Lakeland employees discuss Budget Repair Bill on Facebook

Danny Spatchek, Managing Editor

Danielle Ristow felt insulted when a Facebook friend she went to high school with told her to “do a little research” in response to her status that essentially called the Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin cowards.

“Basically she assumed that because I didn’t agree with her opinion I had no idea what I was talking about, that it was an uneducated opinion,” said Ristow, a member of AmeriCorps working as Lakeland’s assistant community service coordinator.

She defended her status repeatedly, eventually posting a seven paragraph post including her own sarcastic explanation of simple economics and a reference to a bill she said former Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle rammed through during his term.

Contentious debates like Ristow’s have played out on Facebook and online forums since the introduction of the budget-repair bill that would cut public workers’ benefits and most of their collective bargaining rights.

“On the most basic level, Facebook is how people stay connected to life, even when they’re disconnected from life in their homes and at work,” said Lakeland’s Manager of Interactive Media Eric LaRose. “It’s how they keep track of friends or find old friends. Over the last two weeks, it’s become a battleground of opinions.”

David Gallianetti, Lakeland’s director of communications, said he believes the bill will impact all Wisconsinites, making it an unavoidable point of contention on places like Facebook.

“I was talking to a teacher a couple days ago, a teacher who’s a pretty political person, and he said he’s never seen so many apolitical people interested in a topic before,” Gallianetti said. “I think this is a hard one not to take sides in a way because probably on this one everybody’s going to know someone who’s affected.”

Joe Botana, Lakeland’s vice president of finance, also said his choice to support the cuts in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill has been belittled on Facebook.

He said, “A friend of a friend made a remark that ‘all you guys that are saying this are just buying the party line and you should get yourselves informed.’ I said ‘With all due respect, I am extremely well-informed. I’ve been researching and analyzing this information, and I’m not buying the party line. This is my opinion that I’ve come to through my own research and analysis. I kind of resent that, the idea that ‘I’m right and anybody who doesn’t agree with me is just buying the party line.’”

Botana said debate “should not come down to ad hominem attacks. I can say, ‘I think you’re wrong,’ but I shouldn’t say, ‘I think you’re stupid, and I think you’re evil.’…it’s completely out of bounds. When that stuff starts to happen, democracy begins to break down.”

One of Botana’s Facebook friends, Assistant Professor of Exercise Science Kelly Quick, said she recently defriended her good friend’s brother because he made several “ad hominem attacks” on her, the final one on her pro-union stance on the bill.

“I posted something backing up the unions and he wrote scathing things like, ‘How can you support that?’ and ‘Don’t you balance your own personal budget?’ and ‘Don’t you live within your means?’ and ‘What kind of Christian are you?’” Quick said. “I tried to respond back to the points he made and he came back with just more anger. He wasn’t even debating the points of the argument.”

Director of Alumni Relations Lisa Vihos said that while she’s twice protested the bill in Madison, she’s also made a point to “not be in arguments with people” about the bill, instead posting links to articles and videos on her wall. One satirical video on her wall features a character dressed as Darth Vader who exaggerates right-wing reporting as a Fox News reporter.

“I know it’s a really serious issue, but sometimes I’ve just been passing along things that are satirical or funny to bring a little more levity to the situation,” Vihos said.

Vihos, Quick, and Botana said the Internet discussions they’ve had about the bill have always been civil.

“We can have heated debates in a meeting and walk away and realize it’s about what happened there, not about what happened here,” Quick said. “We’ve come to the mutual conclusion that it doesn’t really matter what we think…. All we’re really doing is having an exercise in conversation.”

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