I recently had an opportunity to speak with several citizens who had volunteered for The Coldest Night of the Year event. I asked if they had concerns for the homeless and disadvantaged within our community and would they also voice their concerns on social media. I have been aware for some time and told by people visiting Grand Forks that our city’s Facebook has a very volatile and caustic atmosphere. No matter what you post someone will call you out, call you names, and put you down.
At the beginning of this term, I took exception to councilors debating on Facebook. I quickly learned that the council was not willing to limit their use of this and other social media and I reluctantly took a step back. Facebook does some great things in this community. As the most used communications tool in this community, it gives charities a fundraising platform, connects friends and family, alerts the public about emergencies and disasters. On the reverse side, it allows a few loud voices to influence many.
Moderators do their best to control degradation by words, but still stigmatizing and dehumanizing continues to poison minds. Last week, I read the term “(profane slur)” used four times. I understand the frustration with our courts and mental health interventions but like dropping a pebble in a pond, the ripple effects of some language on Facebook are caustic.
Above all, good or bad, Facebook is here to stay and is a reality. We have dozens of local Facebook groups and pages with thousands of followers. The Boundary Heritage group alone has over 4,000 members. Many followers of this group, as with other groups, are people from outside our community. We are concerned about how we appear to the outside world as we attempt to attract business and in-population. Our Facebook activity is a reflection of the community and any sophisticated investor or family will look at this picture.
Here is what I am going to say: Council has a right to communicate as an individual on social platforms. Council has agreed to some basic protocols consistent with the role they play. I will ask that we work to further these understandings and agree to self-police our behavior. I am pleased to see the city has moved from ignoring Facebook to establishing a city presence.
What can you do as a community? Lose your fear, these are words from angry confrontational contrarians. As one labeled as an “enabler” and a “bleeding heart,” I do hear the frustrations and the growing anger. Respond to name-calling and dehumanizing comments with a firm but polite, “Stop it.” Or take it a step further and remind the poster that we live in a community where we practice kindness and compassion.
Do not disregard Facebook. Get involved and help make it a safer place for all of us to talk to each other.