In England, council candidate calls for black comedian to move to “black country” and compares Islam to the Third Reich

England’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has been criticized for its perceived racism.  Last week, a local Council candidate fed into those perceptions with a two racist tweets.

William Henwood is a UKIP candidate in a local council election in Enfield, North London.  According to the BBC, Henwood let loose two racist comments via Twitter:

  • In the first, Henwood attacked British comedian Lenny Henry, who is black.  Via Twitter, Henwood said, “He (Henry) should emigrate to a black country. He does not have to live with whites.”  When asked for clarification by a BBC commenter, Henwood said, “I think if black people come to this country and don’t like mixing with white people why are they here? If he (Henry) wants a lot of blacks around go and live in a black country.”
  • In a second tweet, Henwood said, “Islam reminds me of the 3rd Reich Strength through violence against the citizens.”

Henwood’s comments were condemned by politicians of multiple parties, including at least one member of his own.  A Conservative Health Secretary called the remarks, “absolutely disgusting” and added that, “I think it is for Nigel Farage [leader of the UKIP party] to make absolutely clear that that isn’t UKIP’s official view but also to explain why so many people with those kinds of views seem to be attracted to becoming candidates for UKIP.”  Roger Helmer, a Member of Parliament with UKIP, called the comments “unacceptable.”

What was most interesting, from my perspective, is the pivot from a UKIP spokesman, who said, “Any breach of our rules will be duly investigated and action will be taken.  However one has to question why the other parties are spending hours behaving like secret police and trawling through the social media of UKIP candidates who are everyday men and women, rather than actually doing politics.”  This was particularly interesting to me because it shows that there are some similarities in politics across the western world: When attacked, pivot by blaming the media.

In an interview after the tweet, Henwood said that he didn’t find the comments offensive.  Because he lives on another planet, apparently.

The news of the offensive tweets comes after a series of other incidents involving racism and the UKIP, including racist tweets from the “poster boy” of its election broadcast. The tweets in and of themselves are obviously both racist and offensive, and only a fool would deny it.  What is even worse for UKIP is that the tweets fit into the narrative of UKIP being the party of racists.  I don’t know British politics to know whether or not this is an intentional positioning by UKIP, but there is no shortage of examples that tie their party to racists and racism.  Henwood’s tweets are just the latest example.

Anything else to add?  Let me know in the comments!

How an elected official should interact with the media via social media

When I interviewed John Micek, Opinion Editor for PennLive of Central PA, I asked him how many political reporters don’t use Twitter.  His response:  “None who are currently working.”  My experience has confirmed this – the vast majority of reporters, and particularly political ones, are active Twitter users.  This presents an opportunity for elected officials to use Twitter to communicate with the media, and specifically with these reporters.  Personally, I know I’ve strengthened my relationship with many reporters based on our conversations on Twitter.  Here are a few thoughts on the best way to have those conversations:

1) Be nice and don’t complain: Keep an interaction with a reporter on Twitter or Facebook positive.  Why?  Because you will lose.  Even if you win an argument, you will lose, because you never go out of your way to tick a reporter off in a public arena.  Similarly, don’t complain about their coverage, or local coverage that you’ve gotten, via social media.

2) Share their articles: You like it when someone retweets or shares your link, right?  Reporters are the same way – they are human and like having their content shared and spread.  Don’t get me wrong – do not reflexively retweet everything they send out.  But, if they have a good, relevant article or other useful information, don’t hesitate to share it.

3) Don’t spam – but don’t hesitate to reach out: If you put out a press release via Twitter and mention a reporter in it, I’d call that spam.  You can Email a reporter your press release – using a mention to try and get their attention is tacky.  However, if you have a story and you know a reporter is a Twitter user, I don’t think there is anything wrong with, “Hi @politicalreporter, I had something I wanted to run by you, do you mind if I shoot you an Email or DM?”

4) Pay attention: Relationship building with anyone is a two way street – of course you talk, but it’s far more valuable to listen.  To that end, keep track of what reporters that you follow are talking about, work related or otherwise.  It’s great conversation fodder for when you interact with a reporter in the real world, but it also gives you an idea of what kind of information and stories that reporter likes.  Remember, reporters are paying attention to what you tweet as an elected official.  You should absolutely do the same.

5) Understand that everything is fair game:  I’ve had reporters call me based on Facebook and Twitter posts I’ve made, looking for more information or for follow-up.  It’s never been on anything I’ve been uncomfortable talking about, of course.  That’s because I never make a Facebook or Twitter post on an item unless I would be comfortable talking about it with reporters.  Facebook and Twitter are fair game because they are public, so don’t be surprised or offended if a reporter calls you up and asks for more information based on one of your social media posts.

