A couple of days ago. on March 24, the City of Mandan posted on their Facebook page some information about an upcoming vote to raise the sales tax to pay for new recreational facilities. Today the city has now announced in a new Facebook posting that they will not be allowing “political comments” on their Facebook page about the vote, citing state law.
The city also put a comment on the March 24 posting warning people against posting for or against the proposal. There are currently no other comments on that posting, so perhaps the city erased what was there:
Here’s the complete statute from the North Dakota Century Code the posting refers to:
The problem, as I see it, is that the City of Mandan seems to be trying to define Facebook as public property or a public service. It is neither. The City of Mandan’s Facebook account is, like all Facebook accounts, free. And while I’m sure the city compensates an employee for putting updates about city business on Facebook – which I think is a good thing, social media can be a powerful tool in that regard – the public’s response to those items costs the city nothing.
And Facebook is an entirely private communications platform. So there’s no public property or service being used for a political purpose here.
The question is, then, what does the City of Mandan have against people posting comments for and against this vote? It would be one thing if the city were concerned about abusive or off-topic comments, but they’re specifically prohibiting comments on the proposal of any sort.
And since it’s the city putting this proposal forward, is it safe to assume that what set off this censorship on the city’s Facebook page wasn’t comments supporting the proposal but against it?
It’s a shame the city is taking this position. I would like to think that our government officials would be encouraging a robust public debate over an issue like this, not trying to silence it.