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.

181 replies on “New Participation Policy”

  1. Mr. Brownsberger,
    I concur with your policy change for dealing with the problem of trolling in your comment field. I feel that an elected official should be listening to his/her constituents and not deflected by “outsiders” opinions be they sincere or otherwise.

    I also feel that funds to run in political races should also, only come from the constituents … that is voters of one’s district. This excludes corporations and PACs.

    Most of the comments posted in your comment field, have been thoughtful and sincere. Too bad, the present atmosphere is destroying such trust and good will.

  2. I understand your policy, Will. Americans are more divided politically, racially, and religiously than at any time since the civil war. A lot of this is due to our president.

  3. Yes, do not waste your time. YOU are a very valuable asset. Restrict as you see fit. Thank you for your fine work on our behalf.

  4. It is possible the trolling comments are part of a larger campaign by foreign actors to sow discord and disinformation. I agree with your proposed changes, in so far as they attempt to limit that kind of interference.

    I have a few concerns:

    1) Please allow for public review of whatever method of identification you choose, as some methods may put obstacles in the way of legitimate participants, while not being sufficiently effective at defeating bad actors

    2) I am generally concerned about my privacy. I am happy to identify myself to you to qualify, but I prefer to use a screen name on my postings. Please don’t eliminate that option.

    3) Sometimes people outside your district may have relevant points of view that are worth hearing about regarding local issues. For example, a local issue may become interesting enough to be notable at a statewide or even national level, possibly for its pioneering nature, and become a model that other locales might copy. Experts in the topic outside the district might hear about it and have good reasons to suggest changes to, or support for the solution. It would be a shame to not have that input. But perhaps that would be better suited to another channel.

    Overall, I support your proposed changes.

    1. Some of the comments I’ve gotten do appear to be campaign driven — from out-of-state with a very divisive tone.

      As to methods, we’ll ask people in case of doubt and allow them to self-authenticate by means that work for them. We won’t use any single mechanism. The rule is clear, but the methodology has to be flexible.

      Yes. You can continue to use a screen name.

      And yes, there are many wise voices outside the district and I will continue to receive advocacy communications through my senate office. This policy pertains only to publication of comments here.

  5. I CERTAINLY understand your need to reduce and modify your site to serve those who you represent and appreciate your thoughtful approach to doing this.
    I support your effort and appreciate your willingness as an elected official to ask our opinions, listen deeply to the needs of the people and are transparent.

    Thank you. It is so refreshing to have an honest politician representing the people.

  6. I think your policy is absolutely right! Public service folks have enough to do without having to respond to messages from non-stakeholders and trolls. Keep up your great work.

  7. Thank you. I think you are spot on when it comes to establishing this policy and I, for one, am glad that you represent me.

  8. I think this change is unfortunate but necessary.

    I have at times attempted to send a comment to Mike Capuano who is not my rep but represents my state. I was not even allowed to send the comment! So I think that it’s important to hear from people in the state even though you are not representing them. That said, you don’t have to publish those comments.

    1. Yes. On emails, I’ll process them from anywhere. But if they are campaign emails (many of essentially the same) and are from outside the district, I cannot answer them. I used to, but the result is that once I’ve answered, they reply to my reply and all of a sudden I’m arguing with people on some organization’s email list from all over the country.

  9. I am a former long-time Watertown resident (44 years) and am now retired and living in Maine. I appreciate getting your news and hope to continue. I don’t contact you via your website or email unless you ask for feedback. I hope I continue to receive your mail as I love Watertown and being in touch with what is going on there, if only from a distance. Thank you for all you do!

  10. Will, your time is limited and this change is well reasoned. It is unfortunate that you have to protect the site from this kind of anonymous assault but it seems to be a sign of the times. I support the change and thank you as always for soliciting input.

  11. Yes! Anonymous inflammatory statements from outside special interest groups do nothing to advance a civil discussion of the issues.

  12. It makes sense to limit comments to constituents and former constituents. I kind of think that is who this forum is intended for anyway. As you said, anyone can reach you through your state senate office.

  13. I THINK IT IS TOTALLY APPROPRIATE. Folks are far too angry these days and in some cases crazy. You should not have to deal with those for whom you are not accountable.Perhaps some are part of the
    Russian conspiracy?

