South Pittsburg is a small town in Tennessee with a population of 2,992. Perhaps best known as the site of the National Cornbread Festival, the town is typically devoid of any scandal or excitement that might attract national attention. However, thanks to an ill-advised ruling, South Pittsburg is now drawing ire from social media enthusiasts around the country: the city council recently voted to ban negative comments about the town from appearing online.
South Pittsburg’s town commissioners recently voted 4-1 in favor of an “all-inclusive” social networking policy. This policy would prohibit all elected officials, appointed board members, employees, volunteers, and contractors from making comments about the town’s boards, officials, and organizations on social media sites. City employees will be required to sign a formal acknowledgement of the ban, and sanctions will be levied against violators.
The town officials have offered a number of reasons supporting the policy, ranging from protecting employee safety to less time wasted in council meetings discussing derogatory Facebook comments. However, residents, legal experts and online commentators have all roundly criticized the policy, with many pointing out that the ruling could violate the First Amendment. Established in 1791, this famous component of the American Bill of Rights was implemented to allow citizens to express discontent with their government.
Since approving the policy, the town has experienced a wave of negative publicity on social media, beginning with town residents unaffiliated with the town government, who denigrated the policy on South Pittsburg’s Facebook page. The trend then spread to sites like Reddit and Twitter, where displeased critics created parody accounts for the town officials. Among their comments: “Any temperature below 0 is henceforth banned. #DownWithNegatives.”
Despite their attempt at establishing a positive online reputation, the town seems to have quite a challenge before them if they plan to re-establish a neutral brand: Media Bistro reports that about two-thirds of businesses see lead generation when spending six or more hours per week on social media marketing, but then again, most companies don’t start out having offended a modern conception of an integral American freedom. Unfortunately, this isn’t South Pittsburg’s first offense: in August, the town drew attention when they considered banning sagging pants, a move many decried as racially motivated or at least tone-deaf.