Citing “threats, bullying, harassment and inappropriate comments aimed at staff, community members and other users,” the City of Greater Sudbury has closed Facebook comments.
“I would describe the language as inappropriate for a public discussion,” City CAO Ed Archer told Sudbury.com. “I would respectfully suggest to the people making the comments that they would probably be better served getting some counselling rather than using their time making such comments on our Facebook page.”
The city’s communications staff have been monitoring comments in rotation, “because after a period of time it’s more than a little much,” Archer said. “It’s overwhelming in some cases.”
The cost of allowing Facebook comments far outweigh any benefits they might have had, he added, and with plenty of other avenues for people to submit their feedback, there was no viable argument to keep this option open.
“We’ve received some comments on our private messages, and I’d say some are maybe upset, but overall we’ve seen more positive comments that agree with this choice,” he said. “We expect, based on that, this will be an adjustment for some folks, but a net positive.”
The other avenues for people to submit their feedback to the city include Facebook Messenger, the city’s website, their 311 customer service phone line, their customer service web portal at 311.greatersudbury.ca, the city’s Over to You platform at overtoyou.greatersudbury.ca and dialogue with elected officials.
Online negativity and misinformation appears to have escalated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Archer said, noting that problematic comments were most abundant on posts about the pandemic and quickly spilled over onto other topics.
“It just takes a mental toll, and that weighs on staff over a long time and it’s just not sustainable,” he said.
The city’s move to disallow comments came as no surprise to Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan, who manages the Valley East Facebook page with his wife, Valerie. They post frequently about online decorum and have blocked more than 3,000 people for perceived breaches.
“You can’t defame a person’s reputation and things like that, but they seem to think it’s OK on Facebook, and they seem to think that anything goes when it comes to the municipality or city councillors, and that’s wrong,” Kirwan told Sudbury.com.
“It’s almost like Trumpism – say what you want,” he said. “If you’re the first person to say it, it’s got to be true.”
Although the general public seems to ignore much of it, Kirwan said he’s worried the stream of negativity will impact the city’s ability to recruit employees to work for them.
While online comments will no longer be allowed on the city’s Facebook page, they will continue to post relevant information for the public. Within the past several hours, they have posted about “Celtic Illusion” tickets being available at the Sudbury Community Arena, a film crew working in Capreol and the locations of asphalt coring work.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.