Stafford Councilman’s Online Conduct Concerns Some

By Victoria Ford | Jul 31, 2019
Source: Facebook

Stafford Township — When Stafford Township Councilman George Williams posted some provocative content on social media earlier this month, some residents who were alarmed or offended took screen shots of his Facebook posts and comments and sent them to local press. The township provided a statement distancing itself from Williams’ actions, and he has since changed his Facebook privacy settings.

Williams is a member of a closed Facebook group called “The REAL Parents of Stafford Twp NJ” (to distinguish itself from the group called “Stafford Parents!!”, a resource for local information, recommendations and events). A couple of weeks ago, on a post Williams had shared, someone joked about taking a sniper rifle to the Facebook Community Standards Committee, and Williams commented, “you mean your semi fully automatic assault rifle?”

The REAL Parents page is described as “the PC-free page for our town” and a “no-holds-barred group” with a violent image as the cover photo to illustrate the verbal warfare waiting within. The group now has 1,600 members, some of whom are there only as observers, not as active participants.

On his personal Facebook page, Williams had publicly shared memes mocking the current migrant crisis at the U.S. border (“How to pick up Mexican girls” with a photo of a Border Patrol van; and “Install your very own concentration camp in the comfort of your home!” with a photo of a toddler in a gated enclosure) and written posts seeming to degrade the U.S. women’s soccer team.

The councilman did not respond to a request for comment, but Stafford Township Administrator Matthew von der Hayden issued a statement: “The Mayor and Township Council have been advised of allegations regarding a comment posted on a local Facebook group by a member of the governing body operating solely in their personal capacity. Accordingly, the Township had no part in such posting. The Township does not endorse, support or comment in any private Facebook groups.

“The Mayor and Township Council do not condone the posting of offensive material. The public is encouraged to have active discussions regarding local matters, but those opinions are of those individuals that make them.”

As a democracy, freedom of speech is a protected right – and poor judgment and jokes in bad taste aren’t necessarily crimes. But this month a dozen Philadelphia police officers lost their jobs over racist memes they had shared on social media.

According to Facebook’s Community Standards, hate speech falls under the “objectionable content” heading: “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence.

“We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics – race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability. We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation.”

Kim Manzella of Manahawkin worries about hate speech taking root in the community.

“I am not on that page because I have heard it is not positive or kind and tends to be hateful, and they think it’s OK. So I only know from what Lori (Wyrsch) had posted, which was the image of the teenagers and the two adult men that commented about rifles. I can’t even begin to understand what goes on in the minds of people who think these things are OK, and it saddens me, but because of our government, people have a green light to act out and think they can get away with it.

“I can only speak my truth in hopes that we find a common ground, and that is all we want – our kids to live in a safe, supportive environment.

“We can have differences, but there are boundaries that, when crossed, can put members of our community at risk or create division, and that is what I would like to focus on, to create positive change and have more community awareness.”

Stafford Township Police Chief Thomas Dellane said residents are encouraged to contact the police department to file a complaint if they have been harassed in person or online.

“Please be advised that no complaints have been filed with the Police Department regarding any post related to the Facebook group you have mentioned,” Dellane said in a written statement. “While the police department does not have our own technology unit, we work closely with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office High Tech Crime Unit and other law enforcement agencies when confronted with digital crimes.”

— Victoria Ford

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