American Atheists call Watson defense ‘insulting’

By BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Writer
Posted 4/9/16

The organization American Atheists Inc. has responded to Sheriff Eric Watson’s defense of the faith-based posts on the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

The sheriff defended …

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American Atheists call Watson defense ‘insulting’

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The organization American Atheists Inc. has responded to Sheriff Eric Watson’s defense of the faith-based posts on the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

The sheriff defended deleting certain postings he called “disturbing” and “inappropriate,” while adding comments critical of the BCSO do remain on the social media outlet.

In a statement released to the Cleveland Daily Banner by Nick Fish, national program director of American Atheists, the organization called Watson’s remarks “ridiculous” and “insulting.”

“Sheriff Watson is either lying or has been lied to by his staff managing the department’s official Facebook page,” the statement reads.

“The department has deleted untold numbers of comments criticizing the Sheriff’s actions, including comments from residents of Bradley County. What’s worse, the department has banned dozens of people from their official page for the ‘crime’ of politely disagreeing with the Sheriff.”

“It is ridiculous and frankly insulting to the people of Bradley County that the Sheriff would tell those who don't like him using his department to evangelize to simply stay off ‘his’ page,” the statement continues.

“The department’s page isn’t ‘his’ page; it belongs to everyone in Bradley County and to everyone who values transparent and upstanding conduct by our government. No citizen should be forced to ‘stay off’ a government agency’s page, especially when it is used as a primary method of communication.”

“The Sheriff and his staff owe the people of Bradley County an apology for calling their criticism ‘pornographic’ and ‘obscene.’ We look forward to the department’s responses to the substance of our requests.”

Fish also said negative comments only appeared on the Facebook page “after we sent our second letter which included the open records request.”

He noted Watson’s comment that Facebook may have taken down posts according to its policies on inappropriateness was inaccurate.

“Facebook doesn’t work like that. People have to report comments to Facebook and the only things they take down are posts that are literally pornographic, actual threats, or (sometimes) hate speech,” Fish said. “However, people are notified when that action is taken by Facebook and those sorts of actions take days, not minutes. Moderating comments on Facebook pages typically falls entirely within the purview of the page owner. The Sheriff is grasping at straws and trying to cover up his or his office’s conduct.”

Fish also told the Banner his organization has received “a death threat from someone in the area, and will be investigating it thoroughly.”

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