Social Media Challenges Ethics

This year’s campaign was more contentious than races in the past and social media played a role in letting the insults fly.

Facebook posts smearing candidates along with anonymous websites slamming city government, this year’s City Council race heated up as candidates and councilmen clashed.

“Councilmen using Facebook, social media, the internet, email to send lies, outright,” says Naperville City Council Candidate Jo Malik. “This wasn’t opinion, this wasn’t they thought I was going to be a bad council person. This was defamatory comments.”

“The different blog sites that are out there on the internet and this sort of form for people to vent and spew a lot of venom,” says Councilman Steve Chirico. “It is some very angry and resentful comments and it can get ugly.”

Negative campaigns are nothing new according to North Central College Political Science Professor Dr. Suzanne Chod. Social media now allows people to share their opinions faster than ever before.

“Negative ads have been pervasive for years, but now we’re seeing particularly, with the anonymity of social media, you’re more likely to be negative when you’re not looking someone in the face or putting your name with something you’re saying,” says Dr. Chod.

Malik and Tom Glass were vocal in their criticism of City Council long before running for office, but now their criticisms focus on City Council members who they believe were spreading defamatory comments.

“The Facebook campaigns of certain councilmen, which in my opinion utilized their position as councilmen inappropriately,” says Glass.

Chirico thinks the council handled the criticisms given to them, often on anonymous websites, the best they could.

“For the most part I think it’s unfortunate we have the wreckers and the builders,” says Chirico. “But that’s always going to be that way. There’s always going to be people who have an ax to grind.”

Julie Lichter has organized campaigns for years and has seen the effects of damaging social media campaigns.

“I heard that some voters were really turned off by some of the people putting out the negative,” says Licther. “I know that the people putting out the negative thought they were telling the truth from their point of view, but the problem is when you go out and say negative things about individuals without really a lot of fact behind it, it can be a backlash on the person who’s posting that.”

“I think the tendency for exaggeration and the tendency for people who are not directly involved with the campaign and therefore don’t have the same accountability can veer us off into the negative quite quickly,” said Dr. Caliendo.

Social media’s growing presence is blurring the ethical lines in campaigns.

Both Malik and Glass have filed ethics complaints with the city, but have yet to hear a response.

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