Depending who you ask, social media is a helpful tool for staying in touch with friends and relations, a tool for companies to harvest your personal data so they can sell you products or an outrage chamber where the worst, most ill-considered opinions are shared. But whatever people think of it, one fact has emerged about social media: It is the most public of public spaces, a virtual town square where even when you think you know your audience, many others can see.
And yet, in the weeks since Gov. Mike Dunleavy took office, multiple appointees to executive branch leadership have been felled by vitriolic social media posts. Republican firebrand Art Chance was appointed to a policy job in the Department of Administration despite a long and relatively well-known history of crude and misogynistic comments on Facebook. When those posts were brought to light, Chance swiftly withdrew from consideration. Not long thereafter, Fairbanks Realtor Tammy Randolph, up for a seat on the University of Alaska Board of Regents, was felled by her own posts that insinuated former First Lady Michelle Obama was a man, hinted at belief in conspiracy theories and made crude jokes about Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Another Dunleavy appointee, Jonathan Quick, withdrew from consideration to be commissioner of the Department of Administration for reasons that were unrelated to social media but no less of an embarrassment: Allegations surfaced that Quick had embellished items related to his work history and education on his résumé, then lied about those items to members of a Senate committee during a hearing on his confirmation.
It’s true that even in the best of circumstances, vetting of political nominees can be a difficult and imprecise business. Sometimes it’s hard to guess when a damning moment will resurface, such as with the recent spate of 40-year-old blackface photos roiling the political waters for prominent Democrats in Virginia. But it’s also true that in the modern era, it’s easier than ever to do at least rudimentary research on candidates -- searches on Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the state court database are de rigueur for even entry-level positions in the private sector, and there are online services and tools that can quickly and easily dig deeper into the backgrounds of those up for jobs. One swift pass over social media would have uncovered the multitude of posts that spelled disaster for Mr. Chance and Ms. Randolph; one call to the businesses and schools listed Mr. Quick’s résumé would have revealed trouble lurking there — as journalists seeking to verify initial reports of those issues found out.
Those seeking to defend Mr. Chance and Ms. Randolph from criticism of their social media posts have cited the mob mentality that sometimes prevails online, where people (and, in some cases, media outlets) will rush to judgment before all the facts are in, as was recently the case during an incident involving a Native American protester and a group of Catholic high school students in Washington, D.C. But in the cases of Mr. Chance and Ms. Randolph, that’s not the situation. Their posts were well past “politically incorrect” and should have given pause to anyone looking into potential issues that could torpedo a nomination.
In answering questions about the vetting failures, Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow called the vetting process “thorough, thoughtful and deliberate.” Clearly, in several cases, this isn’t accurate.
Gov. Dunleavy and his administration have monumental tasks ahead of them, as does the Legislature that is in charge of confirming his appointees. Neither can afford to waste time doing a job that should have been taken care of before nominations were officially made. Gov. Dunleavy has promised his administration will be transparent and accountable to Alaskans; the unforced vetting errors with several appointees have the unfortunate effect of casting doubt on how much water that promise holds. If the governor and his team wish to maintain Alaskans’ trust, they need to show Alaskans that trust is warranted.
The views expressed here are those of the Anchorage Daily News, as expressed by its editorial board, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. Current editorial board members are Ryan Binkley, Andy Pennington, Julia O’Malley, Tom Hewitt and Andrew Jensen. To submit a piece for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser.