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Waipā District Council disables Facebook comments showing ‘nasty’ abuse

The Waipā District Council has disabled comments on information-only posts on its Facebook page from this month.

The Waipā District Council has disabled comments on information-only posts on its Facebook page from this month.

The decision follows Nelson City Council’s announcement on April 25 that it was disabling commenting due to concerns about misplaced anger, unfair criticism of staff and misinformation.

Waipā District Council chief executive Garry Dyet said the council’s Facebook interactions were dominated by “a few individuals.

“We welcome healthy debate, but what we have seen in recent months is an uprising of disrespect towards staff and, most recently, among the community itself,” Dyet said.

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Dyet said it was “just not OK for staff to be subjected to name-calling and other nasty comments.”

“I am simply not prepared to provide platforms for staff, elected members and our contractors to be abused, ridiculed and discredited,” he said.

“I also don’t want good-hearted people who give us meaningful feedback to be viciously cut back.

“Right now, our limited resources are being sucked into pandering to a small group of people and our time could be much better spent delivering more positive things for our community.”

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Dyet said the council would continue to welcome respectful interactions with the community via phone, email or face-to-face.

The municipality would also still use its social channels to collect feedback “occasionally”.

Garry Dyet, Chairman of Waipa District Council.  Photo / Dean Taylor
Garry Dyet, chief executive of Waipa District Council. Photo / Dean Taylor

“We want respectful interactions with our community. That is exactly why we are here. However, time spent responding to keyboard agitators prevents staff from doing things that could really make a difference.”

Meanwhile, Hamilton City Council general manager of partnerships, communications, Janet Carson, and Maaori said the council had about 37,000 followers on Facebook and thousands of engagements on the platform each month, but most interactions with Hamiltonians were face-to-face.

“Whether it is people visiting our pools and libraries, the client team for services such as building permits and animal control, their conversations with City Safe, at community events or attending council meetings,” Carson told the Waikato Herald.

“Facebook is a relatively small part of how we connect with Hamiltonians and the majority of social media engagement is positive and constructive.”

However, Carson said the council had seen an increase in offensive comments online, including people pushing agendas and false information via social media.

“Our social media policy is effective in dealing with this,” Carson said.

“Like many municipalities, we see that a number of people repeatedly make derogatory statements or unpleasant comments.

“Compared to the thousands who interact with us online, they are a small minority, and we can manage these few cases effectively through our existing terms and conditions.”

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General Manager of Partnerships, Communications for Hamilton City Council and Janet Carson of Maaori.
General Manager of Partnerships, Communications for Hamilton City Council and Janet Carson of Maaori.

Carson said the council has already limited comments on posts that sparked “significant abuse,” especially if the comments deliberately targeted a segment of the community.

“We also disable responses for periods when it is untenable for our people to monitor.”

Carson said Hamilton City Council saw no need at this stage to adopt a blanket ‘no-comment’ approach to their social media pages.

Waipā District Council’s decision came after a three-month review of Facebook data by Nelson City Council found about 25 per cent of comments on the pages came from 46 people. Radio New Zealand reported.

Nelson City Council communications manager James Murray said RNZ in April, those 46 people were “not a representative cross-section” of the city.

“The time council staff have to spend moderating comments about abuse and misinformation is not a good use of taxpayer money,” Murray said.

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Maryana Garcia is a Hamilton-based multimedia reporter covering breaking news in the Waikato. She previously wrote for the Rotorua Daily Post and Bay of Plenty Times.