I just finished reading an article in one of the local newspapers entitled “Most politicians embrace social media, some wary”. It was dated December 2nd and appeared in the Hometown News in Daytona Beach, FL. The writer is Patrick McCallister. I’ve posted the article below.
All of the politicians interviewed for the article, with exception of one, participate in social media. But Council member Joie Alexander was quoted as saying she will not ever have a Facebook page or be on another social networking site. I’m not sure exactly what she means as there is a old “Joie Alexander for Volusia County Council District 3” Facebook group when you search her name. It has unanswered constituent questions on it. Ms. Alexander goes on to say in the article: “In my role as a county councilperson, there are other means for constituents to connect with me. We connected with constituents before its introduction and it’s not the be all.”
What is your opinion about politicians communicating with the public via social media? Does it raise a red flag that someone is not keeping up with, or willing to keep up with the times with a statement like this? How do you think it may effect their other political decisions if they aren’t willing to be where people are talking so they can listen to what they are saying?
Here is the article in it’s entirety:
VOLUSIA COUNTY – County Chair Frank Bruno had 13 Facebook friends a couple of weeks ago. That swelled to more than 100 after fellow county council member Josh Wagner of Port Orange teased him about social media ineptitude during a recent meeting.
“I really haven’t been paying attention to (Facebook) at all,” Mr. Bruno said in a telephone interview. “Some friends said, ‘Frank, you should be on Facebook.’ I didn’t even know what a wall was, to be honest.”
A “wall” shows a Facebook user’s postings. It’s also a medium for sending public messages to other Facebook users. Mr. Bruno, 65, said his wife, Mary, is posting on his Facebook page and accepting friend requests.
Social networking sites are an increasingly integral part of everyday communications. According to Facebook, the average user has 130 online friends. About 800 million people are on the site at least once a month. It has become an important marketing tool for businesses and been embraced by many politicians as a vital tool for campaigns and beyond.
But the rapid proliferation of social media has raised many questions about how public officials can and should use it. For example, in 2009 the state’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee advised judges against becoming Facebook friends with lawyers who might appear before them. More recently, the City of Asheville, NC, put two employees on leaves because of a Facebook post. Lynn Fraser, a police-department employee, posted disparaging remarks about the Occupy Asheville group. Melissa Williams, the city’s social media specialist, responded “LMAO,” which is “laughing my (expletive) off.”
Councilman Wagner has nearly 4,600 Facebook friends. Council member Andy Kelly has just more than 1,000, and a separate Facebook page promoting his bid for Supervisor of Elections. So far, 23 have “liked” that page.
Councilor Pat Northey has just under 670 Facebook friends, while Carl Persis of Ormond Beach has 45. Council member Joie Alexander of New Smyrna Beach doesn’t have a Facebook account, and, she said, doesn’t want one because she has heard of public officials getting in trouble with them.
“I realized that as a public official, (a Facebook page) could be a problem,” she said.
She did, however, have a page promoting her last bid for the county council seat. It’s still on Facebook.
Dave Byron, director of Volusia County Community Services, said Facebook pages can be a problem for public officials governed by Florida ‘s public-records rules, known as Sunshine Laws.
“You’ve got a Facebook page with public documents and private documents on it,” he said. “It makes it difficult for a person whose public life blends with their private life.”
Mr. Wagner, 34, joined Facebook about four years ago, before his election to the council. He said the majority of his Facebook posts are personal, although some are for promoting county activities, such as Ocean Center events. He’s also used Facebook to keep constituents informed about upcoming council discussions, and to answer their questions.
“Sometimes I put, ‘here’s what’s going on, here’s what we’re working on,'” he said. “But, I don’t just use it for politics.”
He said that earlier this year when the council approved a large beach study, someone posted questions about it on his Facebook wall. Others chimed in with additional questions.
“It had 25 responses,” Mr. Wagner said.
In addition to answering questions, he included web links to county pages with additional information.
“There are many people who got involved in this conversation and I think that’s a good thing,” Mr. Wagner said. “It engages people in conversation with the government they might not otherwise have.”
Mr. Wagner copies Facebook conversations with constituents to county records. He said that being in various Facebook communities helps him understand constituent concerns, too.
“One of the groups I have on my page is a large group of surfers, and sometimes things that come up involve the beach,” he said.
Volusia County doesn’t have a Facebook page. Mr. Byron said there are many reasons for this, but most important are those public-records rules. Most government communication must be archived in some manner so it is open to public requests and review.
“It is difficult to archive Facebook communication,” he said. “Every communication we receive is a public record. We don’t want to fall out of compliance with not being able to produce Facebook messages and Twitter messages.”
The county isn’t tech shy, Mr. Byron said. Just social-media cautious.
To get a feel for it, three county entities have started Facebook pages, Mr. Byron said.
“We have not been aggressive in (social media),” Mr. Byron said. “We’re slowly moving in that direction. What we’ve decided to do is start with the (Daytona Beach International) Airport, Ocean Center and library system to gain some experience.”
Behind much of the caution, too, is the power of social media to turn a whisper into a trumpet blast.
“The potential damage that can be caused by a rogue employee, or one who makes a mistake,” Mr. Byron said. “Because of the viral nature of Facebook, that can be picked up and 10 seconds later can be across the world. An inadvertent or rogue comment could cost who knows how much taxpayer money.”
Mr. Persis said, like Mr. Bruno, he’s started a Facebook page because of increasing pressure. However, working for the Volusia County Schools has given him respect for how easily a public employee, or official, can post themselves into problems.
“I’ve seen a number of employees get in trouble with what they post on Facebook,” he said. “I just thought, I’m not going to go there. Now, as I’m winding down (my education career), people are telling me some of the political sense Facebook makes. People are saying, ‘Carl, you’ve got to be on Facebook.'”
Mr. Bruno said that he’ll likely expand his use of Facebook to connect with constituents, especially if he wins his bid for the District 7 Florida Senate seat.
“Any enhanced communication is positive,” he said. “But, I’m concerned that anyone can put anything unfiltered on Facebook.”
Ms. Alexander said she’ll never have a Facebook page or be on another social-networking site.
“In my role as a county councilperson, there are other means for constituents to connect with me,” she said. “We connected with constituents before its introduction and it’s not the be all.”
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