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New tools of politics present challenges for Missoula’s candidates for mayor

Missoula Mayor John Engen, right, and challenger Lisa Triepke have both turned to social media to reach voters, and both have faced the challenges of using a platform they have little control over.

It’s a new age in politics to be sure.

Missoula Mayor John Engen on Thursday said he removed comments from his Facebook campaign page that were mean in spirit or spread false information.

The day before, his challenger Lisa Triepke removed a Facebook post after comments took a racist turn targeting a Native American member of the City Council.

In a day when the president has taken to Twitter and municipal candidates rely on social media to leverage support, the perils of the digital age aren’t easily navigated.

“There are some spirited remarks in our comments section about posts that have been removed from our page,” Engen posted on Facebook on Thursday afternoon. “This is not fascism. Rather, we reserve the right to remove posts that are mean or perpetuate false information.”

The day before, Triepke removed a post from her page regarding the resignation of a City Council member. Comments posted to her Facebook page, which remained visible for at least 20 hours, were racist in disparaging Native Americans.

Triepke removed the post and apologized to the council member whom the comments targeted.

“It has been our policy not to remove posts or comments in the past but because this post has taken such a terrible turn, we will be removing it immediately,” Triepke wrote after removing the post. “I do not condone racism or racist comments of any kind. We have shared news articles and posts in the past to inform voters, not to fuel racist commentary.”

Both candidates have been challenged by comments posted to their sites on social media, with supporters of one candidate attacking the other, and vice versa. At times, those comments have strayed form the issues, becoming mean and personal, or downright crude.

While such debates used to play out in the editorial section of the newspaper or over drinks at the bar, they have since shifted to the digital world. As one Facebook user said, “It’s the campaign’s wall, they can remove what they like.”

Engen agreed.

“This is the messaging outlet of the Mayor’s campaign, not the one of our opponent’s, so we think that’s fair,” Engen said after removing comments. “Know that every comment is read regardless.”