Government’s social media crossfire an embarrassment

If you thought postings on your Facebook page are private, you thought wrong.

Photos that City Council member Kenny Whipker had on his private Facebook account became the target of criticism by Mayor Kristen Brown and some of her supporters when they were picked up and displayed on Brown’s public Facebook page. The two images, of women in bikinis with comments inserted to make a joke, were explained as examples of humor shared among friends, Whipker said. However, the mayor and others shared critical comments of the images. One person suggested Whipker was sexist and even recommended that he step down from his council position.

Also on Brown’s Facebook page was critical commentary about Bartholomew County Republican Party chairwoman Barb Hackman regarding her leadership of the party, and of Councilman Frank Jerome — shared by a Park Board member, with accompanying comment — for a photo that had appeared on his page of a person wearing the costume of a children’s character, but in an awkward position.

While people are entitled to their opinions and free speech is a treasured protection in the United States, the use of social media can turn ugly — and in Columbus, that’s exactly what has happened.

Derisive comments fanned flames instead of resolving issues. What the mayor posted on her page didn’t seem very mayoral.

This would be a good time for elected officials to review the city’s ethics policy.

Some of the jokes being shared among council members and others they know were in questionable taste and do not set good examples of professional conduct, as spelled out in the ethics policy.

And the mayor’s criticism of one council member in particular also is contrary to the ethics policy, which asks that public officials treat each other with respect instead of publicly criticizing one another.

What the Facebook incident highlights is a divide that exists within the local Republican Party and hard feelings that exist between the mayor and at least some city council members. Discourse between the mayor and city council the past four years has been unlike that in recent memory.

Despite personal or political differences that may exist, there is a right way and a wrong way for public officials to go about the city’s business. The public airing of grievances and commentary on social media is not the right way.

A good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t want your mother or religious leader to see what you post, it’s probably best not to post it.

Decorum is important. Using social media to take shots at elected officials is counterproductive, impedes the ability to work together and in some cases comes off as childish.

Columbus still has next year’s budget to approve. Based on the recent social media incident, one has to wonder whether there will be a genuine attempt to work together or just more social media volleys.

All this situation has done is create embarrassment for Columbus.