A government concerned with “message control” and keeping negative stories away from the public tends to be a secretive one.
A secretive government, at any level, is rarely a good one.
Hence our concern about a recent meeting where Cary Village Board members talked about their interest in an official village Facebook page.
Many municipal governments, police departments and other public bodies use social media as another means of connecting with residents.
The pages can be useful in applications such as reuniting lost dogs with their owners, reminding people not to park on the street after it snows or providing links to upcoming meeting agendas or YouTube videos of meetings.
At Cary’s meeting, Mayor Mark Kownick was among those who expressed concerns about “controlling the message” – keeping people from commenting on things the village posts so it’s a one-way means of communication. He and other board members expressed concerns about negative information getting out there.
They’ve demonstrated those concerns in the past, notably with the investigations that were conducted when one board member accused another of harassment. Although they tried to keep the situation quiet, even taking a vote that they called a “poll” in a closed meeting, it came out anyway, and when it did, it was a high-profile story.
So maybe it’s best to simply confront “negative” stories rather than seek to bury them.
If negativity is a concern, it’s probably best to stay off social media. With services such as Facebook and Twitter, “controlling the message” is nearly impossible. The discussion is democratized, and although that opens the door for “trolls,” it also makes it possible for other people to interact and share their points of view.
Local government shouldn’t be afraid to hear from the public, anyway. Officials have that privilege at meetings, which generally include a public comment period. Just like at meetings, there’s no obligation to answer every criticism thrown the government’s way on social media.
Government is a human endeavor, and like anything humans do, it has its flaws. By giving people a popular venue to vent their frustrations and raise their concerns, the village actually could improve the services it provides.
The approach government should take to social media, and in general, is to make all truthful and pertinent information available to the public, When reasonable criticism follows, address it honestly.