New Participation Policy

I want to check in with you regarding a policy change I have made on my website.

In a nutshell, going forward, I intend to publish comments only of current and former constituents.  I do not intend to remove comments by non-constituents that have previously been published.

Until recently, anyone in the world could comment on my site and their comments would be published without moderation.  I have never censored comments or posts on my site based on ideology and I have plenty of friends and constituents who have views that are very different from mine.

I have always accepted direct criticism.  In fact I welcome it. I can do my job best if I am listening to a wide variety of views. I have typically only censored comments that appear to be incoherent or unreasonably repetitive or to abuse copyright or to attack private individuals.

But lately things have changed.  I don’t know whether it is the current heated times or whether I have just reached a certain level of visibility, but I find that my site is now a target for anonymous inflammatory statements from apparent strangers from far away places.

When people comment on my site, they must leave a name and email address.  Sometimes people make up names and email addresses.  I have no easy way of policing that and I have until now tolerated it.  I have been OK with people commenting anonymously if they are afraid of retaliation or just don’t want to be harassed — I want to maximize participation.

While people can make up names, their internet IP addresses are harder to spoof and not infrequently, the most inflammatory comments come from outside my district, often outside Massachusetts.

It is hard to resist responding to comments made on my site.  I feel it is always good karma to show gratitude in response to kind words or to show civility in the face of hostility.   When statements I am not comfortable with are made, I am concerned that if I do not respond, I will appear to endorse or accept them.  Often people commenting from outside my district are legitimate advocates who seek to influence my views.  It is hard not to respond to their statements for fear of appearing disrespectful.  And, frankly, it is always intriguing to start a new conversation.

Yet, there are only so many hours in the day and I want to make sure that I am doing my core job, which is serving the people whom I am elected to serve — the residents of the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.  The only way to avoid distractions without making  questionable judgment calls based on comment content or personal relationships is to cleanly limit participation to those people.

From here on out, when a person comments, my team will verify that they are a constituent within the policy before releasing their comment.  I will, however, keep everyone on my email list — to the extent that anyone anywhere finds my publications useful, I am happy to keep them informed.

I hope that those whose public participation on my site is excluded by this policy will understand the need for me to focus as a public servant and will not take the exclusion personally.

As always, I appreciate your feedback on how I am approaching things.

Thanks to all!!!

Thanks so much to all who have weighed in here. I feel that I am on solid ground with your support.

I’ll miss some very knowledgeable and thoughtful out-of-district commenters, but we’ll stay in touch.

One thought that a couple of people raised: What about hearing from out-of-district people about statewide issues? Two answers: First, through the hearing and other public information gathering processes, the legislature tries to give everyone with special knowledge the chance to be heard. Second, all legislators pay primary attention to their constituents and the best way to influence a legislative outcome is always to work with one’s own legislator — really take the time to develop some personal understanding.

Sunday, August 5, 10:30PM

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

Join the Conversation

181 Comments

  1. Leave it up to “respondents” to prove that they are legit via a two or three step procedure if that is possible.

  2. I would like to suggest that you cast a slightly wider net for IP addresses than just your area. The reason being is that sometimes, depending on the provider, the IP address may appear to be other than the city in which one resides. For example, my IP address shows up in Woburn although I live in your district on the Watertown/Belmont/Cambridge line. A narrow limit to just the towns you represent may actually result in blocking your own constituents who may have ISPs that set IP addresses in neighboring areas. I appreciate the need, however, to filter out other states (and countries).

    1. Definitely. We won’t just do it by IP address.

      Out of district IP is just one flag for attention. Constituents have IP addresses all over the place due to cell phone use.

      We’ll verify identity directly using multiple means.

  3. I think this is fine in principle, but there are problems with using IP addresses:

    1) The commenter might be a constituent but commenting from work or otherwise traveling. I live in Watertown, but am presently writing this from BU.

    2) Especially with the complicated district maps, the granularity of the GeoIP databases is a bit too fuzzy. This can been particularly bad for mobile devices, which is often the primary access method especially for younger and lower income users.

    3) I have a friend in Quincy who’s IP is consistently placed in California.

    I totally understand the impetus for this policy, but I fear it might have unintended consequences.

    Sean Graham
    Watertown

    1. Yes. Definitely. We won’t just do it by IP address.

      Out of district IP is just one flag for attention. Constituents have IP addresses all over the place due to cell phone use.

      We’ll verify identity directly using multiple means.

  4. Sounds reasonable, Will. In many ways it seems we would be better served by keeping it local.

  5. I moved to another state but like keeping up with Mass. news via this super-intelligent site.

    I nonetheless agree that only constituents should be allowed to comment; hence this will probably be my last comment!

  6. Will,

    This change seems prudent and unobjectionable. As one of your constituents, I am interested in knowing how my neighbors in your district feel about the issues of the day. A bunch of clutter on your website from those who are not in your district gets in the way of my learning about my neighbors’ viewpoints.

  7. Like others, I’ve moved out of state but appreciate how you keep us informed. I think it’s completely reasonable to limit comments to your current constituents. Thank you for not kicking us off your mailing list, though!

  8. This new procedure is sensible given the growing proliferation of fake postings and news. As a constituent, I welcome these new restrictions. Thanks as always for your good work.

  9. Sorry to know that you have this problem. Have always appreciated your information and am glad that it will continue to be available to consituents.

