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Residents Miffed After Crime Concerns Deleted From Tunney's Facebook Page

By Serena Dai | January 30, 2014 7:06am
 A staffer of 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney deleted comments from residents on his Facebook page that asked about safety and crime issues.
Tunney Facebook Comment Removals
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LAKEVIEW — Several Facebook comments on crime-related topics on 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney's public page were deleted this week — angering a group of residents who follow the issue.

Popular crime blog "Crime in Wrigleyville and Boystown" posted a story about Tunney deleting comments on Monday, pointing to screenshots of two posts that were no longer on the page and inciting a flurry of comments.

Resident Will Peters, 25, then decided to see if Tunney would delete his comment, too. He posted a link to the crime blog's post on Tunney's Facebook page Monday afternoon and asked "Is this true?" 

Several hours later, the post was gone, Peters said, and he did not delete it himself. Another post unrelated to safety did not get deleted.

"It's just shady," Peters said. "If he's a publicly elected official and all of a sudden the public is being censored, there's not a lot of faith in that leadership."

Tunney's office issued a statement Wednesday saying that the person who usually manages the page was out, and a staffer filling in "mistakenly deleted comments that should have remained posted." 

"Ald. Tunney's policy is to foster positive dialogue and to delete only those comments that are insensitive or personally insulting to other constituents," the statement said. "He apologizes for this mistake, regrets that it occurred and has taken steps to ensure it does not happen again."

Peters, who's lived in Wrigleyville for nearly four years, said he was surprised that the comment got deleted.

He's usually not politically active and has always taken in "good faith" that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Tunney were working to reduce crime. But reading the blog made him think otherwise, and removing the comment made him further question Tunney, he said.

"I have not heard great things about the alderman, but I had no reason to suspect anything," he said. "Once my own curiosity was squashed on the page, it doesn't lead me to think good things."

According to screenshots sent to DNAinfo Chicago by the crime blog and Peters, at least three other posts asking about crime were taken down. The comments in the screenshots posted links to the crime blog, commented on being unable to walk outside at night and questioned statistics that Tunney quotes. One deleted comment asked if Tunney would be removing the post.

Peters posted on the page again asking why his post had been deleted, garnering six "likes." About a dozen other people "liked," commented or tweeted Tunney, reacting to the removals.

Tunney's office has not always shied away from responding to questions about safety on Facebook. He responded to a question about more police in July and another post in September. Crime has been a testy topic in the neighborhood, with residents demanding more police and more answers in the last year.

But this week's deletion is also not the first time the alderman has been accused of eliminating comments asking about safety.

The crime blog posted a similar story last summer about deletions on Tunney's Facebook page, and other Facebook users have complained that their crime-related posts have been removed.

Resident Jack Montgomery, 26, said he's noticed a couple of comment removals in the last six months when he's gone to the page to read ward announcements. To him, the deletions matter less than the fact that Tunney wasn't responding to "honest questions," Montgomery said. 

"It's kind of trampling on your constituents," he said. "It's a lack of respect."

The alderman posted on Facebook that he didn't know that comments about safety had been deleted in the past. His office declined to answer more questions.

Tunney's not the only local alderman who's been criticized for social media policies. Ald. James Cappleman (46th) was called "thin-skinned" last year for blocking people on Twitter who were critical of his policies. 

Cappleman's office did not respond to a request for comment.

In politics, deleting comments or blocking constituents is "not a good practice," said Pat Fiorenza, senior research analyst at GovLoop, a Washington, D.C.-based social network for government.

Nearly 40 percent of American adults use social networking sites to engage in politics, and 63 percent of adults active on social networks get involved in government outside of the Internet too, according to a 2013 Pew study — signifying that many people now consider using services like Facebook and Twitter to be an integral part of civic life.

Many officials post "terms of engagement" on their pages so that racist or crude comments can be removed without fanfare, Fiorenza said. But if a comment did not directly violate such rules, the politician is better off engaging rather than deleting or blocking, he said.

Deleting tends to anger people more, and they will then take the conversation elsewhere, experts said. In this case, the crime blog's post on the deletions has more than 60 comments. 

Plus, a government worker's official page technically counts as public record, said Dustin Haisler, a former government information officer and president of software company KlabLab. There should be transparency in how the public posts are being managed, he said.

"In a lot of cases, deleting is not constructive to a positive discourse," Fiorenza said.

After requests for comment from Facebook users and DNAinfo Chicago, Tunney posted his statement on his Facebook page and in comments to all the users who asked about crime.

But Montgomery said he wasn't sure he was ready to believe Tunney's response just yet.

"It's hard to really buy the veracity of that kind of apology in the moment," he said. "If he actually acts on it and responds to questions, then great. Then this would all have been for a good purpose.

"If things get deleted again, or if he doesn’t respond to questions, then what’s the point?"