Mayor Steve Fulop uses social media the way that many mayors do: to communicate important information about things the city is doing to his constituents. It all seems simple enough at its face; a reminder about snow removal here, an announcement about a meeting there. If, in the end, these posts serve to boost him as November approaches, one could forgive him. It’s good, after all, if a mayor can run for re-election based on his record.
And it’s understandable in these times that any public figure would want to at least lightly curate their comments on social media. We’re in a very negative time in US politics, and Fulop is a high-profile Democrat. There are loonies out there as we all know; people willing to turn a simple post about the importance of shoveling your sidewalk into a racist, all-caps rant that has nothing to do with the topic at hand, written by someone living far from Jersey City, just to get a reaction.
But what if it wound up that the mayor was censoring and deleting on-topic, sensible, reasonable – albeit critical – comments from people within JC? What if those comments are calmly and rationally stated by well-known community activists, who are simply choosing to object to a certain issue or the way in which the Mayor framed it? What if, in the absence of such comments, the thread accommodating the original post looked as if everyone in Jersey City was in whole-hearted agreement with Fulop?
It’s been the rumor in JC activist circles for sometime that if you dare to disagree with our Mayor on Facebook, you will get banned – your comment will be immediately deleted, and you will not be allowed to comment further on any posts, ever. In some cases, it’s taken so far that you’re not allowed to see the Mayor’s posts ever again in your feed (no more announcements of snow removal schedules for you, you crazy dissident!).
I’ve heard this from enough people that I believed it, and I’ve been following this as an unfolding story for a few weeks…. but I had a hesitation. How widespread was this, really? And what if the people who had been banned really said something bad – like in the heat of the moment?
So, two things. For one, I started an online questionnaire. If you’ve been blocked by the Mayor on any forum, perhaps you’d like to take it. The link is here. More on that in a moment.
But secondly, this appeared on the Jersey City Politics group on Facebook:
(That’s all one post – I’m sorry I couldn’t make it fit better.)
Bruce Alston is behind the Hudson County Chronicles, a website that covers local issues. When I posted my Ellen Simon story, I received an enormous amount of traffic from his Chronicles, even more than I did from NJ Politico – the man is a force to be reckoned with and has an absolutely huge following. And he is definitely not crazy or prone to all-caps ranting – I don’t know Bruce personally at all, but I’ve seen him on Facebook dozens of times and he is nothing if not totally polite and on-topic. I don’t always agree with the guy, but he is certainly not someone to be censored or dismissed.
There is something about a Facebook comment thread that is 50+ comments deep – it comes across as a certain kind of truth. You see it as a casual observer, and it feels like you’re seeing an accurate portrayal of what people really think of a person, a product, or – in this case – an administration.
Back to my questionnaire: I only have a few responders, so it’s too soon to really report what I’ve learned so far. But if you’ve been blocked, please fill it out. You can be anonymous or you can sign your name – it’s up to you. I’ll follow up this post later, if I get enough responses.
Look, no one has to have comments turned on for any of these media. You’ll note that I have comments turned off on this blog – that’s because I wanted to create a place for my opinions/thoughts/ideas, not a discussion. Fulop can likewise turn off the comments to his Facebook posts, and that would make it much more clear that it is an outgoing platform for him to share information with the community, but not a discussion.
But making it appear to be a discussion when in fact it’s not is intellectually dishonest. He’s taking out all the “bad” comments and making it seem as if there’s overwhelming, nearly unanimous support for everything he does. There is not.