Tag: Hudson Valley region

Elected Officials and Social Media Use: Should There be Rules?

Social Media can make government better, more accessible, more transparent, more accountable, all good things. But when elected officials decide that government social media accounts are theirs to use as they please, we may be in very different territory. Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum reminded us of that this week.

In 2015 the Benjamin Center studied how local governments in the Mid-Hudson region use their websites and social media. We found that nearly 97 percent of the towns, villages, and cities of the region had some digital presence. At the time of the study 60 percent of local governments had a Facebook presence, but barely one fifth were on Twitter. (This was in the sleepy pre-Trump era of Twitter.) In general, we found that the more open governments are with constituents, the more they engender trust.

Even though our study was conducted barely two years ago, it came against a very different societal backdrop. President Obama was behind the push for government at all levels to communicate electronically with the goal of increasing trust and accountability. These days cities like Kingston and Poughkeepsie maintain fairly active Twitter accounts and post frequently. This seems appropriate: In our fast-paced era, when even Facebook seems too onerous to peruse, governments that can blast quick info to constituents (especially missives that can be read on a phone) are reaching people quickly and simply.

But what happens to the trust that openness engenders when the public official steps out of his or her governance role, and uses official social media platforms to advance personal views, or agendas?

Once Donald Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, sheriffs around the country have felt emboldened to use social media to express their own views, sometimes using government platforms as their bullhorn. The latest but hardly the most inflammatory missive came this past weekend when Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum used both Facebook and Twitter to tell citizens to boycott the NFL because, he argued, players taking a knee during the national anthem were being unpatriotic.

This isn’t nearly as disturbing as sheriffs in Oklahoma trying to thwart criminal justice reform through use of official social media communications.  Continue reading

Introducing Mid-Hudson Currents

Mid-Hudson Currents is the SUNY New Paltz Benjamin Center’s newly launched regional forum for considering with you the governance, policies, politics, social institutions, and culture of our Hudson Valley region, and its communities.

Mid-Hudson Currents will be evidence based, rigorously analytical and thoughtfully critical. We seek to provoke thinking and discussion with data you may not have seen, considered with care for their regional, statewide and national implications. We will link the research we have recently done, or are in the midst of doing, to breaking news or ongoing stories of regional importance while remaining committed to methodologically-sound, locally-focused inquiry. Always, we will seek to identify best practices and advance the public interest.

Additionally, Mid-Hudson Currents will draw upon the diverse research programs of SUNY New Paltz faculty across the range of disciplines, with particular attention to work that considers social and political phenomena that may challenge conventional thinking and accepted norms.

We will start by communicating weekly. Over time we  will extend our reach to include interviews, round table talks with local and regional leaders, and the work of the path-breaking innovators among us.

We invite you to the conversation. As we engage each other, we will shape the ways our local communities and region may best respond to the challenges we face as New Yorkers, Americans, and citizens of the world.

Join us.

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