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Bemidji police chief condemns racist comments on department Facebook page

He said comments on the page have become increasingly offensive.

Bemidji's police chief has condemned an increase in offensive and racist comments made by some responding to posts on the department's Facebook page.

Chief Mike Mastin posted on Monday that they have noticed an "increase in derogatory and racist comments" on the Bemidji Police Department Facebook page, and says that it is forcing the department to "evaluate how we utilize this social media platforms."

Mastin says they use the page to "solve crimes, inform the public, reunite animals with their owners and find missing children," but because of its small staff, it does not have the resources to monitor comments on its posts.

"While the 1st amendment protects the freedom of speech these comments serve no purpose but to perpetuate hate and racism," he wrote.

"The Bemidji Police Department does not condone prejudicial comments from any group or person on our Facebook page."

Facebook has an option that allows pages to turn off comments on individual posts, which it could consider for some of its posts.

However, the comment section is a useful tool for ensuring word about crime and public appeals spreads to other Facebook users when they are "tagged" in a comment.

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What's more, while private companies often hide or delete comments that violate its social media policy on Facebook pages, there are more First Amendment implications when public entities do it, as this GovTech piece discusses.

Facebook has a tool that allows individuals to report hate speech or abuse to its support team, though Facebook's track record for preventing offensive or malicious content being shared is the subject of ongoing discussion worldwide.

Chief Mastin has asked that the department's followers be patient as the department evaluates its Facebook use and navigates "the complex laws surrounding social media, government entities and the freedom for speech."

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