Public officials using Facebook ‘are accountable only to themselves’

To the editor:

While not the focus of Mike Anthony’s Jan. 22 editorial, the deletion of Sunset Hills resident Kathy Tripp’s comment posted to Alderman Dee Baebler’s Facebook page highlights the conflict that arises when elected officials conduct public business on their private Facebook pages.

I understand Ms. Tripp’s frustration, but I do not share her opinion that her free speech was violated. Ms. Baebler is responsible for her private Facebook page, and is free to control its content.

Which begs the question: Why are elected officials like Alderman Baebler and Crestwood Mayor Gregg Roby bypassing official city websites to communicate with constituents in favor of using private Facebook pages?

The answer may be found in the following quote on ethics: “Law is about what people must do, while ethics is about what people should do. Ethics begin where the law ends.”

On a city website, elected officials are bound by the laws of transparency and free speech. On a private Facebook page, elected officials are answerable to no one’s laws or ethics but their own. This is what allows them to maintain a carefully crafted Facebook identity and where a political narrative can continue without challenge.

When using a social media site like Facebook to “reach out” to constituents, public officials give themselves the freedom to conduct their public duties in an echo-chamber of constant affirmation. The selective information shared on Facebook amounts to a perpetual political campaign, where official updates cater to supporters and can be spun to conform to a larger political agenda.

Those public officials using Facebook are accountable only to themselves, thus they are free to delete inconvenient posts at will.

This lack of objectivity and oversight is what allows them to label a post expressing a dissenting view “offensive” or “antagonistic,” thereby justifying its deletion.

On Facebook, the delete button is mightier than the pen and the sword combined. The unfortunate consequence of moving online conversation from official websites to private Facebook pages is that public discourse is lifted from a central, public online forum and splintered into multiple private pages where groupthink thrives, generating plenty of “dis” but no “course.” As with any product offering itself up for sale, readers of politicians’ private Facebook pages should heed the adage “let the buyer beware.”