The City of Pitt Meadows staff put forward a new report to council during their online meeting Tuesday (June 2) outlining a new social media use policy.
Director of corporate services, Stephanie St. Jean, who presented the report, said staff made a revision to the policy to make it more concise and provide it with a ‘more positive tone.’
“What remains is a straightforward framework intended to guide council’s use of social media,” she said.
Council used the discussion of the report to point out how difficult it can be to sit as an elected official in the age of digital harassment, and pointed out how important it was to rise above the fray with their own use of the various platforms in order to set an example.
Councillor Anena Simpson pointed out the majority of her interactions with the public online have been perfectly pleasant.
“Ninety-nine per cent of our community plays fair and they fight fair, even when there’s challenges,” she said.
“There’s of course always a very small number who don’t,” she added. “Who are aggressive and intentionally want to harm others and this is a real shame and the costs are very, very high for this as it affects those who want to be involved in our civic engagement.”
Coun. Bob Meachen agreed with his colleague and pointed out some of the hurdles he has had to face as a first time councillor.
“I took on the role of councillor to help my community… and I expected to become recipient of some criticism and that’s all fair.
“I welcome the feedback of this community and even criticism that perhaps goes against something I’ve agreed to…but what I don’t appreciate are some of the inflammatory and misleading statements that are aimed at – frankly – hurting me personally.”
Meachen said he tries to comport himself online as he does in person and expressed hope the new policy would encourage his colleagues and their critics to take the higher road.
“We’re only here to manage what we can manage on a personal level and I think that this new policy certainly helps us get there, and makes it clear as to what the policy of this council is.”
Coun. Nicole MacDonald went into the dual nature of social media.
“It really is a double-edged sword,” she said.
“So much good is done through social media these days… it’s such an effective means of communication for us to inform the community what’s going on.”
“However it can also be a tool of toxicity, negativity, bullying, misinformation, lies and defamation.
She shared some of the negative experiences she has had to deal with since running for election in 2018.
Her character, integrity, and business and family have all been attacked, she said.
“I’ve received anonymous and threatening emails, I’ve had lies spread by a handful of people on public social media sites, and [I’ve had] my character maligned with lies and name-calling on an anonymous website.
“But I have not once engaged back and I believe this is important to share with the public.
“I signed up for this, and like I have in previous roles in my life, I have a thick skin.”
MacDonald said she is more worried about future prospective councillors being turned off the role.
“I don’t want it to deter others to from running and being a part of local government and standing up.”
To close the discussion, Mayor Dingwall weighed in on the matter.
“It is OK to provide critical and fair comments and to voice complete disagreement to a decision or a position, but in the age of social media it is easy to cross way over the line from critical and fair comment to bullying, harassment and defamation.
“Unfortunately a very small handful continue to be mean-spirited and spiteful with a relentless onslaught of negative or inaccurate misinformation that appears intent on hurting myself or my reputation, my colleagues or the good work this council is doing.”
Dingwall said he has blocked some individuals from his personal social media accounts.
“I’m choosing not to invest precious and positive energy worrying what they think of me or their negativity.
“I’m investing my energy where it needs to be as the mayor of this wonderful city. There is much more for this council to accomplish and I know our focus is on the community and leaving it in a better position for generations to come.”