Officials should stay off Facebook

Milford town officials have gotten into a Facebook battle with a private citizen who, while they might consider her a bit of a pain in the keister, is still a private citizen.

Although Suzanne Fournier has taken on something of a public persona, she is not by any stretch of the imagination a person wearing the mantle of government, thus those who do wear it should not be taking her on via social media.

It’s just not a good idea and, frankly, it demeans their positions. We know, of course, that public officials often preface their remarks with, "I’m speaking only as a private citizen, not as a (insert official title)" to which we say, nonsense. Once you are a public official, elected or appointed, you never again can speak as a private citizen because even if you think that’s what you’re doing, you still bear the mantle of your title and people will see you that way whether you want them to or not.

But … We understand how difficult it is to stand above the fray, to, in essence, ignore the criticisms levied upon them over the issue of the use of the Brox property, but social media should not be a method of response because:

1. It will never stop.

2. Everything posted will be out in public forever.

3. It is far too easy to say something regrettable.

4. Say the wrong thing and the town could be open to a lawsuit.

5. Say something regrettable and it will haunt you FOREVER.

Indeed, one official accused Fornier of harassment and that, to us, is a bit of a loaded word.

Fournier would say she is not harassing anyone, but trying to stand up for the environment. The other private citizen involved in this, a mom who posted a complaint about Fournier on social media, might see what Fournier did as harassment but she and Fournier can fight that out social media–wise all they please. Public officials should be available to listen to the mom, and of course to Fournier (which they already do quite a bit), but they should not have entered the fray on the level at which they did. They cannot win that battle no matter how logical, no matter how reasonable their posts are.

Social media is not the place for logic and reason. It is, more than anything else, the place for rants and even the most reasonable post by a town official is going to be seen as a rant because that is how social media is viewed, even by private citizens who use it regularly.

And when public officials begin posting responses to private citizens, they open themselves to escalation in which it is quite possible that posts will devolve into name–calling. Of course public officials will tell you they will never stoop to that, and we don’t think any of the Milford folks so far involved in this squabble would, but mistakes can be easily made when messages go out instantly.

How many of us send emails we wish we hadn’t? Too many of us.

We know this bell can’t be unrung, but there is no reason to keep yanking on the rope. Let private citizens use social media for their squabbles.

Public officials should be available publicly to mediate or intercede or help where they can, but joining the fray at the social media level (and it is a level far below that of rational commentary) is a huge mistake.