Flint, MI– Like most things on the internet, you could always count on commenters in the Flint City Council YouTube chat to say something, well, interesting. 

“Meds wearing thin.”

“Shut the hell up her voice kills my insides.”

“Can you say diarrhea of the mouth?”

“Ain’t enough liquor bro.”

But now, because of such comments, the live chat for the virtual meetings on YouTube has been disabled.

Paul Herring, the producer of Spectacle Productions and the man behind the council’s YouTube channel, said he chose to disable the chat because it “seemed to just be a shit show.”

“I just got tired of it. The council meetings are bad enough. And then to watch the chat, too,” Herring said. “It’s just like getting slapped in the face when I looked that way, and slapped in the face when I looked this way. It was horrible for me.”

Herring had hoped the live chat would be a space for people to ask their council people questions, and comment on the issues of the meeting. 

“It wasn’t accomplishing the goal that I set out for it,” he said.

Herring tried to moderate the chats, first sending messages telling people to be respectful, and posing relevant questions to the council agenda.

When that wasn’t effective, he put the chat in “slow mode,” which limits how often each user can comment by setting a time limit between comments. After a couple weeks he changed the chat so only subscribers could participate. 

“None of that seemed to deter them,” Herring said, although he said of about 200 viewers of each meeting video, seven people would be “acting a fool” in the chat.

Now, he said he’s thinking about creating a separate chat on a different platform, away from the city council meeting recording. But he’s not sure. 

“I wish they could have seen the value in having an audience with their elected officials,” he said. “But they squandered it.”

Council President Eric Mays said he doesn’t personally have a problem with the chat being turned off.

“It doesn’t matter to me, but I’ll wait to see what the people say. If the majority of people want
it, they can have it,” Mays said. “I don’t know how you can gauge who is the majority or whoever, but you know the council gets a lot of criticism. It’s a public meeting. People have the right to comment. None of it bothers me.”

Mays says Herring is paid by the council to “make sure that the meetings are publicized and ran publicly.”

“There was never no agreement about allowing live interaction,” Mays said.

Still, he said he would like to listen to people’s opinions to see what they want.

“All of those democratic processes can come into play as far as I’m concerned,” Mays said. “I’ll listen to the people, the media, the council members. Together we’re all (going to) make a decision.”

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...

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