The Carthage Board of Commissioners on Monday adopted a social media policy designed to rein in the growing number of “negative comments” on the town’s Facebook page.
Dorothy Dutton, the town clerk, created the page in October 2017 to share event announcements and emergency updates with residents. She said Facebook continues to be a useful tool for Carthage, but a recent surge in disparaging comments and harassing messages has threatened to undermine the platform’s effectiveness as an organ for community information.
According to Dutton, the backlash began after a quasi-judicial hearing last month for a proposed apartment complex at the corner of South McNeill Street and Pinehurst Avenue. Dozens of people turned out to oppose the project, with critics speculating the apartments would attract crime and diminish the quality of life for nearby homeowners who decided to live in Carthage because of the town’s “rural” atmosphere.
Speaking on behalf of the developer, William Guillett III contended that the 66-unit complex would help address the area’s dearth of affordable housing. Ultimately, the commissioners voted three-to-one to issue a conditional-use permit for the project.
The project’s opponents were not happy about the decision. Dutton said the town’s Facebook page was soon inundated with derogatory messages and comments, some of which were aimed at her.
“There have been things that have happened in the past where people exploded at us on Facebook, but this was worse,” she said.
The social media policy, unanimously approved by the commissioners, allows Dutton and any other employee with access to the town’s Facebook account to prevent the “inadvertent establishment of a public forum.” Preventive actions could include the deletion of comments containing false information that “incites others to post negative comments,” according to a memo shared with the commissioners.
Dutton said the policy is meant to “keep things more organized and respectful online.”
“I hate to do it, because I think people should be able to express their opinions,” Dutton said. “But when it’s just ranting and ranting? If they don’t want to support the town, they can form their own Facebook group, ‘Citizens That Hate Carthage,’ and they can go off there.”
After expressing his support for the policy, Mayor Lee McGraw said residents have other venues for sharing criticism of Carthage. They can call and email town officials, he suggested, or address them in-person during the board’s monthly meetings.