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. I would be sad if I didn’t have a way to make comments that you (or your staff) could read–you are not my senator directly (Cindy Freedman represents me) but I feel you to be an excellent senator whose approach to law and making decisions is similar to mine. I certainly understand the need for comment moderation, though, and the time it can take, so I support you in making whatever choice you feel you need to make. And if your office receives my comment (even if it’s not published) that satisfied the large majority of my interest in being heard by you.

    If you wanted to make a different choice, you could explore whether limiting comments to MA solved enough of the problem to be going on with. I also suspect that at some point you’ll need to deal with VPNs being used to spoof IP addresses. But it’s an arms race, and sometimes all you can do is stay ahead of it.

    Good luck.

    (68 Crosby Street, Arlington, MA, if it’s relevant.)

    1. Thanks for these thoughts. Since I used to represent Arlington, I’m considering you a former constituent. 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.

  2. i totally agree, Will.
    You are serving the many thousands of people in your district — not answerable to anonymous and unidentifiable folks beyond those boundaries. There comes a time when one needs to tune out distractions in order to focus. Now is that time for you.

  3. Will, smart decision to get the opinions direct from those that you represent. That said, I credit you for going down this path as most politicians would want more exposure for their own purpose.

    Nice job.

  4. I think this makes sense, and I’d even go a step further and say it’s reasonable for you to mark current vs former constituents (with a little badge or something next to their names). I am a former constituent and remain ever interested in your communications, but I also recognize that at the end of the day, you don’t represent me anymore. There have been times I’ve actually held off on comments because I felt like it wasn’t really my place to chime in, since I’m not your constituent anymore.

  5. I would be more concerned if you were getting inflammatory or abusive email from random places and we’re unable to do anything about it. Worry more about hackers, something we never had to think about in the past.

  6. Will,
    Good decision. Nicely explained.
    John
    p.s. Did you consider sending the non-constituent comments to a separate link to appear for your followers to read if they so choose?

  7. This seems completely reasonable. It would be nice to have more information on how you’ll verify constituents, but I can also understand if you want to keep that quiet to help prevent people from spoofing the system.

  8. Will, smart idea to get your comments from your constituents. That said, I give you a lot of credit to limit your exposure/access where most politicians would use this as a forum to spread their name.

    Credit to you for using this forum as it should be. A way to hear directly from the voters you represent.

    Best of luck and thanks,

    John

  9. Hi Will

    Seems very reasonable. Non-constituents can reach you by mail, phoning your office, or by other means.

    It is easy to imagine that responding could eat up all your time and more. Thanks for all you do.

    Best,
    Martha

  10. Well done. Your approach makes 100% sense to me. You may find that you’ll want to make adjustments in one direction or another as time goes on. But let a bit of time pass first before you make those adjustments.
    Suspect that of as each of us adjust to the mega technological changes we live in there will be more changes.

    Good luck.

  11. This is a fair response to the attempts to influence our district/State from outside our boundaries. In a sense you have experienced the same impact as we all have from “Dark Money”.

  12. Dear Senator:

    Yes, these days it’s hard to know from whom one is contacted on the internet, and we know that there has been a purposeful misuse of this medium, often to sow distrust and discord. I respect your feelings about limiting publication to actual people and those who are your constituents – especially someone such as yourself, who is so open to all perspectives. There is a distinction between being heard and being published, and not having a chance to air ones grievances on the open internet is not the same as being silenced. I think your anticipated policy change is wholly appropriate.

    Thanks for seeking input.

    – Dolly B

  13. Hi Will. I support this change. As a constituent, I want to know the opinions of other community members even if they differ from mine, but when outsiders weigh in out of pure political malice it clouds the dialogue in our own community and makes it hard to have a legitimate understanding of our needs and views. Thank you.

  14. I do not have an immediate problem with filtering comments to those you serve. However, it is not clear to me how this is enforceable unless registration is made far more onerous? IP address is not a reliable mechanism in general and made even more complicated unless you assume comments from your constituents can only be made from home computers on wifi.

  15. thanks, Will. I agree with your decision to limit comments to constiutents. I’m a big believer that “act locally” meant we focus our efforts on our immediate surroundings; hence, limit the amount of activity, including campaign contributions, coming from “out-of-district.” You are my only state senator and I appreciate your keeping that line of communication as open as possible to me an others you represent. Besides you could always open another web site for everyone other than your constituents. Thanks again, and thanks for asking.

  16. I whole heartedly agree with your policy. Thanks for removing the clutter but maintaining a view for all incoming comments.

  17. Sound decision. It is important to have open discourse but that assumes everyone is behaving responsibly and respectfully.

  18. Just write & publish with what makes you comfortable. I enjoy reading “ALL” your thoughts & ideas & will continue to do so. Strange world we are in & only seems to be getting worse by the day. Stay well & out of the heat

  19. Will: Eliminating non-constituent comments may be the only way to assure a reasonable level of civility. I have grown to regret the Internet acceptance of anonymous and bot-driven social-media reactions. There is some value in anonymous commentary, but I think verified real people would have much more civil interactions if they knew their words were being read and responded to by real people.
    I guess the embrace of anonymous irresponsible comment can’t be halted, however.

  20. Very reasonable approach; your main priority is the citizens of the district that you were elected to serve. It is good to engage others with different viewpoints, but it can distract from your main focus.

  21. Will,I believe this change makes sense, though a reflection of a difficult reality. But can those of us* who are kindred spirits, totally support you and your work and have learned to rely on your judgments (votes) for guidance, somehow continue to post comments?
    Thanks so much (always)
    Rozann

    * non-constituents

    1. Thank you, Rozann.

      I am going by a simple geography rule — it doesn’t matter whether people are kindred spirits (although I’m always grateful for your support). I don’t want to exclude people who disagree.

      But you glad to say that you are a former constituent so you can continue to comment under the participation policy.

  22. Will, I support your thoughtful, proposed change to eliminate malicious comments.

    Thanks very much for your continued dedication.

    Chris

  23. Ah, these are contentious times,,, I support your decision. We all need to limit over-exposure to stay focused. Thank you for all your hard work.

  24. I strongly support your decision in this matter.While I am a strong advocate of free speech,it does have its limitations. Those who abuse it as a means of feeding their own egos have no place here.
    Thank you for the existence and maintenance of this wonderful forum.

  25. This sounds like a reasonable approach in these uncivil times. However, limiting comments based on IP address may block constituents who are away from their homes (e.g on vacation) but still reading their email and responding to your messages. I’m sure this is only a few people at any one time. Perhaps you should allow comments from anyone on your current mailing list with verified home addresses in your district. Just a thought.

  26. thank you for your thoughtful and thorough reflection about this policy change. I agree and support your approach. And thank you for your dedication and service.

  27. I believe it is a reasonable policy to only publish comments from your constituents since as you say there are only so many hours in the day!

  28. I am a former constituent, now living about 10 blocks away but in a different town. I hope I can continue to receive the newsletters because I find them extremely valuable.

    1. No problem.

      To be clear, anyone can receive the newsletters. We are not limiting news distribution.

      As a former constituent, under this policy, we will also continue to publish your comments.

      Thanks for your engagement.

      All the best,

      /w.

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