Should the City of Great Bend’s next Governing Body Handbook prohibit elected officials from voicing their opinions on social media?
That was a question raised earlier this month after council members were given the 2018 handbook for review.
According to the GreatBendPost website, councilwoman Vicki Berryman suggested changes regarding how the council uses social media. “Berryman was against members using social media to voice opinions, complaints, or criticism towards other council members or city business.”
Berryman said she would like to add these words to the handbook: “No governing body member or city employee shall post to social media or any other form of media, (disparaging) remarks against another governing body member or city employee.”
Action on the handbook was tabled, but the question remains. Should there be rules for how civil servants use social media?
Censorship is a bad thing — except when people are free to say things we don’t like. It’s not that those who use hate speech may be “fine people,” but that they have the right to voice their opinions.
Many companies try to impose some sort of social media censorship on their employees. Often it comes down to whether you are posting your comments as a private citizen or in some official capacity.
Last year, as the community argued over a personnel dispute that shook up the structure of Great Bend’s administration, social media became a tool for voicing opinions. It also led to a lot of online bullying and trolling.
“In internet slang,” we learn from Wikipedia, “a troll is a person who sows discord on the internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory,extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll’s amusement.”
The trolls were active, but there were also some comments made with earnest intentions and some comments that were made by people voicing their opinions.
The Great Bend Tribune and others with social media sites did occasionally delete rude, vulgar or totally off-topic comments. Censorship? Let’s just call in common sense and decency. Most comments were allowed to stand.
When we find ourselves bombarded with online bullies, trolls and liars, the best response is to ignore them. In Facebook terms, “unfriend” them.
City council members should feel free to talk to the public, ask city employees questions and say what’s on their minds. When an elected official says something really stupid, the public will let him or her know. But all of us, from the President of the country to the lowliest real news reporter, should think about the words we use. It doesn’t have to be an official policy — just a friendly reminder that what you say matters.