Nanaimo's mayor does not agree with a decision which will likely lead to the removal of the City's official Facebook page.
During an in-camera meeting Monday afternoon, Nanaimo council endorsed a staff recommendation to remove the City's Facebook page unless a method to permanently turn off comments from the public could be found.
Bill McKay, the lone vote not in favour, said Council has been told there were repeated defamatory and libelous comments, some of them racist.
"We're having conversations on improving community engagement and this is a step backwards in my view. Council has made the decision to shut it down if they can not control the message coming inbound," McKay told NanaimoNewsNOW.
McKay said he would prefer to keep the page and manage it properly, even if that means increasing staffing levels. "Social media is an emerging technology for communities to communicate...Surely there's ways we can manage social media that we can have respectful conversation back and forth. Let's just find the tools to do that."
Coun. Jim Kipp strongly supported the move, saying the City is having a big problem with comments becoming personal attacks that aren't factual. He said a Facebook page should be a "bulletin board" to send out information and the current theme of comments is offending staff.
"We don't have to spend money on staff time reading all those comments...Quite honestly I think we've lost control of the civility on our web information. I call them keyboard commandos out there just hammering away. Not usually adding much interest, just asking questions and being very forthright about their opinion even though it's not factually based."
Kipp said he would prefer to speak with members of the community in a face-to-face setting, adding Facebook "has no analytics base to it, it's just people's opinions coming back. I don't see a lot of validity in governance through Facebook."
Many people don't realize the City is liable for the comments made on their page, coun. Sheryl Armstrong said.
"If you want to criticize, criticize politely...When people become very mean and vindictive, we can't have that," she said, adding it would not be a good use of tax dollars to spend money on monitoring Facebook comments.
It appears unlikely the City will be able to find a way to turn off comments permanently in order to keep their current page.
Juhli Selby, Victoria-based social media consultant and instructor at Camosun College, said there is no mechanism to block comments from a page, although offensive posts can be hidden or users blocked.
Selby said defamatory and abusive comments should be hidden, but "It's not best practice to just try and shut people up or shut people down and not let them give you feedback."
She said if the City isn't willing to dedicate resources to manage it properly, then closing the page is likely their best option. However, she described that as a shame and a missed opportunity.
"As much as they've put out some videos that might not be agreeable to the audience, wouldn't they want to know what the audience has to say and why there's such a strong reaction? If they don't agree with the perspective, they should at least be listening," Selby said.
On Twitter: @domabassi
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Redacts reference to the City of Nanaimo not responding to a request for comment. The City in fact did provide a previous interview on the topic.
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