which I don't want to see," Bonderenko said. "People could say derogatory things, and you want to see positive things about the town. There are people out there who will slam it."


A Facebook page may also make the town government seem "less official," said Bonderenko, though she said maybe it could be done in a way that is purely informational.


Framingham Public Library uses its Facebook page to reach 16- to 25-year-olds, said Jeanne Kelley, assistant director.


"It's an interactive forum to see what they like and what they think about things," said Kelley. "And it's an opportunity to make (ourselves) available to them as much as the other populations who might use the Web site or the newspaper (for news)."


In Millis, Library Director Patricia Malone Perry said Facebook helps increase attendance at events.


"It's actually more adults that are fans of us on Facebook, because they're looking for story times," said Malone Perry. "But there are some seniors on there too."


Keith Loris, CEO of Sales Renewal, a company that specializes in Internet marketing, said social networking is about reaching people where they want to be reached.


"In general, information comes out in so many different places that the notion of 'You have to come to my Web site to find out about me' is outdated," he said. "At the end of the day, the easier it is for people to access information, the more people will access it."


And with town government, Loris said, social networking "makes democracy as easy as possible."


Loris said the possibilities with social networking are endless.


"(People) are starting that conversation, the benefits are obvious," said Loris. "It's a question of having the coordination and people who are willing to try it."


MetroWest Daily News writer Krista Perry can be reached at kperry@cnc.com or 508-634-7546.