It’s not so simple for municipal politicians to navigate the numerous social media channels on which interest groups discuss local issues.

It’s not so simple for municipal politicians to navigate the numerous social media channels on which interest groups discuss local issues.

Social media not always so social

Maple Ridge Coun. Tyler Shymkiw hasn’t reactivated his personal Facebook page since Christmas.

Coun. Tyler Shymkiw wants to remind people, when they comment about city affairs or politicians, when passion turns into abuse and personal attacks, there is a person at the other end of the keyboard.

“Politicians … everywhere in the world are dealing with it,” Shymkiw says.

The assumption is, they signed up for it.

“But I don’t think that’s necessarily true.”

Shymkiw, starting his second year on Maple Ridge council, hasn’t reactivated his personal Facebook page since Christmas, which means he’s not plugged into the increasing number of groups that discuss local issues.

“It’s the group piece that I’m stepping back from and reassessing, because that’s where you see the nastiness going on,” he said. “People start treating it like a spectator sport.”

Shymkiw said belonging to a range of Facebook groups is becoming labour intensive as comments from one group are posted to another.

“There have been, for me, and continue to be, growing concerns with what’s happening with more and more groups, and the constant cross-posting, making it difficult for me to even keep track of where I’m talking to who,” he said online.

“There’s some stuff that’s pretty horrendous,” he added.

“Most of these people are really good when you meet them in person, most of them. There’s something dehumanizing about the whole social media thing at times, especially when it comes to politicians in the public eye.”

The deputy mayor is still responding to questions on his city Facebook page and if someone wants to go on his Facebook page and “have a dialogue in a respectful way, there’s nobody I’m not going to answer.”

He acknowledges though, he isn’t getting the worst of it.

“I think the mayor is taking the most of it,” Shymkiw said.

In addition to personal attacks, the extra time required to stay up to date online is another concern.

“There is a growing expectation that we respond 24/7 to any sort of inquiry.”

That places a huge demand for councillors who are on Facebook. Shymkiw estimates during busy times he’s spending 30 hours a week online, and the same again doing regular council duties.

But he likes to give detailed answers to people’s questions.

Combined with e-mail, “we spend more time that what the actual expectations for the whole job are.”

Neither is there any downtime in the digital world. People can post at any time, ask questions or make misstatements at 3 a.m. As a politician, he wants to correct or respond to that as soon as possible.

“It becomes a real 24/7 thing.”

Shymkiw notes that council wages have been frozen for several years and now politicians are facing the duties of the digital world.

“I think the general population needs to decide if that’s where they want their representatives to be spending their time.”

He said he’ll keep his political Facebook page open so he can answer simple back and forth questions. And he’ll still get into dialogue.

The nastiness isn’t directed only towards politicians, but to others as well, such as the homeless.

“Which doesn’t lead to a good place either, as a community or as a society. We all have a responsibility to try to elevate that level of dialogue,” Shymkiw said.

“Some of the population does want to hear that Donald Trump-type discourse. But I don’t think that’s where we need to head as a society.”

As for Mayor Nicole Read, she has faced a barrage of Facebook attacks since being elected in November 2014.

“I am hesitant to engage you given your utterly abusive conduct towards me during the election and the horrible posts on your own page that were sent to me by residents,” Read wrote in response to one post last July.

Even her husband, Steven Read, weighed in to defend his wife.

The mayor, though, wonders why people do that.

“It can really be mean spirited and what’s the point of that, I don’t know,” she said.

During debates about homelessness, “there was a lot of mean stuff going on. It was very difficult for me and my family.”

She noted that other mayors face the same type of comments.

But she still believes there’s value in social media. It allows her to connect with voters and can do so by limiting her time on it.

She’ll also respond to comments and questions, but notes that some Facebook groups are better than others, depending on how well they’re moderated.

“There are sites that I’m comfortable going on.”

But council will have to talk about how each councillor’s comments online affect how council actually operates.

“I definitely think we’re in new and uncharted territory when it comes to governance and freedom of information.”

Read has two Facebook pages and doesn’t get negative comments on her personal Facebook page, which allows voters to see who she is as a person, adding that many voted for her for the reasons on that page.

Both Couns. Bob Masse and Gordy Robson have Facebook pages, but aren’t active on them.

“I just don’t like it. It’s not a medium that appeals to me,” said Masse.  “I don’t see enough value to put in the time that it would take.”

Robson said he doesn’t find it useful and that it takes too much time talking to the same group of people and sometimes even changing their votes on council because of Facebook feedback.

“I don’t find it useful,” he said.

“The people who have Facebook … they spend a lot of time talking over and over about the same things.”

He said he can be reached by telephone or e-mail.

 

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