Jackson County

Ocean Springs mayor shuts down Facebook post when reactions get heated, nasty

Ocean Springs mayor Shea Dobson is finding that trying to keep up with constituents on social media is not as easy as it sounds.
Ocean Springs mayor Shea Dobson is finding that trying to keep up with constituents on social media is not as easy as it sounds. klnelson@sunherald.com

The city’s new mayor is streaming the Board of Aldermen’s meetings and keeping up with his constituents on social media, but things got hot over the weekend.

He was successful at streaming Wednesday’s aldermen meeting and then he used Facebook to explain his decision to raise the Mississippi state flag over City Hall, which hadn’t been a tradition in the city that flies the state flag at the police and fire departments.

But comments came in so over-the-top and with such anger, Dobson said he took down the Facebook post by Monday.

There were comments about race and the use of curse words. Some of the nastiest comments were from the people who agreed with Dobson’s decision to fly the state flag at City Hall.

Dobson said he plans to manage his Facebook page, but it got to be too much over the weekend.

“That particular post got to the point where people on both sides were being unreasonable,” he said. “Rather than spend my time trying to police Facebook, I deleted the post.”

He said he had better things to do with his time.

“I don’t want to feed the trolls,” he said. “Generally that’s good social media policy.”

He said trolls, a common term on the Internet, post trying to elicit reactions from others and feed off the reactions.

The flag is controversial. A version of the Confederate battle flag resides in a corner of it, a reminder of times of slavery and racial inequality in Mississippi.

Dobson said, “Symbols can stir up emotions, both positive and negative and I guess the post proved it.”

“I’m not going to tolerate threats,” he said, “if they go over the line and start threatening and making attacks toward people’s character or their livelihood, or attacking them personally.”

“I understand freedom of speech and that it’s not so cut and dry,” he said. “But I will use my own judgment and hopefully people will help me with that too. I’m getting tagged in a lot of different stuff.”

Dobson said he met Monday morning with people who disagreed with his decision to raise the state flag, and “we had a chat about it.”

“Both sides need to be more understanding about where the other is coming from,” he said.

He didn’t want to repeat or comment on the details of the posts.

“If the police need to handle any of it, they will handle what they need to handle,” he said. “I eliminated a post and that particular threat is no more.”

At one point over the weekend, a commenter tagged Dobson and asked him to shut down the post.

“Free speech is one thing but this is getting ridiculous,” the commenter said. “I changed my profile picture because I was getting trolled. I feel just a little less safe than I did before this, and I have to work and live in this town.”

The commenter went on to say, “I feel like the atmosphere in Ocean Springs is very inclusive and I don’t want that to change. I know we don’t agree, but I’m committed to working with you to make this a better city, even if I’m pushing back aggressively ... but always with civility.”

Another reaction to the post was, “This is horrific!!! Absolutely astonishing to read the hatred.”

Police Chief Mark Dunston said his department had not been contacted about the post. He said, “It goes to show you, another reason I don’t have a Facebook page.”