Sunday, April 10, 2005

Anonymous Message Boards

This week the politcspa website shut down it’s message boards because someone posted a threat on the board. This is serious. I hope it was an empty threat but I can understand real concern on the part of the person threatened.

But I also hope the message boards re-open and there remains a mechanism for posting anonymously or under a registered pseudonym. Anonymous message boards are always going to attract crackpots and closet thugs. They also serve a real purpose. I followed the message boards, reading three of them regularly and popping in to a few others much less frequently. Much of what I read I dismissed as mean-spirited character assassination. However there were a few times when something I read later turned out to be true, regardless of how improbably it seemed at the time.

I posted a few things now and then, too. Some of my postings were in defense of an official I thought well of, some were queries on specific subjects, others a general response to another posting.

This was all very entertaining and lots of fun, but that’s not the primary reason I hope the message boards are saved. The message boards give people a chance to try to influence things. For example, a few years ago I wanted a chance to meet a candidate; someone who could potentially be representing me. All of the events I could find listed or was informed of for this person were fundraisers, with a fee to attend. So I posted a number of messages asking how people could meet this person without committing to supporting the candidate. Someone else would reply and either agree with me or demure, and I would reply to them and off we would go. After about 10 days I received a campaign email (I was on the campaign email list) announcing some free events and they started regularly appearing on the campaign website. Maybe the campaign would have had them anyway. Maybe they wouldn’t. There’s no telling now, but I would like to think I had some impact.

Why didn’t I just email the campaign and ask? I didn’t think they’d care. My experience to date with elected officials and candidates for office bears out my pessimism. Someone I was acquainted with wanted to be appointed to an opening on the school board. I said I would contact all the current members and voice my support. I was a little nervous about this and decided the call the one I had heard spoken of as the most accessible. She asked my name. I told her. She said “And who’s that?” How does one answer that question? Nobody in particular. Nobody important. Nobody with any influence. In short, nobody. No longer wishing to speak to her, I told her I would send her a note instead, and, indeed, wrote each and every member of the school board. Not a single one bothered to respond and someone else was appointed. Last year I wrote to Senators Specter and Santorum in support of pending legislation. One never responded; the other sent me a letter thanking me for my letter on judicial nominees, which was not what I had written about. So, it’s pretty clear they don’t have any real interest in my opinion, either. I’ve spoken before the school board and local government officials and brought money into the coffers of both, and I still have trouble getting phone calls returned. How to present an idea or make a difference? Writing a letter to the editor is an idea. It gets problematic though. The city paper doesn’t cover races in the smaller areas, or even the smaller races in their own area. The local town paper is weekly and is careful what they print. They can’t afford to upset the powers that be. When a controversial topic is being discussed a calmer letter isn’t going to get published when there are more heated ones available. Some papers won’t run political letters within a certain time before an election. All papers have limited space for letters and are unlikely to print more than one letter on any one issue by any one person or multiple letters on any topic by any one person.

So, in person, I’m met with the response “And who’s that?” I’m not a political juggernaut, not a kingmaker or a powerbroker or even a big contributor. I’m not a committeeperson, an officer in the Kiwanis, or a member of the Chamber of Commerce. I’m just an elementary school room mother, just a small time community activist that most people have never heard of, just one little vote, pissed away as easily as this morning’s coffee. On an anonymous message board, though, it gets a little murkier. The same people who would dismiss me in person without any thought will pause before replying to me electronically. I might be someone, or a group of someones, who should not be so quickly ignored. In the daylight I’m invisible, but in the dark all cats are gray.


Anonymous said...

Johns Creek, GA.
You can thank (blame) the overbuilding on the money hungry developers in this area for the lack of water, lack of good air and the atrocious traffic. More houses and businesses mean less water supply, more draw on the electric grid from use of AC and higher temperatures due to huge parking lots reflecting heat and less trees. Stop this now. Call for a moratorium on new useless building. The builders will be long gone once this area turns to crap. We don't need another nail salon or dry cleaners. It cannot sustain itself at this pace. I hope someone who cares can take action, but this area is full of nomads, people who are corporate transfers who don't have a sense of community, and will move out to the next office in 3 years. They only care at the type of car they drive and what their zip code is.

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