‘A sad commentary’: Brockville to issue statement responding to social media negativity, ‘verbal attacks’

Brockville City Council screengrab

At the standing committee meeting of Brockville City Council on Tuesday, February 20, 2024, the general committee was presented with a staff report recommending that staff create a “Negative Social Media Use Statement,” which would be posted on the City of Brockville’s website.  

It is no secret that the use of social media has both its benefits and its negative consequences within society. As the use of social media becomes more prevalent, Lindsay Armstrong, senior manager of Human Resources, along with Sandra MacDonald, city manager, brought forward a motion to make sure the City of Brockville is being proactive in its approach. 

The staff report stated, “According to a study completed by the Pew Research Centre, where the topic of discussion has anything to do with government, the internet and social media has made people 51 per cent less civil.” 

The report continues, “The acceptance of the lack of civility on social media sites can and will lead to a workplace that will see an increase in staffing changes and a loss of reputation for the municipality.” 

This call to council comes after the City of Brockville’s social media pages have received “various negative comments, including verbal attacks on its members of council, staff and committees,” according to the staff report. The report states that the ultimate purpose of this written statement would be “encouraging citizens to pause and take a moment to ensure that their comment is respectful and meaningful.” 

During the meeting, Mayor Matt Wren spoke up and said “I appreciate this item being on the agenda. The city manager and I have had a lot of discussion about this over the last couple of months.” 

He continued, “I’ll leave it at this. It would be nice to think that we create a policy and issue it and that some good would come of it, but I’m not so hopeful. It’s important to realize that there’s an added element to the fallout from that negativity. The fallout where it gets serious is how it encourages organizations, even emboldens people, to do other things.”

Mayor Wren concluded in a sombre voice, “I never would have thought that holding this office would lead me to having to sit down and turn over disturbing communications to our chief of police and to then have to take precautions to protect my home and my family. That’s where we’re at.”

He again thanked the staff for bringing the motion forward, sharing that he was looking forward to a strong policy that will bring positive changes to the community. 

“I don’t think a motion like this is going to all of a sudden turn bad actors into good actors, but I do think it’s important sometimes to talk about civility. We should think about how our words affect and are heard by others and who we’re hurting with our words, ” said Councillor Jane Fullarton in response to Mayor Wren’s remarks. 

Councillor Severson then added, “I think it’s a sad commentary on our social society. I mean, we don’t make enough to be threatened or to be told how ridiculous we are. If we think we’re having a hard time, I hear what my grandchildren are saying about what they hear at school. Where are they hearing that from? They’re hearing that negativity from us as adults.” 

She stated strongly, “They don’t have the right to threaten or degrade those of us and staff that work hard to maintain a governing society, a governing municipality. It’s disturbing and has no place in our community” 

Councillor Wales contributed, “A policy like this has nothing to do with restricting free speech and frankly, it’s the opposite. It’s about creating an environment where everybody can share their ideas and be heard and be safe while doing it. We can at least express how we’re hoping for our public debate to unfold and that can be done in a way that allows for thorough critiques of ideas without slandering and putting down people.”

All council members unanimously voted ‘yes’ to carry this motion forward.

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