Post flap — Social media has potential to do good and great harm

4/15/2014

While social networking can be an effective tool for government officials, a Holcomb City Council member's recent Facebook comment backfired.

While social networking can be an effective tool for government officials, a Holcomb City Council member's recent Facebook comment backfired.

The post in question purportedly referred to members of the police department as "RODs," which stands for "retired on duty," a phrase that typically means people approaching retirement who do little more than collect a paycheck.

In condemning the post without naming its author, Holcomb Mayor Gary Newman questioned why a council member would have such disparaging thoughts after the council signed off on salaries and raises, with no one on the governing body objecting due to performance issues.

Newman also was correct in noting how such negative comments on social media could hurt the ability of the city to retain or recruit employees.

After Newman's statement, Councilman Greg Cox acknowledged he made the Facebook post, and said he used general terms without singling out individuals or departments. But that only made the statement more of a blanket indictment of the police force, if not all city workers.

If Cox was dissatisfied with employee performance, he should have raised the subject in a council meeting. Citizens should know of such concerns.

Everyone has a right to express their thoughts online. But doing so can bring consequences, making the incident another example of the need to exercise caution with social media.

It's also the kind of situation that could lead to a social media policy. But any group or organization considering as much should resist going overboard with restrictions.

Encouraging online discussion on issues can be a productive way for government officials in particular to gain valuable input.

They and others simply need to think twice before clicking to send.

Every audience potentially is much bigger than one's "followers" or "friends." Anyone who sends email, posts on Facebook, corresponds via Twitter or in some other digital way should know their comments could be viewed by many more people beyond their circle.

Words are powerful, and can do much good in educating and informing others.

They also can do damage, which everyone who communicates in the cyberworld should keep in mind.

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