  10. As a former constituent I am glad to be grandfathered in as I appreciate being able to participate in your excellent and transparent website. I also appreciate the inability to moderate comments and hope you will be able to figure out a good way to stay open and yet cut down on distractions that do not aid in making policy for Massachusetts residents. Thanks for all you are doing.

  11. To send a comment to U.S Senators and Representatives, they require your physical address, phone number and sometimes other things. It is quite reasonable for you to require what you need to verify who a person is. Thanks for asking!

  12. Seems sensible. Your focus is best served on your constituents. People from outside your district have other appropriate outlets to voice their issues and concerns.
    [from: constituent in Watertown]

  13. Thumbs up from me. Maybe it’s worth being a little lax and allowing comments from the general greater Boston area?

  14. Hi Will,
    I support your new policy. As you said, there are only so many hours in the day. Personally, I do not like anonymous comments. These comments often hijack discourse. To quote you “I can do my job best if I am listening to a wide variety of views.” You do consistently do that! If people have something to say be it pro, con, whatever – they should state their name, etc. That’s respectful to you as well as to the readers of your site.

    Your civility shines in these difficult times.

  15. Hi will… Your policy makes sense in many ways. You seem to have defined a way to limit noise without muting the message. My only suggestion is to consider having someone on your team compile out-of-area messages for selective citation. Just thinking, for instance, of the value of your work on judicial reform as a model to other states or for input for the stalled national process…and how useful dialog could be

  16. Yes, it is a very appropriate change. Thank you for your ability to help us to be part of the Massachusetts state government.

  17. So much a sign of the times: of angry hypercritical diatribes from unknown people intruding on facebook posts, as spam, and so forth. So much anger out there. I think your policy is wise, necessary and sensible. You do a great job keeping us posted, asking for opinions and clarifying the complicated. Keep communicating!

  18. Totally agree with this change. While it’s important to hear all viewpoints, the district is large enough and the penetrance of this website high enough that disparate viewpoints, and lively debate, can be offered by your constituents.

    Broadening the audience also prevents the voices of your constituents from being heard.

    Great idea.

  19. Will, I can understand your reasoning. A couple of questions. Would you accept an attributed letter from an interested organization about a position you are taking on a vote–eg the plastic bag ban? Also, since you are a committee chair, do you have separate email addresses or venues for discussion for your committee activities in the Statehouse? I appreciate being heard as your constituent. But I also get angry when, for example, Congresspeople on committees only take constituent comments when their actions affect us all on a broader scale. So, I think our State committee members should be able to take communications from MA residents and organizations, too. Would that work and help the situation for you? It’s a little different from your newsletter forums which might be limited to constituents and relevant orgs. I regret that civility is not valued by everyone and that ignorance and narrowness are widespread. I don’t know how to change that now. Barbara

    1. Fair question. I do receive advocacy communications related to my work as a legislator and as a committee chair.

      I take those seriously and am often very informed by them.

      The policy I announce today pertains only to publication of comments on this website.

      Of course, I will continue to receive and evaluate advocacy communications through my senate office.

      One thing to keep in mind is that the job of committees is to sift information and to build consensus among legislators. Committee chairs appear to have power, but generally they have to exercise it in a way that is broadly consistent with the wishes of other legislators. The best way to influence a committee chair is generally through other legislators. It does not do any good to persuade a committee chair of a view that is not supported by the majority of other legislators.

  20. I think you are absolutely entitled to run your website however you choose, and however will enable you to serve your constituents the most effectively.

    Thanks for the outstanding job you do.

  21. You’ve always been an excellent listener both in person and on your website. Your new policy sound like a good way to pace yourself.

  22. I agree with these changes and see them as a service to your constituents so that we can better understand the views of our peers in our district without non-district distraction.

  23. I agree. You don’t represent the world, or the groups with the loudest voices. You represent your constituents, and those are the voices most important in your position. People also use “groups” to try to strengthen their position. I don’t think you want to get into the business of validating groups, their membership, leadership, agenda, reputation, publications, etc.

  24. Thank you for this thoughtful post and well-considered policy. I fully support your decision and only wish more people would do the same. Allowing trolls to post on your site not only wastes your time in responding, but everyone else’s in reading.

  25. I can find no fault on this change. In fact I was not aware distant. non residents of your district would try to comment or say anything. I guess we have a host of people with more time on their hands that is healthy, trolling politicians, officials, to make working democracy difficult to work.

  26. I was your constituent until redistricting affected my West Cambridge neighborhood. I remain an interested fan.

  27. Will, this is a near-universal problem for those who maintain public forum sites. Whether limiting comments to a certain population is appropriate or not would seem to depend on the purpose of the site.

    In your (our!) case, you are our representative in the Massachusetts Senate, and this web site (as I understand it) is your vehicle for speaking to us, giving us a voice, and allowing you, and us, to listen thoughtfully to each other.

    This being so, limiting contributions to this web site to your constituents is entirely appropriate, and given my experience with how easily and quickly a public forum like this can become corrupted beyond repair by deliberately offensive comments, I can readily believe that such a restriction may be necessary.

  28. 100% behind your decision. Please continue to keep up your good work; even if I disagree with you occasionally I very much appreciate the sincerity and dedication of all your efforts.

  29. You have adopted an excellent website policy, with comments limited to constituents. Constructive suggestions broaden our understanding of multi-component issues.

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