Myrtle Beach Chamber runs ‘grassroots’ Facebook page promoting public safety

A new, anonymous Facebook page that promotes the efforts of Myrtle Beach area law enforcement is run by the local chamber of commerce.

The “Keeping Myrtle Beach Safe” page started posting on July 7 and describes itself as a “grassroots effort to shine a spotlight on public safety progress and support those who protect our great city.” But it is actually a new tool for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, a prominent promoter of the Grand Strand that receives millions in tax dollars every year to advertise out of market.

Chamber President Brad Dean said public funds are not being used to run the Facebook page or the website linked to it.

“It’s a new strategy for us, we’ll say that,” Dean said. “Our hope is that this becomes bigger than the chamber.”

He added that the chamber intends to continue to use the page to share stories of law enforcement’s efforts, which he said are easy to overlook after a high-profile shooting on Ocean Boulevard in June. Dean said immediately after the shooting that the chamber is committed to helping the city market its public safety plan.

On Monday, the page published a video titled “Safety is a Top Priority.”

The video features people in the area around the boardwalk complementing law enforcement presence on the beach. It ends with an announcer saying: “Keeping visitors and residents safe. That’s why Myrtle Beach will continue to be ‘America’s Family Beach.’”

Lt. Joey Crosby of Myrtle Beach Police is also featured in the video.

“It was a video that was done by the chamber of commerce, and they asked me to give a soundbite about what our operational plan was,” Crosby said.

The chamber’s official page also linked to keepingmyrtlebeachsafe.com in a post last month as it announced a program called “Myrtle Beach Backs the Blue,” where the chamber and 28 sponsor businesses — listed on the Keeping Myrtle Beach Safe website — provide breakfast to Myrtle Beach police and other area agencies twice a week.

Keeping Myrtle Beach Safe’s most popular Facebook post, titled “Swift Reaction to Last Month’s Shooting,” had 448 reactions and 126 shares on Tuesday afternoon. It refers to the response to a June 18 shooting on Ocean Boulevard that sent six people to the hospital. The incident was viewed millions of times in a Facebook video.

Myrtle Beach Councilman Randal Wallace said the page and social media presence is a good idea to help mend Myrtle Beach’s image after the shooting. Wallace will frequently engage directly with critics on Facebook and other online platforms.

I get kind of tired of being the guy who gets punched in the face every time I turn on my computer.

Myrtle Beach Councilman Randal Wallace

“I get kind of tired of being the guy who gets punched in the face every time I turn on my computer,” Wallace said.

The Facebook page has surfaced in an environment where there already are several anonymous pages that touch on issues in the area. “Surfside Beach Keeping it Real” has 451 followers and can be sharply critical of some members of Surfside Beach’s town government.

Keeping Myrtle Beach Safe is most similar in name to another prominent page — “Make Myrtle Beaches Free, Clean and Safe,” a group that has grown to nearly 7,000 members. It was started after county residents flocked online to criticize the city’s move to charge non-residents to park in all oceanfront lots last year.

A leader of that group, Rich Malzone, called Keeping Myrtle Beach Safe a “propaganda piece as opposed to a discussion piece.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s the chamber trying to play off our page,” he said.

But Dean said the page is only intended to “amplify” the messages and work of law enforcement.

“We’re not mirroring anybody’s efforts or competing,” he said.

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