Social media mishap in Lewiston shows public officials’ quandary

LEWISTON TRIBUNEFebruary 26, 2014 

Jesse Maldonado calls it the day he grew up.

“I realized who I was that day,” the 19-year-old newcomer to the Lewiston City Council said of the stir he generated with a social media post last month. “I realized what I meant (to the city), and who was watching me.”

Using Instagram, Maldonado posted a picture from his senior year at Lewiston High School that showed a pregnant classmate giving a presentation about teen pregnancy.

Maldonado discovered that thinking about something and sharing it on social media are two completely different things. His caption for the post called it the “most ironic senior project ever,” leading the girl and many of her friends to believe he was mocking her.

After some intense online blowback, Maldonado apologized and gained the classmate’s forgiveness. His social media misadventure became just one example of missteps elected officials are making in what is still a relatively new world.

Congressman Raul Labrador suffered embarrassment a year ago when his spokesman sent a suggestive tweet about a Super Bowl commercial from his account. Labrador, R-Idaho, ended up firing Phil Hardy over the incident.

Latah County Sheriff Wayne Rausch shut down his department’s Facebook page last June when it was hit with a wave of backlash over a Pullman man’s suicide. Andrew Cain’s sister said the office harassed Cain by naming him as its “wanted person” on Facebook.

There isn’t much formal social media training available for public officials. But the National League of Cities has been researching how its use affects city government, especially in relation to risk management. The league’s Risk Information Sharing Consortium has provided information and training sessions about social media.

Claire Reiss, program director for the consortium, said there are examples of lawsuits against cities that were spurred by an employee’s or elected official’s post on social media. Though there isn’t an epidemic, she said it’s something cities would be wise to address.

Many local governments have social media policies for employees, but not for elected officials.

“It’s a new world, and everybody is getting used to it,” Reiss said.

Lewiston Rep. John Rusche, minority leader of the Idaho House, said he maintains a Facebook page but doesn’t share everything about his life on social media.

“As an elected official, you need to use the right technology to meet your constituents,” he said.

State Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, said he has used Facebook for about four years, starting when he was a commissioner for the Port of Lewiston. He uses his page for general communications and constituent services, and even a little fundraising.

Johnson emphasized that he stays away from sensitive topics. “My messages accentuate the positive things we do,” he said.

Maldonado said he hopes that his constituents won’t focus on any momentary lapses on social media but stay tuned to the issues that really matter.

“I leapt out of being a teenager in that 24 hours,” he said, describing the teen pregnancy posting. “I realized I have to and am willing to give up a lot of things a normal teenager does.”

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service