Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Internet Trolls, the College of Western Idaho, and public vs. private

Finally, "Social Media" has finally affected me “personally.”  The phenomena “Internet Trolls” has come to roost on my social media presence.  I use the term “personally” because my social media presence is public despite my efforts to make private. 

I am an elected official so NOTHING is private. I have found out that people lurk in the shadows on the Internet.

Years ago when the concept of the Internet was just a vague notion, I started to research the implications of the Web for my job.  As the CEO of the Idaho Association of REALTORS®, I was concerned yet pleased that the Internet could help my members.

I wanted to be ahead of the curve technology-wise to prepare my members what I knew would change the world of real estate forever.

About 20 years ago, I made a speech in Boise in front of about 400 Realtor® members about the advantages of using the Internet for their businesses.  I told the members that I searched for a house on the Internet and then bought it using the services of a REALTOR®. Many members’ actually booed me! Some members asked the Executive Committee to fire me.  People do not like change!

I personally designed the first Idaho Association of REALTORS® website using a now defunct program called “Microsoft Frontpage.” I did the webpage using an archaic computer set in my living room. I knew we had to be "cutting edge" at the association.  For my members’ it was successful.

I encouraged my members to buy their “domain names” NOW!

The National Association of REALTORS® also embraced that change. “REALTOR.COM” is the result. It is the premier real estate website on the planet. Members who embraced the Internet and technology became even more successful.

At the advent of social media, I also realized that members would need to ready. As this stage of my career, I was the Director of the Associated General Contractors. My predecessor at the Idaho AGC was on the forefront of the “Internet Plan Room” where members could have access to plans and spec to help their business.

At an AGC Executive Directors’ meeting, we discussed the benefits of social media like Facebook and Twitter.  I encouraged my members to embrace this new-fangled “thing.” I set up the first AGC Twitter feed to let my members get news quickly.

All of the while, as I was trying to help members prepare for this new world, I embraced personally as well. 

When I bought the domain names for the various iteration of “Idaho Association of REALTORS® in about 1998, I bought “markdunham.com.” I have not used it yet, but I will. If you go to “markdunham.com” nothing will appear. As some point, I will have a webpage about strokes, aphasia, and possibilities.

With Facebook and Twitter, I also joined.  For Facebook, it was to help plan a class reunion. I sincerely enjoyed the experience of reconnecting with old childhood friends. I still do.

Likewise, Twitter was a useful tool for me to get news. After my strokes, a 140 character news feed was all I could handle.

I used my blog to announce my candidacy for another term on the Board of the College of Western Idaho. 

Yet, there are downsides to technology.

I have always understood that the Internet is a useful tool.

When legislators started to “Friend me” on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, I felt a responsibility to be careful. People do NOT care if this is my personal social media profile. I completely understood that “people” would not distinguish my personal social media presence and my public status.

Candidly, I also used Facebook and Twitter to keep track of elected officials (and others like lobbyists, reporters, etc.) for self-defense. I would “friend” people to monitor their plans on social media.

It became even more important when I became an elected official. As a Trustee of the College of Western Idaho, I realized the blurring of the lines between my personal social media profile and the College’s identity would be null and void. When “Mark Dunham” posts something on my “personal” social media pages, people notice.

When I was employed, I assumed that my employers could check on my social media. Therefore, I made sure that my social media presence would not hurt my companies I represented especially because I was a high profile lobbyist. I would have been fired otherwise.

No one cares and no one distinguishes the difference.

Therefore, when I post something on my personal social media pages, I realize that the general public knows I am a publicly elected official representing 10 counties in Idaho. I realize that my public statements matter to students, our administration, fellow elected officials, taxpayers, potential donors, reporters, our faculty, CWI staff, and businesses.  

I have often not taken my own advice. Despite my best efforts, I have posted political things on my “personal” Facebook and Twitter feeds. And people notice! Newspapers’ notice.  I have been rebuked and chastised. It is not some much the words I use. Rather, for the general public, I am one of the “faces” of the College of Western Idaho.

There is nothing “personal” when you represent constituencies.

As a result, I try to be careful when I post. I try to make sure I know who wants to “be my friend on Facebook” or follow me on Twitter. It is rare for me to decline those requests.  Off and on, I have tried to purge my lists. Nevertheless, it seems that I get “Friend requests” a lot.

At the same time, the arrival of email started to be a convenient communication mechanism. It was cheap and effective.

But, like social media platforms, email is fraught with risks. One simple like on the button can change a career. One email can destroy much.

Recently, I was concerned about a colleagues’ social media presence. Breaking my own rule, I commented. The reaction was swift and angry. I deleted that post, yet the damage is done. Private messages spewed forth giving me a firsthand account about “trolling.”

Therefore, I did announce that I am taking a break on social media for a time. In reality, I am purging “Mark Dunham’s followers,” and delving into Facebook and Twitter privacy settings.

I am going back to the beginning on my social media platforms. Classmates, “real friends” from my varied careers, our son’s school contacts, relatives, some neighborhood Facebook groups, politico’s I like, and others. So far, I have deleted more than 500 “friends and followers.” I will be more selective when I get “invites.” I will be sparing on any social media posts.

And finally, I will continue to adhere to my social media philosophy that the Internet is forever, and, as an elected official, I have a duty to not harm those who I am responsible for.  

I believe that the Internet is “out there” and you cannot take back your words and posts. Therefore, I try to be careful simply because my words have ramifications beyond my “private” posts. 

1 comment:

Rebecca Dutton said...

Good advice for everyone.