Friday, September 7, 2007

The Office of Deleting Posts
and User Names

I've been an occasional reader of nj.com's Trenton forum over the last year, and in the last few days, I've noticed that posts and user names are getting deleted very quickly.

The forum is a lively, opinionated community; for the most part, most members are very critical of those holding the power in this city. I don't agree with everything I read, and yes, it appears that several users are malcontents, but many more are concerned citizens and employees of the city, so I'm sympathetic, overall, to what I'm reading. They are in positions to help improve the quality of life here, but they're marginalized because they have opinions that differ from those of the current administration, and frustratingly, their posts and handles are erased very shortly after something even slightly controversial is posted.

Maybe you're familiar with craigslist.org, another colorful online community, where the users are given a lot of self-rule. There, if a post is considered inappropriate, another user can flag it. If enough users flag the post, the post is deleted. If the same user continues to post inflammatory material, craigslist will remove that user. The bigwigs at craigslist don't take an active policing role; they act only when something gets flagged a lot.

So, knowing that, I figure, maybe the same sort of thing happens on the nj.com forum, but I'm starting to get suspicious, because posts are getting deleted so very quickly these days. nj.com is either working very closely with Trenton's administration, or Trenton's administration has set up an Office of Deleting Posts and User Names on the nj.com Forum. Either way, it's wrong.

Trenton's administration MUST have better ways to spend taxpayer money than to spend any time flagging posts. I realize, too, that nj.com is in no way required to provide this service to the community, but since it does, it should respect the right to free speech; it should side with the people. Just my opinion. If it turns out that there is a city official spending his/her livelong day clicking the "inappropriate post" button over and over again, I encourage nj.com to please take a look into that and change your bulletin board preferences. No one is using vulgar language or posting sexual content; the only thing getting posted to the forum is commentary about life and/or work in this city, and people have the right to comment.

If nj.com cannot provide a community that encourages dialogue, and even criticism, maybe the members of that online community should gather elsewhere. At least two of the regular posters to the group have websites; one user even has a functioning bulletin board service as part of his website. Another -- it appears -- runs www.captsleepy.com; I know many web services will provide bulletin board add-ons, too. So maybe the folks at captainsleepy.com can look into that. There are also discussion forums on craigslist; that might be worth looking into, as well. The nj.com Trenton forum community, if it wants, can also start its own meetup.com group. There are many ways to keep the conversations going.

The people in the city government who are busy deleting posts should know that censoring people has never been a good way to quiet them; and is a surefire way of creating your legacy -- one of of mistrust and abuse of power -- very quickly.

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