The internet has come a long way since you and I could learn a little html and build a web page. Even a casual online visit conjures multitudinous attempts to grab your attention, and wallet, and endless opportunity for distraction. Getting lost web surfing can be a lot of fun, but can also be confounding. You start out investigating the scourge of invasive species and the next thing you know you’re ordering hydrangeas.
You start using nouns as verbs. You google, you Facebook. I imagine you can use TikTok as a verb, too. All of this leaves some catching up to do. We’ve come a long way from CompuServe, and today when I say the internet I’m talking about everything from the World Wide Web to email, to social media and anything you can do with your smartphone. Anything that gives you near instant information about anything.
With everything a click away, trouble is also near. That also means criticism can come quickly and be ferocious and not fair, often because it can be leveled anonymously, and it means that people can get tangled in ugly stuff.
Wallingford’s Town Council has been wrestling with a question for the moment. The question is, to what degree should social media activity be used in determining a nominee’s qualifications to serve on a government agency? So far it’s being handled on a case-by-case basis, but it shouldn’t be handled just in that way.
It’s not an easy question. You want to advise young people to keep their participation in ribald activities and the like off their social media posts, because a potential employer can see it and make a determination you might not like because of it. That’s still good advice. But imagine a day when everyone, including your potential boss and their boss, will have skeletons in their virtual closets and it may not be considered such a big deal. Remember when you had to type 60 words a minute to get a job?
There are vile things on the information superhighway. You can click on them and send them along. Raymond Rys, a former Wallingford town councilor and vice chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals, shared posts considered extremely offensive. There’s no getting around how offensive they are. After he was asked about it, he told the Record-Journal he was reconsidering. “I’m looking at Facebook a little more critical now and I’m not playing around like I used to,” he said.
Rys is well-regarded. Robert Parisi, the former Republican Town Council chairman for whom the Robert F. Parisi Council Chambers at Town Hall is named, spoke in support: “Ray is the guy I would want in the foxhole with me and he served the town with that same attitude,” he said. “And I think this would be embarrassing if I had to say … that a man of his quality and character can’t get an appointment.”
But if that’s fair, so is the appointment of Ed Storck as a ZBA alternate. Storck’s online activity was also questioned. His nomination was denied because of it, while Rys’ was not. And to put a volunteer on the defensive like that displayed an unwarranted lack of respect. The difference? Party affiliation.
Not fair. Simple as that. The council stumbled, and needs to find a better way of treating people who, after all, are offering their time to serve their town.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at firstname.lastname@example.org.