The guidelines for Flin Flon Post It, a popular Facebook page that offers residents a place to vent, ask members to refrain from being “too rude.”
But a prominent church leader says recent posts went far beyond that directive and into the realm of anxiety-inducing libel.
“I was so angry that I’ve been shaking most of the day,” says Alex McGilvery, pastor at Northminster Memorial United Church.
Earlier this week, McGilvery and his family were subjected to a string of accusation-laden posts that had them reaching out to their lawyer.
The posts began last Sunday, Nov. 23. Initially the fodder was a tenant-landlord dispute, as McGilvery owns rental property.
But things escalated when outright – and unrelated – criminal behaviour was alleged against the McGilvery family.
It wasn’t the first time comments on Post It have been the source of serious apprehension.
One resident, who asked that her name not be published, told The Reminder that her words were twisted to portray her as racist on the page.
She described Post It as filled with “highly critical negativity.”
Other posts on the page have blamed individuals by name for a family tragedy, condemned the service at local businesses and indirectly identified an alleged criminal.
Sometimes posts that might be viewed as legally questionable are taken down in short order; other times not.
Facebook spokesperson Meg Sinclair said people who believe they have been defamed should report the matter through the site’s intellectual property contact form.
She said the social media site reviewed Post It this week and “found that it does not violate our community standards.”
But Facebook standards and legal standards are not necessarily one and the same.
A common perception exists that statements made on social media are not subject to the same legal ramifications as other forms of communication.
According to RCMP spokesperson Tara Seel, that’s just not true.
“Absolutely we can,” said Seel when asked if the Mounties can press charges for Facebook statements.
Seel said offenders can be charged under the defamatory libel section of the Criminal Code of Canada.
She would not go so far as to say RCMP commonly receive social-media-related complaints, but added police are certainly fielding more of them.
“[We] expect that they will increase as more and more people are using social media,” Seel added.
Sgt. Shayne Smith of the Flin Flon RCMP said that to his knowledge, his detachment has never laid charges in relation to a Facebook post or message.
But Smith, who arrived in Flin Flon in 2012, said police have on occasion been made aware of “certain remarks that shouldn’t be made” through social media.
On Post It, the administrator’s guidelines invite comments ranging from “news events or funny moments, to concerns,” provided members are not “too rude” in their remarks.
“Go ahead be opinionated, vent, btich [sic] and complain about whatever out there,” adds the administrator. “But believe me as soon as you enter this page to bitch, about this page. you [sic] will find your self [sic] booted, from this page.
“For life is better, when we are all on the same page. ;)”
After McGilvery read the posts about him and his family, he said he tried to halt the harassment by contacting the administrator of Post It, identified as CJ Crapple of Flin Flon.
“He just ignored me, feeling probably that he’s pretty safe behind his anonymity,” said McGilvery.
Post It is by no means a new phenomenon. Established in 2012, the page had 700-plus members by October of that year. More than two years later, membership has quadrupled to nearly 3,000.
A number of members do not reside in the Flin Flon area. Some use aliases or nicknames, enabling them to cloak their statements in anonymity.
For all of the controversy around Post It, the page has at times fostered more constructive dialogue around crime, politics and hot-button local issues such as the prospect of nuclear waste storage near Creighton.
While some believe Post It’s standard around rudeness is not always upheld, others believe the page is ultimately the responsibility of Facebook itself.
Facebook has a lengthy list of rules members are supposed to follow. Among them: “You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.”
Facebook also tells users it reserves the right to remove any content it believes violates its policies.
McGilvery said that when he contacted Facebook, he received no response.
“I doubt that they care as long as the advertisers pay,” he said.
McGilvery likened the thread about him and his family to “people watching the sight of a particularly nasty car wreck.”
Added the pastor: “There’s that fascination. They want to see the corpse and they’re
also thinking, ‘At least it’s not me.’”
For now, McGilvery said he and his family are speaking with their lawyer, though that is a “slow, slow process.”