The folks on Mount Pleasant Town Council may bicker now and then but there are some truths that transcend even political rivalry.
Mainly, social media is a cesspool.
The nattering nabobs of the internet drive political discourse pretty much everywhere these days — you can always find spats on Facebook pages dedicated to Summerville, James Island or West Ashley neighborhoods. Most of these folks are simply sharing local information, but others are trolling for a fight, stirring up rancor.
And no place is more adept at spewing bile than Mount Pleasant.
As David Slade reports, Councilman Joe Bustos calls social media “one of the worst things that’s ever happened” and Councilman Jim Owens laments that anyone can become a “keyboard bully.”
They are absolutely right, and they should know — they’ve been targets.
Some of Mount Pleasant’s Facebook groups excel in public shaming, boycotts and calling people names for … calling people names. It’s all very high school until someone gets hurt, or sued.
Yes, it appears this vitriol may have played a role in a recent lawsuit.
See, developer Vince Graham wants to add a small hotel to his Earl’s Court — a high-density development off Coleman Boulevard that is despised by Old Village residents. Problem is, he doesn’t have enough parking for the hotel.
When the nearby Cassina Group leased him some after-hours space in its lot, well, the internet didn’t like that. Save Shem Creekers went online and said all sorts of ugly things about Cassina, then quickly called for a boycott of the real estate group.
One local businessman wandered into the discussion to innocently suggest there was a better way to solve disagreements than mean-spirited and vindictive bullying. Someone then called for a boycott of that man’s business, too.
Which kind of proves the point.
Cassina officials eventually went on Facebook and announced the parking deal was void, and two weeks ago filed suit to officially break the deal. Graham has blamed the dispute on bullying and harassment from Earl’s Court opponents, and it is abundantly clear where he might get that impression.
Most of the melodrama in Mount Pleasant these days is focused on out-of-control growth, and Earl’s Court is a common internet target — along with The Boulevard apartments and that parking garage/office building near Shem Creek.
Town Council has responded accordingly to the web’s outrage. It has instituted exorbitant impact fees and moratoriums on apartments, limits on building height and housing. But apparently that’s not enough, as Owens and Councilman Gary Santos discovered.
They recently declined to go along with Mayor Will Haynie’s plan to fire the town’s attorneys — a move Save Shem Creek has demanded since the lawyers had the audacity to inform them Mount Pleasant had to live up to its agreement with that parking garage developer.
Of course, the online mob has branded Owens and Santos as traitors — even though they’re just as anti-growth as the next guys. But they’ve betrayed the cause, to hear these computer commandos tell it.
No, they haven’t.
Haynie raised a reasonable point for discussion. The attorneys haven’t been perfect — a lawsuit with Park West got dicey and it wasn’t wise (or perhaps in keeping with the open records law) to redact Councilman Kevin Cunnane’s name from a police incident report. Even if it was done to protect the identity of a minor.
It’s good for council to debate this. It’s also fine for people to have differing opinions. But some former Town Council members say — and Facebook proves — that anything less than 100 percent obedience is unacceptable to cyberbullies.
Social media has replaced the town square where folks used to gather and debate local issues. Back then, it was pretty obvious when one of the villagers was acting like a complete loon. Now some people believe everything they see on the screen.
But the bigger problem is that some folks just don’t know how to filter, so they end up posting every ugly thought that comes into their heads. You’d think by now they would realize the danger of that. There’s a new story every week about someone who mouths off online and ends up wrecking their life.
But it’s hard to think about that when they’re busy messing with other people’s lives.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.