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The Scarey New World Of City Government Spying

Cities Launch ZenCity To Spy On Residents’ Social Comments

“It’s just a matter of time before every city in America uses this technology,” Rush Limbaugh

There are ways this could go wrong,” said Peter Eckersley with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Once you get into policing there are many more potential concerns around the use of artificial intelligence.”

MyrtleBeachSC news recently shared an article, Myrtle Beach Police Chief Investigates Private Business Owners’ Employee Outfits on the Social Networking Group, Make Myrtle Beaches Free Clean and Safe.

Council Approves
Mayor Bethune and Myrtle Beach City Council

We were surprised to note that one of the early people commenting on the article was Myrtle Beach Mayor, Brenda Bethune.  We recently noticed an increase in Social Media posts from other city leaders, as well, including City Manager John Pedersen.

Turns out, a national software company is helping local cities spy on residents’ comments online. The city of West Sacramento purchased the software, which only costs $12,000 and is using it 24/7.   CBS covered that story today. The article has gone viral on Social Media in the past few hours, even being covered by Rush Limbaugh.


While the City of Myrtle Beach has not purchased the software yet, they did hire Gordon Hirsch, as a local Social Media Consultant.  MyrtleBeachSC News reported that here: https://myrtlebeachsc.com/myrtle-beach-cronyism-continues/

ZenCity posts the following on its website.  https://zencity.io/for-residents/



When a wave of mailbox thefts hit the city last year, people complained about it on social media, and West Sacramento was watching. City leaders were alerted to the community concerns by a new system.  “We saw the thing that most people were talking about were mailbox thefts,” said West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. “That’s something that we might not have noticed just by waiting for people to come to city hall or filing a complaint.”

The city is using Zencity, a system that crawls through publicly available social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It takes all of that data and sorts through to find what people are talking about and whether it’s positive or negative.

“The purpose of Zencity is to see the big picture,” he said.

In January, concerns came from the closure of a Safeway store and the brutal murder of two sisters at the hands of their father. In March, a shooting threat at River City High School generated negative posts over the lack of updates from police and school staff.

“It’s not that Zencity replaces our other forms of civic engagement, it’s just a way to listen more,” he said.

“There are ways this could go wrong,” said Peter Eckersley with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Once you get into policing there are many more potential concerns around the use of artificial intelligence.”

The ACLU worries about the potential misuse of the technology. Facebook started as a social engagement tool, then turned into a behemoth that exposed user data, even in unplanned ways.


Our Place Current
Click Picture to learn more

MyrtleBeachSC.com, working with local residents, launched OUR PLACE earlier this year. It is a private, closed group.  We reached out to Facebook executives today to determine if the ZenCity or other such spyware could track posts on OUR PLACE.  Facebook assured us comments could not be seen there.

City leaders, elected officials, Bureaucrats, and Chamber of Commerce leaders are not allowed in Our Place.

John Pedersen CIty Manage
Local Myrtle Beach Bureaucrat who is NOT allowed in OUR PLACE

Residents of all stripes are allowed in the group to speak freely and without such spying.

Comments from A Myrtle Beach Area Condo Owner:

Owners started a Sands Ocean Club Facebook page. There were many posts critical of island resort company and our board of directors.   Shortly after the Facebook page was launched Lee and Eddie Williams [Lee Rawcliffe – Sands Ocean Club Property Manager] were able to access the page although it was set up as a secret page. Lee phoned at least several owners who had made posts that were negative about management. He phoned them on their cell phones and at work. He was able to reduce significantly the critical comments (all postings actually) posted. I believe many of those owners felt intimidated.
Lee also uses many of the tactics I see the city of Myrtle Beach trying to implement. Lanyards for certain vendors when they’re on the property (not enforced equally), etc




About David Hucks

Born in 1961, David is a 12th generation descendant of the area we now call Myrtle Beach, S.C. David attended Coastal Carolina University and like most of his family, has never left the area. David is the lead journalist at MyrtleBeachSC.com

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