What others say: Lynching by Facebook

  • Sunday, March 15, 2015 5:33pm
  • Opinion

“If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”

So said Cardinal Richelieu, the de facto ruler of France in the early 17th century. These days, one can’t help but wonder what he would have done with Facebook.

In the past few weeks, Alaskans have seen enough examples of what their own fellows have done with social media.

Last month, Alaskans saw Jeff Landfield’s nomination to the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct dropped after pictures circulated in the Capitol from his Facebook page. Some of the “disrespectful images,” to use the words of a spokeswoman for Gov. Bill Walker, featured Landfield clad in a thin Speedo with women in Las Vegas. One showed him with his hands on a woman’s breasts.

This week, it was Craig Fleener’s turn.

Fleener has been nominated by Walker to be third in the state’s line of succession, but at a confirmation hearing Monday, lawmakers were greeted by a letter and a printed Facebook post. “Great advice!” Fleener declares in the post, which has a delicately posed picture of an apparently naked, intertwined man and woman and a link to a Huffington Post article entitled “Five reasons you should have sex with your husband every night”.

A wag on Twitter quipped: “Is it the content they’re angry about, or the fact that he apparently reads (the Huffington Post)?”

If this seems ridiculous, it is. More often than not, confirmation hearings seem to be stages for the confirming — not the confirmed — to showcase their rhetorical talents and demonstrate they are tough on whatever we’re being tough on this week.

Still, the confirmation process has its purpose. We suspect the failed McCain presidential run in 2008 might have wished it did a little more fact-checking before its vice-presidential confirmation.

Facebook, too, has a place in confirmation. A politician is not only his or her stance on the issues. He or she has a life experience — a sum total of events and relationships that are the building blocks of what they stand on today, and may stumble upon in the future. Looking at all those building blocks is necessary.

That look must have context, however.

A Facebook post — or Richelieu’s “six lines” — can be taken out of context and easily twisted. At a confirmation hearing, where an interrogator’s mind may be decided before he or she enters the chamber, this danger is particularly great.

Examining a candidate’s social media activity may seem silly, but it must be done. More than that, it must be done carefully, or else an innocent person might be the one being hanged.

— Juneau Empire,

March 5

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