Another Metro Council member issues apology over Facebook posts

Another Metro Council member issues apology over Facebook posts

Once again a Metro Council member is at the center of a controversy over a Facebook post and has issued an apology. Earlier this month, Councilman Ryan Heck, an outspoken supporter of the St. George incorporation movement, got involved in a heated exchange on his Facebook page with a follower who accused him of "using kids to justify segregation/white flight."

Heck's response included the threat that "you better be prepared to back up that claim, or meet me somewhere so I can whip your ass."

Then, last week, in a conversation thread with LSU graduate student Swede White on Councilman John Delgado's Facebook page, Heck asked White: "Do you want me to come over there and kick your ass?"

White, a former reporter for Baton Rouge's National Public Radio affiliate 89.3 WRKF-FM, did not take the question lightly. He had his attorney send Heck a cease-and-desist letter.

"I was bullied in high school," White says. "I don't take threats lightly."

Heck issued an apology through the attorney, says White, who has not spoken directly with the councilman. Heck did not return a call or an email this morning seeking comment.

While social media indiscretions may seem to be much ado about nothing, they are becoming more and more commonplace, both here and nationwide. In April, Delgado took heat for referring to backers of the St. George movement as "the Baton Rouge Taliban," a remark for which he later apologized to veterans—but not to the organizers of the St. George effort who originally demanded the apology.

In Washington state, meanwhile, State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbons got in trouble for tweeting that Arizona was a "desert racist wasteland," after his beloved Seattle Seahawks lost to the Arizona Cardinals. And who can forget Congressman Anthony Wiener's sexting scandal?

Public relations consultant Ann Edelman of Zehnder Communications believes some politicians are being deliberately provocative using social media to energize their base and garner media attention, which certainly seems to have the desired effect in the short term.

"The downside is the inability to grow that base of support," Edelman says. "The immediate gratification of social media often takes elected officials far afield from the disciplined manner it takes to execute a solid constituent communications plan."
Edelman and others say elected officials—like businesses and individuals—need to learn to use social media in constructive and disciplined ways that will help promote their message, not hurt it.

Local entrepreneur Jared Loftus is teaching a social media class this weekend to help make users aware of the social media tools that are available and how best to use them. "People say and do things on social media they wouldn't say or do in real life," says Loftus. "They need to understand this is real life."

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