The City of Greater Sudbury bans comments on its Facebook page

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“The comments section is becoming a place for misinformation and hateful and inappropriate comments”

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In the wake of the city’s announcement that it was removing the ability to comment on its Facebook posts, at least one councilor said he thinks the municipality should do more to stop bad behavior by some residents.

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In an email to councilors last Friday, Chief Executive Ed Archer said the city would disable comments on Facebook posts. He said the comments had become intolerable, with abuse, harassment and bullying directed at city staff.

“It is simply unacceptable to put our staff in a position where we know they will be abused,” Archer wrote. “Therefore, we are disabling the comments function on our Facebook page.”

The city publicly announced its decision on Wednesday. He said harassment and intimidation, which have become commonplace, have taken their toll.

“Like other municipalities, public health agencies and media who use social media to inform and engage, we have experienced an increase in threats, intimidation, harassment and inappropriate comments aimed at staff, members of the community and other users. This has impacted residents who choose to respectfully engage with us and city staff who face personal attacks,” the city posted on Facebook.

“In the interest of the mental health and well-being of our employees and the residents we serve, we are turning off the commenting feature on our Facebook page effective April 20. With the comments section becoming a place for misinformation, and hateful and inappropriate comments, it no longer serves as a place for productive dialogue and debate about municipal services and policies, or for answering questions.

Ward 5 County. Robert Kirwan responded to Archer, wholeheartedly agreeing with his decision. Kirwan said the abusive comments and harassment “poison the whole site and (are) stressful for all the staff”.

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Kirwan can sympathize. He said he and his wife had been harassed over their running of a popular Facebook group.

Kirwan and his wife, Valerie, run the Valley East Facebook group, which has about 19,000 members. While Kirwan discusses politics in the group, it’s also a forum for all sorts of topics related to the valley, Ward 5, and the larger municipality. Kirwan said he wanted the site to remain family-friendly and civilian. He’s been known to block people — almost 3,000 accounts, he told Archer — and while he enjoys a good debate, Kirwan has occasionally disabled comments.

“We leave comments on most of our posts, but we don’t hesitate to turn off comments when they start to get abusive and inflammatory. We also block people for inappropriate use of the laughing emoji,” Kirwan wrote.

He said when the next council discusses a social media policy for the city, public behavior will need to be considered.

“It is extremely difficult for a city councilor to communicate with the public and be the subject of abusive comments on social media that some people feel they have the right to post,” Kirwan wrote. “It has become deplorable. Rather than being subjected to this kind of abuse, it’s understandable that some counselors rarely post anything on social media, or when they do, they stay away from any kind of controversial topic.

The Valley East group has sparked its own controversy. Kirwan was reprimanded by the Integrity Commissioner last September for creating a fake Facebook account, known as Jessie Timmons, with which to administer the group. He had previously been reprimanded in September 2019 for comments he made about the Valley East group against Ward 2 Coun adviser Tom Price. Michel Vagnini; and David Robinson, an economics professor at Laurentian University, who Kirwan called a stranded dinosaur.

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Robert Swayze, the Integrity Commissioner, found that Kirwan violated the code of conduct in both cases.

Kirwan told Archer that those who bully and harass should face the full force of the justice system.

“As far as I am concerned, this kind of behavior is defamatory and must be treated to the full extent of the law,” he said. “The definition of defamation is any form of defamation written in a permanent record, such as an email, newspaper, website posting, Facebook comment, etc. Any defamation of a member of our staff or of a member of City Council is an act that damages the reputation and image of the Corporation of the City of Greater Sudbury.

“It is time for us to bring some of these offenders to justice and seek damages. Whether we win or not, they will get the message and stop this nonsense.

The star reached out to Kirwan with several questions for clarification; however, he did not respond.

[email protected]

Twitter: @marykkeown

Facebook: @mkkeown

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