CLEANING UP: Southern Downs Regional Council said it had only deleted four comments from its Facebook page in the past year, but residents are sceptical.
CLEANING UP: Southern Downs Regional Council said it had only deleted four comments from its Facebook page in the past year, but residents are sceptical. Contributed

SANITISATION: Council's social media clean up act

SANITISATION may be a job for Southern Downs Regional Council's waste management workers, but what about its social media team?

A new social media policy will guide SDRC councillors through the messy minefield of Facebook, but residents say a habit of deleting comments is stifling the voice of the people.

A SDRC spokeswoman said only four comments had been deleted from the council's Facebook page in the previous 12 months for profanity or personal attacks, but Stanthorpe tourism operator Marion Carrick is sceptical.

"I've made comments that I know have been deleted," Ms Carrick said.

"Last year they put out a press release claiming we had 'the best year in tourism' and I stated this wasn't correct and asked them to supply evidence.

"I didn't call them names, I wasn't abusive and it really wasn't appropriate for them to delete the comment."

Southern Downs Mayor Tracy Dobie said one of the guiding principles of the council's new social media policy was the distribution of correct and factual information.

"If someone who goes on and writes things and we don't correct it then, the next person who comes on reads that and gets misinformation," Cr Dobie said.

But Ms Carrick said deleting comments seemed to be a routine response from the council.

Ms Carrick said she witnessed comments deleted from a post on the mayoral Facebook page about the opening of the Swanfels playshed last month.

"Throughout the day I observed comments and one photo being deleted and in the end the entire post was deleted," she said.

"I was genuinely quite saddened when that all unravelled on the mayor page... all council had to do in that scenario was apologise and fix the issue."

Ms Carrick said social media was an important way of engaging with councillors, and people needed to feel they had the freedom to comment.

"It's an easy way to communicate with councillors because not everyone has the ability and skill set to sit down and draft a letter."

Southern Downs resident Graham Parker also said he had comments removed.

"I have been a regular commenter on SDRC matters. Always polite, always respectful, and have had comments that go against the council narrative removed," Mr Parker said.

But Cr Dobie defended her use of social media.

"On my own mayoral page I have not blocked a single person and I have deleted one comment," she said.

Deputy Mayor Jo McNally said the council's new policy handled social media 'responsibly'.

"It is a two way exchange with residents and rate payers," Cr McNally said.

"As the administrators of these pages, we have to be responsible."

Councillor Sheryl Windle agreed, saying the council had a duty to manage the risks of social media.

"Yes, everyone has the right to share their opinions, but do it in the right manner and share some positive news," she said.

The council's new social media policy states that comments will be deleted if material is defamatory, prejudicial, racist, offensive or misleading.

But Ms Carrick said most of the comments being deleted did not fit this criteria.

"The majority (of Southern Downs residents) said they only supported the deleting of malicious or abusive comments on social media," Ms Carrick said.

"What I have seen of comments that have been deleted have not been defamatory or abusive."

She denied social media breeded negativity towards council.

"I think what we are seeing on social media is a very unhappy rate payer base... they have been denied, minimised, they have been name-called by Southern Downs Regional Council representatives publicly," she said.

"What is being seen now on social media is the end result of that. If council would listen to what people are saying and address their concerns you would find the majority of comments would be a lot more positive."

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