Former Officials: Beware of Comments Amplified via Facebook

Lots of Facebook users share things on their own and on others' profiles, like how much they can't wait for the new Harry Potter ...
by | July 16, 2009

Tompotter Lots of Facebook users share things on their own and on others' profiles, like how much they can't wait for the new Harry Potter movie or how the coffee they are drinking is sooooooo gooooooood!

But when a former city mayor comments about supporting the recall of his successor, it could become "one of the most extraordinary political Facebook statuses in Portland history yet."

Last weekend, The Portland Mercury's Stephen Marc Beaudoin found this from former Mayor Tom Potter on Facebook:

"Tom Potter It's time for Portlanders to stand up and be counted regarding the recall of Sam Adams. It's easy to get a petition and get as many signatures as you can. Good government doesn't happen automatically, it requires an involved electorate. Get involved and recall Sam Adams!"

In addition, The Oregonian reported that Potter also made his support for the recall known through a comment left under wife Karin Hansen's status update (who did sign up as a volunteer for the recall effort):

"Please, please, get your petition, sign a petition. Good government is what we make it. Thanks, Tom"

Now, it's not news that Mayor Sam Adams is unpopular -- he allegedly lied during his campaign about having a tryst with an underage male. Last week, the attorney general's office released documents from the investigation regarding the relationship in question. And grassroots supporters are collecting signatures to recall Mayor Adams out of office, using Facebook as a way to organize supporters and drum up support.

Potter may have been caught off guard and/or underestimated the effect of his comments when reporters saw his Facebook actions and wanted to follow-up. He has declined to comment on his ... comments, and Beaudoin said both Potter and Hansen "un-friended" him. From a recent editorial from The Oregonian :

"Politicians who retire from the fray have sort of turned in their union card, so you don't often see them around the worksite once they leave. This may be why the Potters weren't especially forthcoming later when others asked them to elaborate on the views they expressed on Facebook. Like many officeholders who retire, Potter keeps a pretty low public profile. A Facebook comment can be mistaken for a private conversation, or at least a message to a small circle of friends, but any teenager can tell you it is nothing of the sort."

I am not a teenager. I don't think you need to be one to realize that updates on Facebook are amplified due to features on the platform that highlight what your friends say and or do. And there is nothing wrong with Potter saying he supports the recall on Facebook. But if he can share something online, why couldn't he expand upon it to reporters that could access it?

There may be a lesson here for former public officials: Your "friends" still pay attention to what you say on Facebook. Be prepared.

Tina Trenkner
Tina Trenkner | Deputy Editor, |  |  @tinatrenkner