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City shuts off Facebook commenting, citing increased bullying and harassment

Staff were increasingly subject to abuse
Comments are now turned off on the City of Fernie Facebook page. (Image courtesy of City of Fernie / Facebook)

As of Nov. 1, the City of Fernie has quietly turned off commenting on almost all of its Facebook posts in a bid to shield staff from abuse and funnel community feedback through its Let’s Talk Fernie website.

A spokesperson for the city said that a decision was made to begin limiting comments on the city’s Facebook page “partly due to capacity for constantly monitoring the page, partly due to an increase in abusive messages and comments being posted on the page.”

They said that the decision had been made by city staff and had come from the Chief Administrative Officer’s office, and not elected officials.

“At a time where we’re hearing daily about how social media is making community dialogue toxic, and we see that here in Fernie, we made the decision to dedicate effort to sharing information by consistently publishing to Facebook, but stop platforming negative behaviour by limiting commenting on that one tool.

“Name-calling, inflammatory language, and swearing have all been issues in the past few months. At times comments targeted staff, at other times we saw arguments between members of the public,” said the spokesperson.

Instead, comments and feedback is being funneled towards the ‘Let’s Talk Fernie’ website which was launched in September 2020, and allows staff the ability to more closely regulate public input to ensure it was not abusive.

They said the city had invested in the Let’s Talk Fernie website “so we can provide better information on focused topics, and better engagement tools all in one central location to support the community.”

The City of Fernie would be the only municipality in the East Kootenay to make a blanket decision to limit commenting on Facebook. As of writing, all other municipalities within the Regional District of East Kootenay have kept commenting (mostly) open.

The city spokesperson said that Fernie was following the lead of other municipalities and organizations in “making the decision to prioritize more effective tools for engagement.”

Within B.C., the District of Tofino has gone down a similar path by limiting comment on Facebook, while the town of Wasaga Beach in Ontario recently made a similar decision to shut down commenting on social media. Mayor Nina Bifolchi of Wasaga Beach addressed the issue herself in a Facebook video and in a press release, explaining on October 26 explaining this was due to “a small number of individuals in our community who used the pages to bully members of council, town staff, and other people commenting on the page, and because individuals used the town’s page as a place to lie and spread misinformation.”

While comments on Fernie’s Facebook page are likely to remain shut off, residents have other methods of communication available to them beyond Let’s Talk, such as forms on the city website, a request for service tool and email, and front-desk services during regular business hours.

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