They’re ‘on to me’ (apparently)

Warning: this is a bit of a rant. I was recently warned by an anonymous commenter here that they're "on to me," that I was "under the microscope" along with senior city staff. He capped it off with a warning that I have had almost verbatim a few times on this blog, "This is a small town. Be careful." The ridiculous part is that it was on a "good news" post. In New Westminster, as far as this blog's comment trolls are concerned, if it looks like good news, something evil is afoot.

Warning: this is a bit of a rant.

I was recently warned by an anonymous commenter here that they’re “on to me,” that I was “under the microscope” along with senior city staff. He capped it off with a warning that I have had almost verbatim a few times on this blog, “This is a small town. Be careful.”

The ridiculous part is that it was on a “good news” post. In New Westminster, as far as this blog’s comment trolls are concerned, if it looks like good news, something evil is afoot.

Let me be clear: there is no great agenda behind this blog. I do it for fun. End of story.

I like comments in which people disagree with me. I don’t like comments in which people tear down good people in this city and infer conspiracy where there is none.

Banning comments is distasteful to me. I want people to have their say, critics included. But it does get under my skin. It saps the joy from an activity that is a lot of work, and (usually) a lot of fun. These anonymous trolls skulking behind pen names and fake email addresses don’t seem to understand that the darts they throw wound real people, most of whom are doing their best to do real good in the city. I’m not just talking about me (and yes, I am trying to do good in this town), but also city staff and individuals volunteering for various organizations around town.

If you’re going to be critical, do it under your own name.

If you’re going to be critical, also be respectful.

If you’re going to be critical, don’t let your imagination run away with you. Stick to the facts.

I have been very lenient with what comes through in the comments. I’d like your opinion. Should I enforce a “respectful comments” policy? Should anonymous comments be allowed? What do you think should be the criteria to allow comments through (or not)?

Briana Tomkinson

Briana Tomkinson is a Montreal-based writer and original founder of Tenth to the Fraser. She really likes to write letters by hand.

Briana Tomkinson is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.

36 comments

  1. Perhaps there should be a "decent human being" filter installed on the website that filters out mean-spirited cynics that have forgotten how to think straight. Perhaps there is an app for that.

    Seriously if it is not their idea, it is a bad one. Don't get too put-off by this. They are a minute group selfish miopics that delight in tearing down others, making themselves look important and stifling any growth in this city that does't directly benifit their egos.

    Keep up the good work. Hey TTTF supporters, give a shout out for sanity and human decency. Leave your comments here!

  2. There is always a danger of being perceived as a censor if you implement a moderation policy. If your public vision for this blog is to be a news organ, then there will always be the issue of what to highlight and what is not "newsworthy"—exactly the same as any other journalistic venue. If I were you I would certainly implement a "registered users get to post without moderation" policy, where those registering users need to respond to registration via e-mail, to prove the account exists. All others are moderated, which means you'll need to build a moderation policy. Plenty around to read and borrow from. Personally, I like BoingBoing.net's one.

    1. I think some people mistakenly assume we are a digital version of the Newsleader, i.e. that we have paid staff and other resources that we just don't have. They also assume we will bring an unbiased tone to what we write, which is really the antithesis of what I want to do. Thanks for the tip about BoingBoing's policy. I know there are a number of them out there, but I guess what I want to see is what kind of approach our readers would like to see. Privately some people have told me they think I should have a more stringent comment policy, but I've been reluctant to impose it because I would prefer a more open approach. I've come to realize though that the comments from trolls leave a bad taste in my mouth for days sometimes, and it colours my feelings about the whole blog. it's unfair to me, and unfair to the other great readers who tell me they like what we're doing (because it turns me off of spending time on the blog).

      Anyway, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts!

  3. I agree with Will. There are a few very outspoken dissenters in this city who seem to have nothing good to say about anything. Just because they are loud and obnoxious doesn't mean they have any credibility with the majority of us.

    I love TTTF and I enjoy reading the comments put up by posters. When I see that they have been submitted by 'anonymous', I tend to give less weight to the content.

    Thanks for all your hard work Brianna!

