The city has removed a live feed and the comments that went with it from the city’s Facebook page.
The feed from Tuesday night’s Board of Aldermen meeting had been trolled with white supremacist and alt-right language, as well as profanity, while the predominantly black Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church members were speaking out against the state flag that flies at City Hall. The state flag features the Confederate battle emblem.
Mayor Shea Dobson who was reluctant to remove the comments on Thursday, because of First Amendment freedom of speech, said Friday that city leaders discussed their options with the city attorney.
He said since he could not pick and choose which comments get to stay, they started to delete them all, “but it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to monitor it and delete every comment as they come up.”
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He said they decided the best option was to delete the post. He said the city is updating its technology soon to stream the meetings on the city’s website instead of Facebook.
The explanation on the page said: “Due to many inappropriate comments, we have chosen to remove the video from the City’s Facebook page.”
Among the comments were people who said they were watching an “auction” while the members of the church were speaking to aldermen.
In the more than 460 comments, there were words with hidden meanings. The most popular word, “couch,” appeared more than 200 times, although other words and symbols were believed to make references to Adolf Hitler and Jews.
David Ferrell of Ocean Springs called the Sun Herald Thursday to claim responsibility for the use of the words couch and Pontiac Grand Am. He said he has a group of 75,000 who troll live feeds, and told the Sun Herald it had nothing to do with the flag issue. And, he said, his group is not responsible for any of the other alt-right code words posted in the comments.
The Associated Press defines the alt-right as a political grouping or tendency mixing racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism; a name currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States.
Ocean Spring’s Alderman at-large Bobby Cox learned Thursday night at a banquet that the live feed had been trolled. Cox said he researched the issue.
“I didn’t have a clue at the time that any of this was going on,” he said. “It’s sad that people do that to live feeds.
“It might be that we end up videoing the meeting and putting it on the Facebook page,” he said. “Then we don’t have the issue.”
He said with the Facebook live feed, “people can put anything on there, unless you’ve got someone sitting there managing it.”
He said the city doesn’t have the personnel to sit with and manage the live feed comments.
Police Chief Mark Dunston said Friday, “The mayor did send the Facebook information to me. It will be looked at for any criminal investigation value.”
Alderman Mike Impey responded to the Sun Herald in a text: “It is my understanding that as a public entity, we are governed by different rules than a private entity would be,” concerning the city’s Facebook page.
“Unless (a) comment ventures into obscenity, ‘fighting words’ or libel/slander, then it must be allowed if comments are allowed.
“It basically becomes an all-or-nothing situation,” Impey said. “Otherwise, you are faced with a possible violation of the free speech section of the First Amendment. As far as I know, this is the first time it has ever been a problem.”