Anything else to add?  Let me know in the comments!

In Ireland, Council candidate calls other party “united ireland party” and “scum” on Facebook

Jordan Greer is a member of the Democratic United Party (DUP) in Ireland.  He’s in hot water this week over comments he made on a Facebook thread.

Greer is a candidate for Antrim-Newtownabbey Council, a local government, in Ireland.  Last week, posters for the rival Alliance Party began to appear in Ballyclare, prompting many to attack the party on a Facebook thread.  In response to another thread, Jordan Greer made this comment:

jordangreer

Greer’s comments were condemned by Alliance Party members, who called them “bigoted” and “ridiculous.”  More interestingly was that members of the DUP also condemned the comments and tried to distance the party from them.  Said Paul Girvan, a DUP member of the North Ireland Assembly:

These were Jordan’s own comments and not the view of the party. It’s not helpful calling people names and it’s not the type of politics I want to engage in.

Greer pulled down the comments and made no further statement.

There’s an added element here, one that American politics doesn’t usually have to deal with: that of violence.  Comments like these, as noted by Alliance leader David Ford, have, “directly led to violence on the streets over the past 18 months.”  The reference to a “united ireland” party is also a comment that is bound to cause controversy, as the country will always be embroiled in a debate about whether or not Northern Ireland should be part of Ireland or the U.K.  That issue, also referred to as “The Troubles,” has claimed hundreds of lives over multiple decades and remains a hot button issue in Ireland.

 

The lesson here, more than anything else, is cultural sensitivity.  Greer made a stupid, offhand comment that touched what is still a very raw nerve in Ireland and Northern Ireland.  Making off-hand, negative comments about the opposing party is bad enough, but doing so in a manner that touches on decades of racial conflict is far, far worse.  This is a great example of what never to do in politics!

Man creates parody Twitter account of Mayor of Peoria, IL…has house raided by police

From a free speech and public relations perspective, this is an interesting one.

Jim Ardis is the Mayor of Peoria, Illinois, a city of about 115,000.  Nine weeks ago, the Mayor found himself on the wrong end of a Twitter parody account, @PeoriaMayor, which has since been suspended.  By and large, the account contained tweets about the Mayor doing drugs and hanging with prostitutes.  It didn’t say that it was a parody until a week before it was suspended, and that is something which is required by Twitter guidelines. Nothing too out of the ordinary here.

Things took a turn for the ugly on April 15th, when Peoria Police executed a search warrant at the home of Jacob Elliot, under the suspicion that Elliot was impersonating a public official.  Seven officers, wearing bullet proof vests, raided Elliot’s home, confiscating computers and smart phones.  Police ultimately discovered that the author of the account was Elliot’s roommates, Jon Daniel.  Elliot, however, is the one in real trouble: police seized enough marijuana to charge him with felony possession, and Elliot has been suspended from his job.

No shortage of legal experts have been quoted as questioning the propriety of the raid:

“I find it very troubling,” said Angela Campbell, a professor at Georgetown University Law School. “It chills people’s First Amendment rights to criticize officials … whether it’s through parody or just  calling somebody a jerk.”

Aaron Caplan, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, raised similar concernsabout free speech and the impersonation issue.

“This absolutely raises concerns for me,” he said. “Under the Constitution, you can criticize people in power. It’s how you can tell the difference between a democracy and a police state. And you can do it through humor.”

Local officials are upset as well:

There was too much power of force used on these pranksters,” said [Jim] Montelongo, the 4th District councilman. “It made it look like the mayor received preferential treatment that other people don’t get or will never get.

Ultimately, Peoria County State Attorneys declined to file charges under impersonating a public official, noting that the relevant statute of the law made no mention of electronic impersonation.

At a City Council meeting, Mayor Ardis defended his actions: “It went way over the line.  For that reason, my immediate reaction was a deeply personal one on behalf of my family and myself. As a person, I felt a victim of sexual doggerel and filth. It was filth. It was absolute filth.”

I literally don’t think this could have been handled worse by the Mayor.  The account had fifty followers and thus necessitated a police raid?  The only thing that the Twitter account actually did wrong was not mark itself as a parody, which it eventually corrected.  Parody accounts do have to be noted as as a parody account, and prior to that, I don’t think the Mayor would have been wrong in filing a complaint with Twitter.  But to send police for an account that had around fifty followers is beyond an over reaction.  It takes a very small story and makes it a national scandal.  Many of the articles about this event noted the First Amendment concerns over this action, and they are totally valid, as far as I’m concerned.  As public officials, people have the right to parody us.  That’s the way it is and it’s what we get, as electeds, for stepping into the limelight.  The Mayor is now on the wrong end of a lot of backlash, and it’s well deserved.  He never should have handled the situation this way.