    1. Thank you Belinda! What do you think I should do about those anonymous/obnoxious commenters though? Should I block them? Or just trust in the good sense of our readership to put them into perspective?

      1. Block the ones that are threating and disrespectful. None of us should have to read that and letting them stay up might only encourage similar posts. I don't consider it to be censorship and I would hate to see a few troll posting scare off anyone who might want to contribute to the topic.

      2. Brianna,
        You are smart. This is a skin thickening learning curve one goes through in public life, which you have have chosen to be. Take the good with the bad! Let the bad run off your back like water off a duck. Suck it up and be strong.

        1. Good advice John. I wouldn't say that I'm "in public life" – isn't that for politicians and celebrities? But I do get what you mean, that opening it up to comments also means leaving an opening for trolls.

      3. You'll need to clearly and explicitly create a commenting policy, explaining what is not acceptable, effectively defining the terms for acceptable discussion. I've said it before, but BoingBoing has this wired, and the comment threads on their posts often hit several hundred for a very topical or controversial item. They also have 3 full-time moderators, who are very active, and over 3 million visitors per month. TTTF may not be in that scale, but quite a few of the policies and processes are certainly transferable.

  4. Briana, you are doing a good job, and you are not a "news" site. This is the personal project of you and those you have mind-share with (which I'm proud to contribute the occasional article to) trying to project a distinct vision for the city, and if these people want to express their venomous opinions they're perfectly welcome to setup their own blogs (and we'll see how much readership they get…), it's a cheap and easy thing to do these days.

    Just like on my own blog, that is MY space to express MY opinions, and frankly, I don't even allow comments. If you want to respond, write your own post elsewhere and do a pingback linking it, I would gladly allow those (as long as they don't involve logical fallacies such ad hominem attacks).

    There are certain people (and political groups…) in this city who have nothing but negative things to say. Nothing is right, nothing is good enough, they could do it better. Funny thing is, some of these people who are always so negative never actually put their names forward at election time offering their better vision of the city. Its easy to criticize from the sidelines, but if you really think you can do it better put your platform out there. Tell us how you would do it better, maybe the voters will decide it is a prophetic vision of future New West.

    Having said that, I know I can be quite negative on the City sometimes, if there's a decision I don't agree with I make sure it's known. And there's nothing wrong with constructive criticism, its the basis of democracy and building consensus for a better vision. There's nothing wrong with lobbying or stirring up public sentiment to have a policy changed or implemented. But when you don't get your way to just attack without respecting the process and the real people behind these decision is cowardly. And when time after time there isn't a public groundswell erupting behind you, that might be the time to take a hint as well…

    1. Oh, and a follow up to this, I have a friend who's a political hired gun (unfortunately we have to agree to disagree a lot of the time since many of his contracts are with a certain federal party I strongly don't support), he always said when it comes to political criticism, "You kick them in the balls then tell them how you'd do it better."

      Crude, but accurate. Criticism, disagreement with policies, that's fine. But after you kick them a good leader tells what they would do instead, you need that positive spin. Kicking and running away, not leadership, not visionary, not a way to build a positive future or encourage people to get involved in the political realm. Unfortunately not just at the New West civic level, as we've seen lately with a certain provincial opposition party, it can be an effective (yet hollow) tactic at times…

      1. I love that: "Criticism, disagreement with policies, that's fine. But after you kick them a good leader tells what they would do instead, you need that positive spin. Kicking and running away, not leadership, not visionary, not a way to build a positive future or encourage people to get involved in the political realm." – great way of putting it Matt.

      2. I'm compelled to comment on that. What kind of leader kicks in the balls? I know it's a dysphemism, but the sentiment is unappealing. A leader does not kick first and suggest afterwards, but makes persuasive arguments from the start, or else they aren't really a leader. "Positve spin"? Just be positive.

  5. A blog is like your living room, if people are leaving deranged comments, ban them. Pure and simple. I've been getting some "interesting" emails lately at thev3h.com, perhaps people are just sad that summer is winding down.

