Errant Post Brings Mayor of Hoboken’s Social Media Practices Under Scrutiny
Ravi Bhalla, Mayor of Hoboken, has been busy dealing with a major water main break in the Southwest corner of the city for the past 3 days.
Last night he took to his facebook account to bring his constituents up to speed with the efforts:
However, in the comments section, “Ravi Bhalla, Mayor of Hoboken” went on to thank himself for the “hands on work and unrelenting pressure you’re placing on Suez”—SUEZ being the local water utility and “you’re” indicating that it was supposed to have been posted by someone other than the Mayor.
hMAG‘s publisher, Christopher M. Halleron, noticed the gaffe and notified “Ravi Bhalla, Mayor of Hoboken.” The comment was deleted—but not before we got the screenshot…
Representatives from the City of Hoboken reached out to hMAG immediately, in an effort to explain the situation.
“The mayor’s brother, Amar, had access to the Mayor’s social media accounts during the campaign,” Hoboken Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Freeman told hMAG earlier today. “He made the post in error, and quickly took it down.
hMAG wasn’t the only one to notice the gaffe. Councilman Michael DeFusco, who lost to Bhalla in a hotly contested mayoral race last November, also picked up on it:
Mayor, @RaviBhalla thanks for being there during the latest #hoboken water main burst, but just a suggestion — next time, wait to get actual feedback from residents before making up things all by yourself. pic.twitter.com/N1F2Gi69q9
— Michael DeFusco (@mike_defusco) August 22, 2018
The Mayor’s brother, Amardeep Singh, immediately took responsibility for the post, then took the offensive.
@mike_defusco I, not Ravi nor his staff, mistakenly put up that comment thinking that I was encouraging Ravi. People in your Ward don’t have water, and you’re trying score political points. Pathetic. Next time ask and do your homework. https://t.co/m7ckdpuMhG
— Amardeep Singh (@amarHoboken) August 22, 2018
Obviously political discussions in the social media space are a hot topic these days. Just yesterday, The New York Times reported that Facebook had identified a number of accounts linked to “Influence Operations”—essentially filling social media with propaganda and misinformation.
Previously this year, the Hudson Reporter penned a story about the phenomenon of #FakeNews, and how it was impacting the political climate at the local level.
“Even with Facebook’s attempts to have those creating political ads certify themselves, it is still very easy for unscrupulous politicos to create dummy accounts to comment on stories,” says Bill Helmich of Helmich Consulting—a national political consulting firm. “Often times they use them to promote their own stories to try to imitate grassroots support.”
In light of the Mayor’s brother pumping glowing comments into the thread about his handling of the water main break—an issue that has plenty of Hobokenites on edge—questions now arise over who has control over what is said in local social media circles.
When asked if the Mayor, his campaign, or the City of Hoboken employ the use of aliases, Freeman assured hMAG, “Absolutely not. We have no control over what is said about the Mayor on social media. The Mayor is working hard and getting things done, and people are either going to agree or disagree with what he’s doing—but we’re not directing the conversation.”
DeFusco, the Mayor’s rival, sees things differently.
“This recent incident underscores a larger pattern of misinformation. The Mayor has long used a paid political blogger to create false narratives in an attempt to alter thought and intimidate political opponents,” DeFusco told hMAG, earlier today. “He won an election with the funding of a Super PAC that spread lies and misinformation, just so those attacks didn’t have to come directly from him. And he received widespread media attention due to the racist flier that was illegally spread in my name defaming me and insulting the mayor’s religion, a crime that has still not been solved.”
DeFusco is referring to the distribution of xenophobic fliers reading, “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our Town!” in a mismatched red font, featuring a photo of now-Mayor Ravi Bhalla, printed on forged campaign material from DeFusco’s campaign.
“Misinformation is how this mayor won, how he will attempt to win again and why it’s important for residents to be conscious about what is truth and what’s not.”
hMAG has taken note of a number of accounts that became active in the local social media sphere just prior to and since the election—many pro-Bhalla, many anti-Bhalla. We asked DeFusco directly about his involvement with these accounts.
“My campaign has never used aliases or alternate accounts to impact the political conversation,” he said.
“Unlike the mayor, I have never shied away from addressing unpopular subjects and taking them on head on, using my own social media as the platform to bring these issues to public conversation. I initially ran for office because I believed standing up to status quo politicians and moving the conversation forward for all of Hoboken was and still is the right thing to do,” says DeFusco. “It’s not easy to speak truth to power, and when the Mayor and other officials try to manipulate social media and local journalism to fit their narrative it makes that even more difficult.”
Whether the “Ravi Bhalla, Mayor of Hoboken” post from last night is a careless slip or an indication of a broader trend, it nevertheless underscores the importance of scrutinizing any and all social media interactions—particularly as social media consumers become much more savvy.
“Social media has become a great tool for elected officials to deliver messages directly to constituents,” says Steve Lenox, a prominent public affairs professional. “Alternatively, sometimes overeager to win political points, or seek praise, some have really flubbed it, causing deserved embarrassment.”
Lenox adds, “Like any other medium, the best practice is to be honest with your constituents.”