And worst of all?  A new Twitter parody account, @NotPeoriaMayor, has been created – and it has over 1,400 followers.

What would you have done if you were the Mayor?  I’d love to hear from you – let me know in the comments!

In the great tradition of brand-promoted hashtags, #myNYPD goes disastrously wrong

As we’ve written about before, police departments are very active in social media, with many of them being very successful.  And, with the largest police force in the United States, you can bet that the New York Police Department has an active twitter account.

Two days ago, the NYPD sent out this tweet:

Some people did participate and sent out nice pictures of themselves with officers, which the NYPD promptly retweeted.  Others…not so much:

Also interesting is that the hashtag has also spread to other cities, including #myLAPD and #myTPD (which seems to be a number of different police departments).

The story, of course, has made national news.

Naturally, this disaster went all the way up the police food chain, and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton had to comment on the story:

Most of the pictures I looked at, they’re old news.  They’ve been out there for a long time…Often times police activities are lawful, but look awful.

This is yet another example of what frequently happens when somewhat controversial brand reaches out to the Twittersphere for input.  We’ve covered this before, in fact.  For example, J.P. Morgan once tried to offer investment advice under #AskJPM – that was a disaster.  Political parties have failed here as well – the @GOP once asked for feedback, and the results were predictably hilarious.  McDonald’s once tried doing this with the promoted hashtag #McDStories, but that got turned into a discussion about nasty food and food poisoning.  So, should more controversial brands, and government officials, not leave such open ended opportunities for feedback?  Yes.  Exactly. Townhalls are one thing – you usually get at least a few real questions that you can run with.  And responding to criticism, one on one, is a very different story.  But open ended requests for input are a bad idea if you are at a certain level of visibility, and thus controversy.  Local elected officials can probably pull such a maneuver off, though the feedback likely won’t be large in number anyway.  But, the higher the political ladder you climb, the harder it becomes to do an event like this without risking serious negative feedback.

What do you think?  Is there a way for big brands or government groups to pull off promotions like this?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) gets into a Facebook fight

Hello everyone!  The flu is (mostly) vanquished and I’m back for more blogging.  And there’s an interesting one for you today that provides a great lesson in things never to do on Facebook if you are a high-ranking elected official: fight with another high-ranking elected official.

Here’s the background: In South Carolina, a two-year old child was placed back into the home of his biological mother after having originally been removed.  That child was subsequently killed and the mother’s boyfriend is awaiting trial for the murder.  As a result, the Governor’s Director of Social Services, Lillian Koller, testified about this case (and others) in front of a State Senate committee.  Many Senate Democrats have called for Koller’s resignation, but so have some Republican Senators, including Senator Katrina Shealy, who had previously been considered an ally of Haley’s.  Haley stood by Koller and rebuffed calls for her resignation.  Governor Haley then upped the ante on the issue when she made this Facebook post:

Haley Facebook Post

This was clearly a calculated move by Governor Haley to defend her Director and let the world know she was standing by her.  All well and good; if the Governor was attempting to use Facebook to make that statement, she did a fine job.  However, a commenter then made reference to Director Koller being an atheist.  Governor Haley responded to that comment with this:

Haley Koller AtheistUnsurprisingly, Senator Shealy did not take kindly to the attack, and took to her Facebook page to respond:

Senator Shealy Facebook Response

There has been no further comment on the issue from either camp since these Facebook statements.

From the Governor’s perspective, responding to comments can be good, but this provides a great example of why it is necessary to engage selectively.  A comment that went after Director Kollar for being an atheist should have been left alone and left responded to – it was clearly beneath the Governor.  She chose to engage anyway – perhaps out of loyalty to her friend.  Regardless of her motivation, her defense of Director Kollar left her open to accusations from Senator Shealy that she was falsely spreading rumors.   I think the real take away here is that some comments are not worth responding to, and if you do need to respond, do so in a manner that doesn’t invite further personal attacks.

From Senator Shealy’s perspective: she’s angry the Governor brought religion into the issue and chose to use her Facebook page to spread rumors.  Who knows which one of these two are right, but for argument’s sake, let’s pretend that Senator Shealy is right and that she never was spreading those rumors.  Why, oh why, does she then need to add that it would still concern her if Director Koller was an atheist?  She’s going back on her original point!  It’s a totally unnecessary addition and makes her look ignorant and like she has something against atheists.

What do you think?  Do you agree with my interpretation on how Governor Haley should have handled this issue?  Let me know in the comments!

 

P/C