  6. I know I've said this to you in person, Briana, but not sure I've ever said this on the blog and now seems like the perfect time to repeat it: you and this blog did more to help me engage with my community when I lived in New West than anyone else has ever done in any of the (at this point more than a handful) of cities in which I've lived. What a boring neighbourhood/city/world it would be if we all agreed. However – ad hominem attacks and vague, veiled threats just aren't acceptable. I dislike having to register on a site every time I want to post a comment. A real email address and transparency re who's posting isn't too much to ask. If you've got internet access, surely you've got *something* – a blog; a LinkedIn, FB, MySpace, Ning, Xing, Ping profile; or a web site of your own. Part of standing up and being counted is being transparent about your ID. Sniping anonymously from the sidelines: it's just not on.

  7. Just got back from city hall ! Had a wonderful time with some good people that work in the trenches and do a damn fine job. They are forced into CUPE and earn "regular" wages and do the REAL work of making things happen. Dealing with some management is a different story.

    Matt makes a very good point when he says "time after time there isn't a public groundswell erupting behind you, that might be the time to take a hint as well… "The entire province is in a state of frustration with the HST and our publicly elected leaders not telling the facts, what makes anyone think municipal politics is any different ? Politics is BC's favorite bloodsport !

    The Canadian charter of rights gives us our basic tenets of our freedom of thoughts and expressions. Certainly you have a right to restrict what you feel is malicious or defamatory, but criticism is a basic function of democracy and freedom itself. Imagine what parliament would be like without opposition.

    I really enjoy this blog, and I really enjoy politics. The stories about Flying kites and chasing butterflies won't get the comment streams you get from a propped up merit award.

    I know your not a 'big box' media outlet like Postmedia or Blackpress who hire and pay staff that are supposed to do the dirty work of checking facts. (to busy selling add space) They don't do it anymore, even the Sun is famous for running front page stories riddled full of holes. This is the internet generation, Fact come from Wiki, or the lead in your story, theres no time before print to 'check facts' anymore.

    I know I'm probably one of your most critical commentators you have ever had to deal with. I'm in deep with city hall, I know some of the shady things they're up to. New West is the flea on the GVRD. Take a look at some of the Vancouver blogs, controversies over every little thing. West enders being called #%&^& hacks by Robertson on mic and he's still in power. Politics is greasy.

    If you want my 2 pence for a solve, you need to get the IP address. That way you can know who is commenting under what names, and where they might be comming from. It was only a month ago when another municipality was found to be tampering with online materials to suite interests.

    For me, it simple. You can make the greatest positive change for your community by engaging in local politics. Thats why I do it, to make things better. To make them realize that not everyone is asleep at the wheel, and we have the right to get the straight goods and not sensational-ISM.

    Had our city recieved an Award from a TRUELY international association without having to pay a hefty membership due My personal responses would have been quite different I can assure you.

    Keep up the good work, and most important is learn not to let the little things bug you. Laugh it off, stress over a few words isn't worth it. like you said to me MOVE ON ! ha ha

    N.W.

  8. As a mysterious figure lurking in the shadows of an underground parking garage, I find your posts about community spirit and local events to be deeply detrimental to our nefarious plans. Your increasingly dangerous kindness and helpful information has been noted by our bespectacled tech team in the back of the van across the street. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to crush this glowing cigarette beneath my foot and disappear into the darkness before those approaching headlights sweep around the corner.

    – Agent X. No, wait, not an agent. Mr. X. Yes, that's better. No, wait, now you know my gender. X. Just X. That's right.

  9. I am a lurker on your blog and have never commented. On this issue, however, I must comment. I appreciate your blog greatly as it leads to a stronger sense of community for me. I may not agree with everything and I may not read all the articles any more than I will attend everything that happens in New West. I hope that you continue to allow anonymous comments as, in some cases, it leads to more discussion and engagement. That being said, I think that removing comments that are offensive (in your judgement) is perfectly fine. As a previous commentor said, “it’s your living-room”.

    1. Thanks for de-lurking Scott! I hoped to hear from some less-vocal readers before making a decision about whether to institute a comments policy. I appreciate the input.

  10. I hope you don't turn off comments. I like that this is a two-way medium.

    I wouldn't mind creating some kind of account before I can post comments.

    Harry.

