Kansas State Representative shares racist meme on Facebook

Sharing offensive Facebook content is often a fast path towards instant condemnation.  That’s a lesson that Kansas State Representative John Bradford (R-Lansing) just learned the hard way.

Last week, Representative Bradford shared this picture on his Facebook page:

John Bradford Facebook Post

The picture originated from the Facebook group Conservative Country, which features a variety of conservative, anti-Democrat and anti-Obama memes.

As you can see, the meme is just horrendously racist.  Representative Bradford did remove the post, but obviously faced overwhelming criticism for making it in the first place. Said Carolyn Campbell, a member of the Kansas Board of Education, Democrat and African-American, “Representative Bradford’s actions make it very clear that we are far from reaching Dr. King’s dream of equality. I’m saddened and appalled that this is an individual who is making decisions that impact our children’s education system.”

When interviewed afterwards, Representative Bradford expressed regret for the post: “It was in bad taste and I regret it.”

Interestingly – and certainly not surprisingly – this isn’t the first time that Representative Bradford has been accused of racism.  Representative Bradford was actually one of nine Republican Representatives who filed a complaint against a Democratic Representative – Valdenia Winn – after Representative Winn accused Bradford, and others, of holding “racist, sexist, fear-mongering” attitudes based on their support of legislation which would repeal residential tuition rates, at state universities, for illegal immigrants.

Clearly, those accusations will now be seen in an entirely new light!

Tweets and Consequences

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A Facebook share, a negative mailer

This is one of the more interesting instances I can recall of Facebook being used in a negative mailer, mainly because of the lack of proof surrounding the alleged post.

Brian Davis is a Democratic candidate for the Kansas House of Representatives, challenging Republican Representative Jan Pauls (R-Hutchinson).  Pauls recently launched a mailer against Davis for a Facebook image that he allegedly shared on his Facebook page:

The controversial Facebook post appears to have come from “Armed Democrats on FB” and supposedly appeared on Davis’ candidate Facebook page in April. It shows a hooded man pointing a gun at the camera and says: “Did You know? Most of the terrorist activity in the U.S. in recent years has not come from Muslims, but from radical Christians, white supremacists and far-right militia groups.”

“Is there anything else I need to say?” appears to be Davis’ comment.

Here’s the thing: Davis denies having ever posted such a comment, and the comment doesn’t appear on his Facebook page.  That’s not to say that it never appeared, however, as the comment could have been deleted.  But, without proof, this comes down to a “his word against hers” situation, which makes it interesting that the mailer was launched in the first place.  Of course, this is politics that we are talking about, and proof has never really mattered too much.

What this mailer does show is the dangers of Facebook for political candidates.  I have no idea whether or not Davis made such a post to his Facebook page.  If so, it would be pretty stupid, but as this blog has shown, people in politics do stupid things on social media all the time.  If you assume, for the sake of argument, that the post did happen, then the lesson is obvious: be careful with the content that you post on your Facebook page.

If, however, you believe Davis and he never made the post, the lesson is this: social media can be another liability.  You can’t prove a negative, and I can’t think of anyway to show that this post was never made, since all the evidence could be deleted.  Unless Pauls actually has proof that the post was made, like a screenshot, I think Davis may have a real case for a lawsuit.  This entire incident is proof that a Facebook page can be used in a negative matter, even if you never do anything negative.  That’s a harsh reality of social media and politics, unfortunately.

Kansas adopts new social media policy that limits free speech for professors

Well, this is a bit scary.  Kansas’ Board of Regents, which governs its university system, just revised its social media policy:

A revised social media policy approved by the Kansas Board of Regents allows a university to suspend or fire an employee for making statements on social media that are “contrary to the best interests of the employer.

In other words, you can be fired for what you tweet.  It is important to note that schools “must follow the principle of academic freedom” when enforcing such policy.

This idea is nothing new – indeed, government employees can be fired for ill-advised tweets, as can their counterparts in the private sector.  What is frightening about this new policy, however, is its breadth.  This started because David Guth, a journalism professor at Kansas University, made this astoundingly inappropriate tweet after the Naval Yard shooting last year:

DavidGuth

I don’t necessarily think its inappropriate for governments to act like their private-sector counterparts in terms of setting appropriate limits on things that cannot be tweeted by employees.  By appropriate, I mean anything directly threatening or tweeting confidential information.  The problem I have with a policy like the one adopted is how broad it is.  Who defines the “best interests of the employer?”  Does that mean the best interests of the Governor?  So, what if a professor tweets something against the Governor or the party of the Governor?  Can they be fired?  That’s downright scary.  A policy like this could pretty easily be seen as having a chilling effect on free speech, and that is clearly a major problem.

