From the Community Editorial Board: Social media and public employees – Boulder Daily Camera

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Members of our Community Editorial Board, a group of community residents who are engaged with and passionate about local issues, respond to the following question: Free speech and protection for public employees online highlight social media issues. Your take? 
Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Reddit, YouTube, Snapchat…it never ends, does it?
We have myriad outlets to be able to connect with people from across the globe on topics that we agree or disagree about, to vent when we are upset with service at certain establishments and to let the world know just how we feel about “that.”
If you went through a hiring process in the past five to 10 years, I’d be willing to bet you went through an onboarding process or training that required you to acknowledge that you should be judicious when posting things on web-based platforms.
These trainings caution you that the way you interact with the virtual world does not exempt you from repercussions of the tangible world. The fine print that you agree to when you create accounts on these platforms requires you to acknowledge that you will adhere to the guidelines on what is appropriate and acceptable to post.
So, if you violate those understandings, you open yourself up to the consequences.
Individuals in positions of power and influence have greater liability when it comes to engaging on social media. Those in a position of public service, celebrities and notable members of society must be cognizant of the way they present themselves to the virtual world.
Their words and sentiments — written, reposted or recorded — carry weight far beyond the screen.
Furthermore, I believe the greater issue here lies within the context of what is defined as free speech.
Where the proverbial line is that cannot or should not be crossed when expressing one’s views online is the larger discussion. This is a conversation and a debate that will plague society in perpetuity.
No matter who you are or what you do, be smart about what you post online.
Emily Walsh, [email protected]
Teachers and a Boulder police officer were recently in the news for being doxxed. I had to look that up. Doxxing is publishing personal information about someone in an attempt to intimidate or embarrass them.
For the officer, it was supposedly for distasteful comments on homeless people and people of color, though I never read exactly what he wrote. The police officer was writing as a private citizen and is free to write whatever he wants. Trust in public employees is essential and especially so for cops, but as long as it doesn’t affect his job performance and as long as he doesn’t call for any violence, why is it our business?
For the teachers, it was the names and addresses of teachers who walked off their jobs in protest. Posting addresses seems ominous, but teachers who refuse to do their job shouldn’t be anonymous. Protesters aren’t making a brave stand if they are hiding in the shadows. Neither incident of doxxing was illegal and shouldn’t be.
We can decry the state of social media all we want and call for censorship of alternative facts, but that road leads, always and inexorably, to authoritarianism. Who decides what isn’t correct?
The major platforms, YouTube, primary among them, banned rational, reasonable videos on climate change and the pandemic that either merely highlighted unpopular facts or took a different perspective on possible causes. If the narrative went against the “accepted” belief, it was censored. Wrongly.
Who decides?
I’m totally down with censorship as long as I get to decide what’s censored. That’s the rub, isn’t it?
The problem isn’t the opinions that bolster one side but the fact that we don’t hear enough reasonable discussion of complex issues from both sides.
As Jonathan Haidt has recently written, a major cause of our extreme polarization today is that we’ve migrated into separate echo chambers, ruled on both sides by the most extreme on the right and left. No dissent is tolerated, and hence both sides are getting dumber.
Letting people know about an event or posting a link to an article that is interesting or provocative are reasonable uses of Twitter. Having a political discussion/debate via “gotcha” tweets isn’t productive or constructive to anyone. Just don’t do it. Social media platforms can be great tools but, like all tools, can be misused.
Haidt’s idea is not to censor speech but to slow down its spread. He wants more effort required of the user to share and retweet. He based his plan upon the ideas of our Founding f=Fathers, especially James Madison, who feared factions and the power of a rolling mob.
Our system of government, a republic, was meant to slow the roll of hasty thoughts until cooler heads can prevail. Solving this problem will be difficult and we should proceed with the utmost caution.
Bill Wright, [email protected]
Take the following hypothetical: A person posts offensive remarks on a social media site using a pseudonym, and local activists identify the person as a law enforcement officer by matching photos from the offensive posts with identical photos posted on the officer’s personal Facebook page.
The activists then tweet screenshots of the offensive postings and the personal Facebook page, urging people (and the officer’s employer) to examine the evidence and reach their own conclusions.
Even though the law enforcement officer attempted to post anonymously, most people (myself included) have no issue with such an “outing,” given that he chose to post on a public forum, the offensive postings reveal a potential bias relevant to law enforcement activities (and presumably violate the law enforcement agency’s policies), and the tweets promote transparency.
Next hypothetical, taking it a step further: In addition to his name, the activists circulate the law enforcement officer’s home telephone number, home address, and names and pictures of his spouse and children, facilitating potential threats and physical harm to the officer and his family.
In my opinion, that crosses a line, and Colorado lawmakers agree. Colorado is a leading state in passing “anti-doxxing” laws. Such laws provide that certain “protected” categories of citizens — such as law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors and public defenders — can request that their personal information (such as home address and home telephone number) be removed from publicly available government websites.
Colorado’s law also makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor (i.e., some jail time) for someone to circulate on the internet such personal information about protected persons or their immediate family if the person circulating the information reasonably should know that it creates a threat to safety.
In response to concerns about pandemic-related harassment of health care workers, Colorado recently extended protection to them as well. It’s too bad it took a pandemic for this to happen, given the threats over the years to reproductive health providers.
Legislation is now in the works to add educators and their support staff to the list in light of recent threats made in Douglas County.
Someone shouldn’t have to fear for their safety for simply doing their job, and one starts to question why others aren’t on the list. How about employees working for Planned Parenthood or other nonprofits where passions run deep? Does the subject matter of the job matter? What about employees of oil companies or firearms manufacturers?
These are challenging philosophical questions for our lawmakers. Now that I think about it, they aren’t protected, either.
Andrew Shoemaker, [email protected]
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