  11. I used to comment, a lot. But I started feeling like I was one of the only ones, as a regular contributor I was feeling like me *always* sharing my opinion was a bit exclusive to some of the people who might read. I didn't want anyone to think TTTF was a little elite club that didn't want to hear any dissenting opinions. Admittedly, there is more than one guest post, and numerous comments I heartily disagree with. I feel more comfortable commenting again, now that our readership appears to be broader and from many backgrounds and points of view.

    I've tried to argue with trolls before (not necessarily on this site) and it's like swimming in jelly. Totally pointless, completely wasteful of my time, and serves no purpose for my personal life.

    Lately, however, there's been an aggressive tone to some of the anonymous commenters, and that is truly disheartening. "Disagreeing" is one thing. "Arguing" is another. Disagreeing is respectful. I like Matthew's comment very much – that you can't just kick em, you have to provide your solution, too.

    I like that I can disagree with people here, but I think you need to earn the right to disagree. A moderation system or a "rep point" system may be necessary, where other readers (and therefore, other members of this community) determine how credible the commenter is. Anonymous doesn't matter as much to me as accountable.

    1. I've watched with interest on other blogs (ones that do post truly controversial material) debates ensuing between commenters, while the blog post author remains serenely above the fray, only occasionally stepping in to comment when a situation needs to be defused. I sort of think that's the way to go. If a blog is actually a community, the members of that community will often self-moderate. Which means the blog's 'owners' (and by that I mean 'chief content generators') don't need to apply a heavy-handed comment policy (and are thus able to avoid being perceived as censors). In other words, sometimes a deep breath and counting to 10 and waiting to see how things play out is far better than an immediate reaction.

  12. First off Briana, you (and everyone who contributes) are doing a great job with this blog. Keep it up.

    In terms of a comment policy- it seems that this issue is making the rounds to just about every blog I read lately.. there must be something in the air. I have come the conclusion that debate and discussion are wonderful. But. I also think their is good reason to block comments which you feel are detrimental to the goal of your blog. For me, that meant that I changed my policy recently to not approve any comments which contained personal attacks, bullying, threats or foul language. I won't censor ideas/opinions, but I will censor the way they are presented if I feel their are offensive or harmful to my readers or myself. It seems to have helped.

  13. Many news and public affairs media (print/TV/internet) insist on registering identification before being allowed the privilege of a comment. After that you can use the 'handle' you have selected. The web master knows you are a real person, while the readers see only the information you want them to see — the handle. I think that is a pretty fair approach.
    Although I don't comment often, I enjoy readying the variety of content of the posts — keep it up!

  14. I hope your post does not change. Although I do not live in New Westminster, my family does. I enjoy hearing about what is happening and what is changing. No matter what you say you will always have those who will disagree. That is a good thing. It keeps it lively and up front in the news. Having been involved in community committees and dealing with councils I know how frustrating it can be and the fact that the general public can put forth an opinion is marvelous. When I was involved you never really knew what people were thinking on a issue other than the same folks who write for the local paper's "letter to the editors". This was I think this way more people are willing to put their opinions out there. I do believe that there is no reason to be rude, bigoted, and generally nasty to the "writer" Voice your opinion it's your right but do it properly. This applies to all who Write for the 10th to the Frazer. It is excellent!

  15. This blog is serving the people of New West well and the "trolls" don't have the influence they'd like to think.

    For the rational, caring people who read, comment, and guest post here, they really only serve to underline the value that this site provides.

    It's people like you and your influence that make a difference. Their sad attempts to malign those who are engaged with making New West a better place, are just frightened whimpers from a fragile ego, threatened by change. All they are on to, is their irrelevance to the emergence of a vibrant, healthy community.

  16. Briana, I read the story in the leader today and had no idea you had developed this municipal media contracting firm. Well done! New Westminster should offer you a contract too for all you have done.

  17. First time poster, long time reader. I really enjoy this blog and it's my lifeline as to what is going on in New West. I am working on becoming an active participant in my community and this blog has got the ball rolling.
    Don't worry about "haters" it just shows that they are sad and bitter with their lives. I mean really, who has the time or energy to put mean posts on a community blog?? Sad.

    Keep up the good work!

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