We’re appalled at the alleged actions of state Rep. Kelly Townsend, a Mesa Republican, in response to a social media post criticizing her comments toward another lawmaker.

Townsend called the employer of the man who created the message on Facebook, notifying the company of the post.

It was an apparent attempt to get the man fired. Why else would Townsend call the employer?

This is wrong — bordering on illegal — in so many ways.

Elected officials at all levels of government recognize that playing in the public arena can be brutal. Constituents, especially those who rely on the anonymity provided by social media, can be irresponsible and uninformed in thew comments. Some seem to take pleasure in spreading falsehoods, recklessly making ad hominem attacks and generating unfounded conspiracies.

For a state legislator to use the authority of the office to threaten the employment of a constituent who airs an opinion strikes at the heart of the principles of the First Amendment.

The proper response for Townsend, and for other elected officials tempted to seek revenge against irresponsible Facebook posters, is to address the statement, not the person.

Much like the unwritten rules in professional baseball, there are sensible guidelines that effectively govern social media. There will be some who defend Townsend’s response as justified, considering the vulgarity of the allegation made by the man who generated the post.

They will be in the minority.

Most who are familiar with the sensibilities of social media will recognize Townsend’s efforts as irresponsible and aimed at revenge. Responding through her own Facebook page, Townsend posted the man’s comments and requested a public apology.

But she never addressed the allegation or pointed out facts that countered the comments.

We recognize that it’s harder today than it has been in the past to serve in public office. Like other professions, reputation management has become an ongoing task because of social media. The goodwill and good deeds of a legislator, a council member or a county board supervisor can be undone with a few keystrokes.

When that happens, we don’t want to see our elected officials lashing out and seeking revenge against a constituent.

We want these representatives, especially at the state level, to remind us of their accomplishments, address negative comments directly and maintain behavior that is beyond reproach.

Acting otherwise exposes poor character.

Reprinted from Sierra Vista Herald/Review


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