Editorial: Anti-social media

It’s becoming so commonplace that it should no longer surprise us, but another politician has been chased out of politics for ill-advised and thoughtless posts on the internet. Last week, we received a 40-something page “leaked” file as the paper was already going to press, and in the time between our weekly editions, Steve Baleshiski was out of the race.

It shouldn’t surprise anybody that a politician promotes himself or herself as an upstanding citizen, while they secretly unleash their true thoughts behind closed doors. But with the rise of social media, it’s becoming commonplace that these ugly rants leak into open conversation. This should be a warning to everyone, not just politicians.

This is nothing new. In fact, the recent scandal during the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh included events that predated Snapchat and Facebook by decades. But comments that a young Kavanaugh carelessly posted in his high school yearbook were brought up during a character trial before Congress. With digital copies of yearbooks available at local libraries, this sort of thing is likely to become the new normal. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Voters have always tried to wade through all the political rhetoric and election propaganda to vet their candidates. Now, it’s a lot easier with social media posts lingering forever in digital space. But facts still need to be vetted carefully.

We didn’t rush to get the story into last week’s paper because we wanted to investigate it for ourselves first. The leaks were obviously politically motivated, but that doesn’t make them untrue. On the other hand, it’s a good reason to vet facts instead of accepting them at face value. Once it’s out there, there’s no taking it back. We’d rather be right than first.

During the week, we read through each leaked post carefully, verifying each one on the internet before they were taken down. This was extremely important, especially since the posts were leaked by the Berlin Democratic Town Committee vice chair and immediately followed by an indictment by the state’s teacher’s union (the vice chair is a New Haven teacher). Before we reported the story as true, we had to verify whether the posts were taken out of context (they weren’t); if there were follow-up apologies (there weren’t); if the posts were retracted (they weren’t); or if they were inconsistent with the rest of Baleshiski’s posts (they weren’t).

We were surprised that Republicans didn’t take the same time before reacting. Baleshiski’s campaign manager Brian Callahan—the mastermind behind the “Official Town of Southington Election Guide” scandal that cost Republicans control of the Town Council—actually told one newspaper that his candidate’s opinions had changed since he posted them (a few weeks earlier). A few days later, GOP leaders rightly disavowed their candidate.

Of course, Republicans aren’t the only ones that are careless on social media. During an unsuccessful ethics charge against Southington Town Councillor Tom Lombardi in 2015, Lombardi’s attorney spotlighted a number of ill-advised posts on the local Democratic Town Committee websites from then-chair Ed Rosenblatt. By March, local Dems deposed Rosenblatt in favor of Robert Berkmoes as their front man.

We hope that this latest controversy has finally driven home the importance of self-editing. Before arguing on social media, you may want to step away from your keyboard to cool down and think carefully. Pressing the enter key is final.

We believe in free speech. We believe that everyone has the right to think anything they want—even if we find it offensive or ugly. But just because you have the right to say or think something, doesn’t mean that you should.

To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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