Local Leaders Discuss Social Media's Influence on Community Decorum


(L-R) Lucas Smolcic Larson, Chuck Colby, Tony Iannelli, and Kerstin Woodside.

November is Civility Month in Chelsea, sponsored by the Chelsea Human Rights Commission. The group has organized events throughout the month to promote civility within our community.

The kickoff event on November 6 was a panel discussion on the role of media in civility. Panelists were Chuck Colby, Publisher of The Sun Times News, Kerstin Woodside, Saline Diversity Equity Inclusion Committee, and Lucas Smolcic Larson, local government reporter for MLive. Departing Councilmember Tony Iannelli moderated the discussion. Iannelli has served as the city council’s liaison to the Human Rights Commission.

While the influence of social media on incivility was referenced regularly throughout the evening’s discussion, Iannelli did pose one question directly: Do print and social media have different roles to play when it comes to civility?

Colby contrasted the two mediums sharply. "I don't think they're in the same ballpark. I think one is a burning dumpster fire," he said, alluding to the chaos on social media platforms. He recounted an incident in Dexter where unfounded rumors about Trader Joe’s coming to Dexter spread rapidly online despite no evidence supporting it except rumor piling on rumor.

Woodside echoed this sentiment, describing the challenges of maintaining civility and accuracy on social media. She pointed out the stark difference between the unregulated nature of online forums and the structured reporting of newspapers.

Iannelli acknowledged the issues inherent in social media groups, noting that while their social media group in Chelsea is proactive in moderating discussions, the information shared often lacks substantiation. Others on the panel echoed this point regarding their town’s social media pages.

Colby also criticized the impact of social media on personal well-being, suggesting that "the best ad I could possibly run in the newspaper as a public service to America is get off of Facebook." He advocated for more direct communication as a healthier alternative.

Woodside did highlight one advantage of social media is providing accessibility to some good local information for some folks who have no other way to find it. She also noted, however, how moderation on social media can distort the narrative by selectively editing comments, which has been detrimental to their community.

Larson added to the discourse, emphasizing that while social media can be a source of tips for journalists, it is their duty to verify the stories, which can create a lot of timely and often frustrating legwork. He shared his experience with rumors and the importance of journalists' strong connections with local authorities to confirm facts.

Iannelli culminated the discussion with a reference to a comment made by the late Rush Limbaugh, who described social media as a "sewer" when asked why he avoided the platforms.

Other Civility Month Events include:

Sunday, Nov 12 – Gratitude Concert by Gemini. A family-friendly concert to celebrate togetherness and all that we are thankful for throughout the year. Sponsored by the Chelsea District Library. McKune Room, Chelsea District Library, 2 pm

Wednesday, Nov 15
- Introduction to Restorative Justice and Conflict Resolution. Games and activities designed to challenge our perceptions of conflict, learn about the different approaches to conflict, and how we do (or do not!) use them in our daily lives. High School and above. No registration needed. Sponsored by One World One Family. Council Chambers 5.30-7.30 pm

Monday, Nov 20 - Introduction to LGBTQ+. Introductory class to reduce confusion around issues of gender, sexuality, or even just pronouns. This curriculum aims to help dispel misconceptions and answer questions people may have but don't have a venue to ask. Please register at the Senior Center 475-9494. Sponsored by Equality Chelsea. Chelsea Senior Center, 1 pm

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