What Not To Do Wednesday (#WNTDW) – the Facebook fable of the week from the Anchorage Police Department (APD) – today became its own #WNTDW.
Shortly after the day’s #WNTDW popped up online, it disappeared to be replaced by this:
“This week is a two-fer. The first part is aimed solely at us – DON’T post a draft version of WNTDW. Which we did earlier today. Note to self……. SIGH. Do you ever have a Wednesday that feels like a Monday? Yeah….. we’ll be posting that one again once we have the FINAL draft.”
Or at least that’s the APD story, and the agency is sticking to it.
The rest of the story?
APD’s post appeared to mock someone with mental-health issues – if the story APD told really happened – and a goodly number of Alaskans appeared to take offense. They called APD out about the post in the comments on the Facebook page and a debate ensued.
Most, however, didn’t appear to be buying the defense of “it’s OK; it’s humor.” They thought the post showed a shocking lack of understanding of mental illness. The comments would be linked here, but APD disappeared them along with the original post as the debate was just getting going, though APD spokesman MJ Thim said the comments are not an issue.
“The post was not deleted due to comments,” he said via email, his preferred means of communication.
The post comes at a time when social media cleansing by government entities and politicians is much in the news. A federal appears court in July ordered President Donald Trump to stop blocking people and deleting from his Twitter feed comments he thought negative.
The First Amendment protects such speech, the court siad.
In January, the Richmond, Va.-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Court ruled that the interactive portion of a Facebook page of a public official is a “public forum” and once a can of worms is opened there, the public official or officials can’t try to make it all go away.
“Specifically, the court recognized that when a public official uses a Facebook page as a tool of governance — that is, when she uses it to inform the public about her government work, solicits input on policy issues through the page, and swathes it ‘in the trappings of her office’ — she is controlling the page as a government actor,” Vere Eidelman, an attorney for the America Civil Liberties Union observed in the wake of the ruling.
“And if she opens that page to public comment, the interactive space of the Facebook page constitutes a public forum.”
When it comes to Facebook pages, APD is even more clearly a “government actor” than your local politician. It uses its Facebook page to present both news and propaganda.
#WNTDW is decidedly part of the latter. It tells stories designed to soften the image of the APD and humanize the people in blue as friends and neighbors at a time in America when police are sometimes seen in a less than favorable light.
“Just three-in-ten black Americans (30 percent) express warm attitudes about police officers, while 28 percent offer a neutral rating. Another 38 percent give a cold rating, including 30 percent who give a very cold rating.”
Police departments across the country are aware of their public relations problem, and many are working to improve their image. Enter Anchorage’s #WNTDW with its attempt to make humor of stupid, foolish and bumbling lawbreakers.
The brunt of APD’s joking today was aimed at someone who – if the story is true, and you never know if #WNTDW is actually true – had clear mental health issues.
When you wander the streets naked, welcome the predictable arrival of the police, and then tell them you want to be taken to jail, you are not acting normally or rationally. APD thought this behavior on the part of “Mr. Birthday Suit” funny.
It apparently was even funnier when he was hauled into court and an unnamed magistrate “granted his wish” and allegedly sent him off to the slammer. The moral of the story?
Sending the man to jail “qualifies the magistrate of having wish-granting genie powers, too,” as APD put it after presenting its earlier arrest as the first illustration of “wish-granting abilities.”
APD did not cite the third example of “wish-granting abilities,” ie. the ability to disappear the original post and along with it all comments.
Thim contends the post was taken down because it was “incomplete and still in draft form (WNTDW). An internal mistake. A mistake that fits WNTDW so we owned it.”
It is not censorship, he said, because “all of our social media platforms are public record.
“As you know, you may make a request for a copy of any post, including comments, from our Records Department. You can email your request to APDRecords@muni.org.”
Thim has in the past, however, indicated that emailing the Records Department about #WNTDW is likely just a waste of time.
“When we pick the public safety tip for WNTDW, we ask members (officers, detectives, dispatchers..etc.) to share situations they’ve encountered over the years to use as examples of what not to do,” he emailed n December of 2017. “We pick a few to include in the post. We don’t ask for the names/date/time/location/case number because that’s not the intent of the post. Many of the situations happened years ago.”
Short version? There is going to be no way for the Records Department to find the information you want because we don’t ask who was involved or when the incident took place or where.
A records search here might prove more effective, but who is going to do that?
Readers can form their own opinions as to how “incomplete and still in draft” the post by reading it above. As to the claim of owning the mistake, the replacement post offers no hint of what the original post said, claims no ownership on the part of anyone for the mistake, and offers no apology for making fun of someone – if the incident actually happened – with a mental health problem.
Mainly, the ownership involves playing the victim card: “SIGH. Do you ever have a Wednesday that feels like a Monday?”
And then there is a rather strange reference to the original post saying, “we’ll be posting that one again once we have the FINAL draft.”
What exactly would one do to the final draft to make it something less than a mockery of someone with mental health issues? Change “Mr. Birthday Suit” to “Mr. Window Smasher” standing outside a vandalized storefront?
It would certainly be OK to be a genie granting Mr. Window Smashers wish to go to jail for damaging property because he might damage other property if left on the street. But Mr. Birthday Suit?
Mr. Birthday Suit might offend the public dignity, but he’s no real threat to anyone or their property. In fact, in most months of the year, he’s mainly a threat to himself, given how easy it is to freeze private parts.