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.

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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!

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