We’ve just enjoyed another friendly and safe Halloween in Minot, and thankfully, the ghouls, ghosts, and goblins are gone until next year. Unfortunately, one all-too-real type of unwelcome character likes to hang around all year.
The troll. Not the one under the bridge; the one on social media.
We all know the negative know-it-alls who all-too-casually spew purposeful misinformation from the safe anonymity of their keyboard, without regard for the damage they do to individuals or to our community as a whole. Call them whatever you want. Sofa trolls. Keyboard warriors. Couch crusaders. They’re all the same.
We’re certainly not afraid of criticism. Discussion surrounding legitimate, rational, fact-based criticism is part of being involved in local government, and it can play a role in ensuring elected officials and government employees remain cognizant of their roles as public servants. But those aren’t the critics we’re talking about.
Just so we’re clear: Those who knowingly undermine the City’s reputation, efforts, and integrity and willfully omit facts to push their own false narratives are a real concern for Minot and virtually every other city, large or small. The uneducated and intentionally misleading statements made on social media, on news media sites, and in letters to the editor have a very real negative effect on our community and on the hundreds of City employees and others who work daily to make Minot a better community.
But, you say, they’re only expressing their opinion. How can that be detrimental to our community? The damaging behavior of these online disruptors manifests itself in several real-life ways, and can unfairly cast a shadow of negativity over all of us.
Business owners considering locating in Minot have asked very specific questions concerning incorrect information about Minot they’ve read online. Yes, it happens.
Individuals and families once potentially relocating to Minot have changed their minds after reading inaccurate or inflammatory information online. It’s very real.
City employees are harassed and threatened online and in person. Snow plow operators have had rocks thrown at them while they’re clearing our City’s streets. Remember that blatant disrespect when you hear one of our department heads discuss the difficulties of filling positions at the City.
A recent letter to the editor, published on Sept. 30, that focused on the Blu on Broadway project is a prime example of this disturbing trend where no one is held accountable for what they say, especially online. The premise of the letter was this question: “Why are we building Blu on Broadway for the homeless people?” The letter writer also claimed that taxpayers would be responsible for snow removal, grass cutting, cleaning, and other maintenance at the Blu on Broadway building.
None of that is true. In fact, the letter was so inaccurate that it should be dismissed entirely. Unfortunately, there are probably some people who may actually believe what the letter said, so let’s set the record straight on this specific issue.
Blu on Broadway, as has been explained in public meetings and several times by the local media, is a private project utilizing some National Disaster Resilience funding that will create more affordable living space for low-to-moderate income families as well as create commercial space. It is not a building for the homeless population, and taxpayers will not be responsible for maintenance, snow removal, or any other ongoing expenses for Blu on Broadway. Those aren’t opinions; they are facts, something the letter writer simply chose to ignore.
We’re not naïve enough to think that calling out the unethical, uninformed, and unaccountable antics of these types of critics will change their behavior. We know better. No matter how much accurate information we provide to those folks, they’ll likely keep pecking away at their keyboards, grasping at relevancy, and posting their biased and incomplete information online – probably in all capital letters.
My challenge, then, is to the overwhelming majority of our community, those who are searching for reliable, accurate information, and aren’t actively seeking ways to intentionally harm their own community.
Be responsible with your actions. We teach this to our children, but all-too-many adults have forgotten their parents’ words of wisdom. It’s easy to hide behind the anonymity of a computer or a phone, but actions have consequences, and words have meaning. Think before you hit send.
Seek the truth through legitimate sources and facts. Perhaps someone in an online discussion claims the City of Minot has 12 plumbing inspectors. Don’t take their word for it. Call the City and get the truth. Facts matter.
Be aware of how false narratives impact our employees. The City is not some nameless, faceless entity that is out to get you. It’s composed of your friends and your neighbors, who are all doing their jobs as best they can and have committed themselves to public service. Imagine being berated – in person and online – simply because you work for the City. Working for a public entity should not make our employees fair game to unwarranted criticism.
Be mindful of how misinformation impacts the outward view of our community. Trust me, many state legislators and officials in federal agencies we partner with are aware of negative opinions about Minot presented online, even if those opinions aren’t based in reality. These intentional and biased anti-Minot comments can have negative impacts on our community and its future as we continue to lobby for federal and state funding to complete things like flood protection and other much-needed infrastructure projects.
Essentially, what I’m asking is this: Let’s all make an effort to promote civility in person and online. It’s OK to disagree with something the City has done or a decision the City Council has made, but it’s not OK to publicly berate or shame those involved in that decision with misleading statements or by intentionally ignoring or omitting the facts.
In our next column, we’ll explore ways the City of Minot is expanding its public information process, how our city government is constantly working to improve its interactions with members of the community, and how the residents of Minot can play a role in the return of civility in our community, and hopefully in the world.