We are still in the “brave new world” of social media interactions, and I think it’s safe to say that employers, both private and public, are still struggling to determine the appropriate balance of free speech and protecting their own interests.  That being said, as far as I am concerned, employers should always err on the side of free speech.  This policy is scary to me.

What are your thoughts?  Let me know in the comments!

Unreal: Kansas Senate candidate/doctor posts patient x-rays, with gholish commentary

This one could get campaign ending.

First, the background: Milton Wolf is challenging Kansas Senator Pat Roberts (R) in the upcoming 2014 Senate primary.  Wolf, who is a radiologist and distant cousin to President Obama, has argued that Roberts isn’t conservative enough for Kansas.  Wolf’s campaign was bollstered by the recent news that Roberts doesn’t even live in Kansas and is registered to vote at a home owned by two donors, while a recent poll showed Roberts favorability numbers falling.

Any momentum generated by Wolf, however, will surely be stopped by this incredible story, first broken by the Topeka Capitol-Journal.  In posts on his personal Facebook page, Wolf posted the x-rays of patients, complete with comments mocking the dead and the tragedies that befell them.  The comments are sure to call into question Wolf’s judgement, while also potentially raising ethical and legal questions.

As noted by the Capitol-Journal, Wolf made a series of Facebook posts that featured x-rays, all while making a series of insensitive comments.  Examples include:

  • X-rays of a dead man who had been shot in the temple.  When asked about the awkward positioning of the man’s head by a commenter, Wolf responded, “Sheesh Melissa. It’s not like the patient was going to complain.”
  • While discussing a person who had been decapitated by a gunshot wound, Wolf said, “One of my all-time favorites. From my residency days there was a pretty active ‘knife and gun club’ at Truman Medical Center. What kind of gun blows somebody’s head completely off? I’ve got to get one of those…it reminds (me) of the scene from ‘Terminator 2’ when they shoot the liquid metal terminator guy in the face at close range and it kind of splits him open temporarily almost like a flower blooming. We all find beauty in different things.”

Wolf then compounded the bad situation by walking away from an interview with the Capitol-Journal when they declined to show him specific posts.  He also refused to answer whether or not he still makes such posts, saying, “I’m not going to play these kinds of gotcha games.”  Games Wolf apparently is going to play: the game where he makes fun of dead people’s x-rays.  That game is okay, by his rules.

Wolf, meanwhile, said that he made the posts to show “evil lurking in the world.”  Yes, that’s why he made fun of people who had been shot.  To show evil lurking in the world.

Wolf has said that the uploading of the x-rays were legal since personal information was redacted.  Multiple individuals in the Capitol-Journal article, however, question that claim, and say that Wolf could be facing ethics violations as a result of the posts and comments.

“The dignity and privacy of the individual should be protected,” said John Carney, president of the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Mo. “It doesn’t sound like they’re being protected if they’re, obviously, on Facebook.”

Roberts’ campaign, naturally, attacked Wolf for the pictures and comments, calling them “unthinkable.” The National Republican Senate Committee accused Wolf of engaging in “freakish behavior.” Wolf’s response?  A Saturday statement in which he said that Roberts’ was launching an attack on his character that, “…will not only target me, but will, through its implications, cast a wider net to vilify all doctors.”  By Sunday, however, Wolf had changed his tune and released a more apologetic statement:

Several years ago I made some comments about these images that were insensitive to the seriousness of what the images revealed. Soon thereafter, I removed those images and comments, again several years ago. For them to be published in a much more public context now, by a political adversary who would rather declare war on doctors than answer serious questions that Kansans have, is truly sad.  However, my mistakes are my own and I take full responsibility for them.

I don’t even know how to conclude this.  Obviously this is a judgement failure of epic proportions.  Put it this way: would you ever want your x-ray taken by this doctor?  You never say things like this if you are in a position in which trust and confidentiality is required.  Speaking of confidentiality: never, ever break someone’s trust like this, so publicly.

UPDATE (2/13, 7:10):  Invisible Mikey makes an accurate clarification: Just to clarify, Radiologists never take x-rays. They only interpret images acquired by Radiologic Technologists, acting under the orders of other physicians or licensed providers. (I’m a Rad Tech.)