Public Forum: Social media is not just a way to communicate with friends

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By The Staff

Social media is valuable for a lot of reasons.

It allows people to connect with family and friends who may not live in the same part of the country. It allows anyone to share information quickly with a lot of people. It’s also a place for people to express themselves on a wide variety of issues and topics. 

But regardless of what anyone might think, it’s not a private forum.

If you go to a store and run into a friend and chat in the aisle, that’s one thing. Posting something on social media is like having that same chat over the store’s intercom system. A lot of people will ignore it, some will pay attention, and a few will share what they heard or read with their friends.

Recently, the wife of a Lebanon police officer posted a comment on her Facebook page regarding officers being “hindered and discouraged” from pulling over drunk drivers leaving local businesses. We also know that she likely won’t be happy that her comment became the basis for a news story in today’s paper, but there is a lesson for everyone in this: social media is public.

Sometimes statements get our attention because of what is said, and other times they get our attention because of who said it. We suspect that, like us, other Facebook users were aware that the person commenting on policies regarding drunk drivers was a police officer’s spouse.

Amber Cardwell probably did not intend for her comment to go beyond a small group of people. As she pointed out to us, her Facebook page is set to private, so the only people who should be able to see it are her “friends.” Once something is on the Internet, however, it can take on a life of its own. That’s what happened in this case, as other Facebook users shared the message with the Enterprise.

To be clear, we don’t think Cardwell did anything wrong, but in interviewing people for the news story, it became clear to us that there is a disagreement about what police should be doing to discourage drunk driving. Frankly, we support police officers positioning themselves where they are likely to stop someone who is intoxicated from getting behind the wheel or pulling them over as soon as possible if they do.

We understand why businesses might not want police officers staking out their parking lot, but that may be a short-sighted view on their part. If officers pay special attention to an area and that discourages people from drinking and driving or encourages people to use designated drivers, that is a good thing in our view. As word spreads that the police are watching, we hope more people would make responsible decisions when they go out. In due time, the police wouldn’t need to monitor certain spots as closely.

For what it’s worth, Cardwell isn’t the only person who learned recently that what is posted on social media may not stay there. This past week, Jacob Cox-Brown, 18, of Oregon was arrested after he posted “Driven drunk … classic :) but to whoever’s vehicle i hit i am sorry. ;P.” In Cox-Brown’s case, his post was passed along to the local police, who have arrested him on two counts of failing to perform the duties of a driver, according to kgw.com.

Regardless, we hope calling attention to drinking and driving will make everyone more aware of being responsible drivers.