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Social media a double-edged sword

Coun. Cathy Heron doesn’t really endorse naked guys holding their penises. But if you saw her Facebook page a few weeks ago, that’s the impression you would have gotten.

Coun. Cathy Heron doesn’t really endorse naked guys holding their penises. But if you saw her Facebook page a few weeks ago, that’s the impression you would have gotten.

That’s because three graphic photos appeared on her wall for all her “friends” to see, likely the result of spam. Another such hoax afflicted her page this week, this time a claim that pop star Justin Bieber had died.

In this age when middle-aged politicians are trying everything they can to connect with people, having a Facebook page is almost a requirement, but Heron’s experience illustrates that such a presence creates potential for damage to one’s image or reputation.

“If you saw anything inappropriate I apologize,” Heron said after the first incident.

Heron doesn’t think the incidents were associated with her being a councillor and she’s not about to rethink her open approach to using social media.

“I would like to accept anyone [as a Facebook friend] who lives in the city of St. Albert even if I know them or not because that is who I’m responsible to,” she said.

Heron uses one Facebook account to combine personal and council-oriented postings. Blending these spheres is deliberate.

“I can allow those who don’t know me very well to get to know me a little bit better … so I’m not just a politician, I’m a real person,” she said.

The best way to avoid being associated with troubling content on Facebook is to avoid clicking on strange links, said Tim Osborne, a St. Albert-based communications consultant.

“Anything that seems a little outlandish, 99 per cent of the time it’s a link to a virus that’s going to send itself out to all of your contacts,” he said. “If it seems a little unusual and if you’re not sure, just don’t click it.”

Rather than using their personal Facebook accounts for council purposes, Osborne recommends that politicians set up a public page. These look similar to a regular Facebook account but function differently, allowing anyone to view postings without having to be a “friend.”

“If they set up a public Facebook page then I can click “like” on that and follow it just to see what they’re talking about,” he said. “It’s definitely the most effective way for a politician to use Facebook.”

Coun. Cam MacKay started a new Facebook account just for politics to go along with his private account, but he found the system wasn’t effective.

“Your life blends,” he said. “I wish I could just combine the two of them.”

On several occasions MacKay has had phoney messages sent out under his name, suggesting he endorses certain products or sites, or encouraging users to click on a link. This has resulted in people phoning him with questions.

“I’ve had to change my password on [Facebook] twice now,” he said. “It seems to be a lot more hassle to me than it’s worth.”

Coun. Wes Brodhead is on Facebook but isn’t an avid user. He tries to restrict his online friendships to people he knows, even if only by name. While he prefers a simple phone conversation, he knows that online social media isn’t going away.

“As an elected official I’m going to have to manage that,” Brodhead said. “I think I need a bigger presence in social media. It’s something I’m going to be working on but along with the exposure come the risks.”

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