  14. I completely understand the necessity and value of this new policy. I’ll just add, though, that I don’t know if you are doing yourself a service or disservice by focusing on the narrow definition of ‘constituent.’ I’m someone who through a change of apartment to a different metro Boston neighborhood is now a former constituent. You’re no longer on my ballot, but the individual technically representing me is so unresponsive as to be useless. I prefer to support you as my “adopted” state senator any day!

  15. This change makes sense to me. Your job is to represent the people who live in your district. An alternative site should be there forum for a broader group discussion. Thank you for your respectful approach. It gives me hope.

  16. This is fair Will – It is also concerning that we have people from foreign nations attempting to influence elections in the US (although I am sure we deserve it as my understanding is we have inserted ourselves (like the CIA) into foreign governments. I also don’t like people taking cheap shots

  17. Hi, Will.

    Well, I started reading this sadly — agreeing with your policy, but feeling I’d miss occasionally commenting in a place where I feel my comments are noted and taken seriously — in other words, worth the trouble of making the comment!

    So I was glad to see that former constituents are still OK . . .

    That said, is there any way to remove objectionable comments, or tell those who make them that they will be banned if they don’t stop?

  18. Sounds good – how about further restricting it to registered voters in the District?

  19. Hi Will — I am in Arlington and not your constituent. I sometimes read your emails to better understand certain issues. I agree with your plan to limit your
    contact with non-constituents, and there’s not much you can do other than what you have stated. The only concern I have is being able to make a comment if you serve on a conference committee. As a member of a conference committee, it seems to me that you are representing more than your own district. In that case, I would try calling or emailing. Best wishes,
    Alice Trexler, Arlington

  20. Thank you for asking about this. IMHO you are well within your rights to limit dialog to constituents and, these days, with a total lack of constructive, civil dialog, there’s little point in letting yourself be spammed by outsiders. What is MUCH more important though is the clear statement that your true constituents are in your district, not the power brokers and big money who rule virtually all politics these days. As long as Citizens Unites stands NO politician has much credibility at all.

  21. Not an easy call, to be sure. It is certainly a more efficient use of your time and that of your team to deal only with constituent comments, but you lose other perspectives that might be relevant for your work. But you seem to get a pretty good range of perspectives from your constituents, so the other views might not add a whole lot. On balance, I think your change makes sense.

    1. Yes. It is a judgment call. But I really do have huge diversity of views right in my own district. And I get a lot of additional diversity from my colleagues.

      The problem is not getting enough input. The problem is managing it.

  22. Will, this makes sad sense. It’s a shame things have come to this now that there are so many more hidden persuaders pushing our buttons than there used to be.

    But I dispute this: “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.” I would not myself assume that a non-response (and I’ve had many, all over) signifies agreement. I really don’t think you need worry on that account.

    And should you ever aspire to higher office, you might consider adding “potential constituents” to your whitelist.

    I love what you’re doing to connect with constituents so frankly and openly. I know how much time it can take, so I hope you have help managing the flow.

  23. I have since moved out of your district but I remain on your mailing list as I appreciate your thoughtful take on issues and open dialogue with your constituents. I think this policy is reasonable and will beest allow you to focus on doing your job well. You are a model for other politicians. Keep it up.

  24. I agree with your change. You are conscientious and responsive, and I wouldn’t like to think you are wasting your time by feeling the need to respond to irrelevant comments that are designed to accomplish something other than your primary intention: to remain in good contact with your constituents and sensitive to our concerns.
    Michael Bennett
    Belmont

  25. Thanks, Will. May very well be the tenor of the times. Any indication that your site has been targeted by ‘bots’ or other semi-automated
    means?

    All best luck.

    Josh Alper

  26. Though I would lose my ability to comment, I think that limiting feedback to constituent s makes sense.

    1. You are in Arlington, right Steve? I always responded to all of Arlington even though I had only part — never paid attention to the exact boundary. Comments from Arlington will continue to be published.

  27. Your change in policy is entirely reasonable, as unfortunate as it may feel to have to implement it.

  28. Makes sense to me. There are plenty of forums for a wide range of writers all throughout social media. Keeping this local and relevant to the area will keep it focused.

  29. Glad to see that your policy includes former constituents. You were our former State Rep, and you continue to respond to our concerns.
    Thank you.

  30. Sounds fine. I’m not sure how you’ll verify former constituents, but that’s fine. I’m also someone who travels a lot across the US, but live and vote in Watertown. So I hope that where I’m commenting from doesn’t restrict me.

  31. Limiting comments on this venue to your constituents only seems to me to be a reasonable way to deal with the
    issue.

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