BEAUFORT — County Commissioner Ed Wheatly said he hopes county residents don’t blame him for a derogatory online comment that the elected official alleges is the result of computer hacking.
On Aug. 24, former county resident Kendall Guthrie posted a screenshot of a Facebook exchange between himself and an account claiming to belong to Mr. Wheatly.
“I posted something on my Facebook because I was getting a lot of negative comments to conversations I was having with my friends on politics,” Mr. Guthrie told the News-Times.
In the original post, Mr. Guthrie shared an image macro with text that said “If you support (President Donald Trump) get off my page. Block me, unfollow me. I don’t care. Just get off my Facebook.”
While the image prompted dozens of comments, one of those came from an account connected to Mr. Wheatly, who represents Beaufort, Mill Creek and Harlowe on the county commission.
“I will be more than happy to get off of ‘your Facebook,’” the comment from the account claiming to be Mr. Wheatly posted. “I do support (President Trump) as I have supported each president after election, you sir are a piece of DOG (sh*t), you do not deserve the privilege of living in the USA, make damn sure you keep your AIDS vaccination up.”
In an interview with the News-Times, Mr. Wheatly said he did not write the post and claimed his account was hacked.
Mr. Guthrie and a number of Facebook users called the comment homophobic.
“He replied that I needed to take my AIDS medication, which was absolutely ignorant of him,” Mr. Guthrie said. “I work in the field of HIV/AIDS and have for many years. There is no AIDS (vaccine) but I know where he was going with that. He was being very homophobic with that remark, or it seems that way.”
Mr. Guthrie said he and Mr. Wheatly are acquaintances. Mr. Guthrie said he used to be an associate pastor at Ann Street United Methodist Church in Beaufort.
“I knew of him through that,” Mr. Guthrie said. “I would see him at various occasions, doing funerals of people that he knew.”
In the days since the exchange, Mr. Wheatly has stated that the words in the message to Mr. Guthrie are not his own.
“You hear people talk about email and social media on computers being hacked,” Mr. Wheatly said. “It sounds so ridiculous until it happens to you.”
According to Mr. Wheatly’s statement, he first noticed something was amiss last Friday after returning to his office.
“My Facebook page had a post up there that I did not recognize. It contained some inappropriate comments and I wondered who had posted it,” he said in a letter to the News-Times.
Mr. Wheatly said after speaking with some of his more computer-literate friends, the likeliest explanation for the post included a hack or someone used his account after he forgot to log out.
“I quickly changed my password and now I never leave my computer unattended unless all programs are closed out,” Mr. Wheatly said.
The commissioner said he originally thought it was someone else’s message that appeared on his Facebook feed.
“Then I realized it was appearing under my name,” Mr. Wheatly said. “I did not understand how it could happen or (know) what to do. I quickly Googled how to remove a post and removed it. It must not have been up there too long because I haven’t talked to anybody who actually saw it on my page. Someone apparently took a picture of the screen and has been sending it around.”
Mr. Guthrie was among the first people to have taken a screengrab of the exchange, adding that he did so before being blocked from the account tied to Mr. Wheatly.
“Before he blocked me, I took a screenshot of his reply to my post,” Mr. Guthrie said.
Mr. Guthrie, who currently lives in Florida where he works as a health care educator and administrator, said he isn’t convinced by Mr. Wheatly’s explanation. In response to another screengrab showing Mr. Wheatly’s Facebook post explaining that his account was hacked, Mr. Guthrie simply wrote “liar.”
“I haven’t lived in Carteret County for some time, I haven’t kept up with the local politics and I started getting comments that he is a public official,” Mr. Guthrie said, adding that there have been a lot of comments from upset county residents.
Although there are those who echo Mr. Guthrie’s sentiments, Mr. Wheatly said he hopes the public will be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“I left my guard down and someone knew how to take advantage of it,” Mr. Wheatly said. “Many people of my generation like Facebook so we can keep up with family and see pictures of grandkids. After this experience, I’m starting to wonder if it’s worth it.”
Mr. Guthrie said he believes commissioners should be held to a higher standard.
“I believe commissioners have a responsibility to remain as neutral as they possibly can,” Mr. Guthrie said. “They may use (social media) as an outlet to state their opinions but there certainly is an appropriate way to do that…it’s an embarrassing reflection on Carteret County that one of your commissioners would state something that way.”
The county manager did not respond to inquiries from the News-Times about social media policies regarding elected officials.
Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.