Be careful what you post on social media sites, because sometimes it’s inappropriate, and sometimes, if you’re Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana, things he doesn’t agree with are posted on his Facebook page and his staff removes the comments.
It appears that Governor Pence’s staff deleted hundreds of comments from his official Facebook page because he, or someone, deemed them uncivil. Most of the comments were in response to a posting by Mike Pence, reaffirming his support for a proposed state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage before Indiana voters in 2014.
Pence’s office began moderating the comments as soon as they were posted; last Thursday morning, the number of comments on the Pence’s marriage equality statement approached 1,200, but by the afternoon, even though more comments had been posted, there were just 800 or so.
Many who commented say their posts were removed, not for being rude or uncivil, but for simply being opposed to the governor’s, soon-to-be-antiquated opinion, and, initially, Pence maintained that his staff did feel the deleted comments were uncivil, while pointing to other posts that weren’t removed and yet were critical of the his stance.
But, here’s a comment that was deleted for being uncivil: Jessica Strope said: “This Hoosier stands for equality. Too bad so many of the ‘Right’ stand on the complete WRONG side of history.”
In another, Beth Hollandbeck Barnes asked Pence, in part, to explain to three of her children why their older brother, who is gay, “doesn’t deserve the same rights they do.” She said her family was traditional and that Pence was wrong to assume he speaks for Hoosiers: “I figured they were just deleting hateful stuff, so I made sure to have a cogent point.
That her post was later removed, she said, showed that “voices like mine aren’t valued.”
Of course, there were some that were rude, and childishly offensive, like the one that called Pence a “simple minded hairless ape” but is that really worthy of deletion? Isn’t that sort of stepping on Free Speech?
The debate over the deletion of the posts has a legal dimension, as US courts still struggle to adapt to social media, and some feel officials who monitor, and edit, their social media outlets risk running afoul of the Constitution.
Lyrissa Barnett Lidsky, a law professor at the University of Florida, says that’s because people have a First Amendment right to express their views in a public forum, and she believes Pence could face legal issues if his Facebook page—even if operated by staff members—were viewed by a court as a public forum:
“If a government actor sets up as part of a government action a place for citizens to come and speak and interact, then the rule is that you can’t cherry-pick the viewpoints you like and eliminate the viewpoints you don’t like.”
Still, Governor Pence said that wasn’t his staff’s motivation, adding that “I’m somebody who really believes that civility and mutual respect are important. I do know our staff has a long-standing policy that many news organizations have had regarding name-calling and vulgar comments, and I’m confident our staff was just administrating that in the way that we do in any other debate.”
All well and good, in some instances, but where was the vulgarity in Jessica Strope’s comment?
Naturally, the ironically named anti-LGBT, anti-equality groups are rallying behind Pence. Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute and one of the leading advocates for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, supports the governor’s efforts to keep the debate respectful, and yet censored:
“I applaud the governor for policing the conversation and steering the tone toward a more civil conversation. He has a unique role as our state’s governor. He has a particular responsibility (on his Facebook page) to make sure the comments are uplifting and edifying and appropriate.”
The lack of a clearly stated policy on Pence’s Facebook page left many users scratching their heads at the deleted comments.
Kyle Straub had a feeling when he posted his comment about 10 p.m. Wednesday, after users had noticed other posts had disappeared, that it might get deleted, so he took a screen shot; his comment had been deleted by morning: “You want to avoid the ‘brain drain’ and better keep Hoosiers in Indiana after graduation? Well, I’ll give you a hint on where to start: the right side of history. Times are changing.”
And Liz Pelloso says she was actually blocked from interacting with the page after her comment was deleted. One of her deleted comments was a complaint that Pence’s staff was deleting comments.
In a twist, of course, without taking any responsibility, Governor Pence has since issued an apology, expressing regret that some comments were deleted from his official Facebook page “simply because they expressed disagreement with my position.” But there was no word on whether the staff members who took it upon themselves, or were instructed, to remove the comments have been fired or reprimanded.
Here’s the deal, this whole marriage thing is a huge conversation, but how can we have the conversation when people like Mike Pence take it upon themselves to edit out the parts with which they don’t agree?
I know people write hateful, stupid, bigoted, hurtful things on Facebook; I’ve seen them. I’ve seen them on my own blog. But if the comment is just one that disagrees with your position, wouldn’t it be better to leave it in and keep the conversation going? That way minds can be opened and mouths can be shut.
Governor Pence, who is responsible for his staff, and their actions, as the boss, ought to be ashamed of himself for trying to manipulate the discussion to his side.