Social media can be tricky. If you want to promote a cause, tell a joke or spout a political opinion, social media provides a link to hundreds if not thousands of people.
Facebook is considered one of the most effective social media platforms, with more than 1.4 billion users and about 900 million of them going to the site each day.
But social media can be a slippery slope.
Comments, even ones meant to be snarky, can erupt into a string of angry reactions.
That may be what happened to Geauga County Health Commissioner Thomas Quade, who put what he termed a sarcastic post on his personal Facebook account about coronavirus vaccines and masking protocols this past weekend.
In retrospect, he called it “kind of a dumb move,” an observation that we think fits the bill.
Frankly, we are surprised. Mr. Quade has been a steady force during the past 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic by offering sound health advice based in science to residents, school districts, assisted living centers and others. He did it while facing a wall of anger from some parents and politicians staunchly opposed to masks and vaccines.
Mr. Quade said the sarcastic post did not necessarily represent his views accurately. True sarcasm is an art difficult to master. We know all too well that written statements can easily be misinterpreted.What we consider a well-crafted message can easily backfire.
In addition to comments on COVID-19, his post included political cartoons as well as memes on masks. The post has since been taken down, although some screen shots of it can be found on the Facebook page called “Meanwhile, in Geauga County.”
Mr. Quade contends that a person can have a life outside of work as long as there is separation. That’s not possible for a well-known public employee when it comes to social media posts. Mr. Quade is front and center in the public eye. Whether residents agree with him or not, he is the authoritative voice on health issues in Geauga County, especially those related to COVID-19.
It appears that he experienced the power of social media from the reaction of residents, many of whom reached out to local politicians with complaints about Mr. Quade’s posts. Geauga County Commissioners plan to write a letter to the county health board expressing concerns about Mr. Quade’s posts and objectivity in doing his job.
We agree with Geauga County Commissioner Timothy Lennon that responsibility comes with being an official trusted by the public. But Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri went too far when he said Mr. Quade is a “loose cannon” that needs to be either “reamed or removed.”
Commissioner James Dvorak, acknowledging that COVID-19 is a touchy topic, said the health commissioner’s posts take away from the work of the health department.
Mr. Quade has apologized and taken responsibility for his actions.
The takeaway is that open comments from public officials, especially on social media, carry a lot of influence. There is no separation between the public and private persona when it comes to the digital world. Great care needs to be taken when sharing opinions. Remember, internet posts live forever.