I have deliberated for some time now as to whether I should even broach the subject, but what the hell, why not? I spend over a decade trying to provide an outlet for local opinion that ultimately failed.
We used to have a vibrant and active forum here that suddenly stoped dead in its tracks last September.
Well, it was my own fault. I asked for the unthinkable.
And what was the unthinkable? I decided prior to the 2017 municipal election that this forum would only allow posts concerning any aspect of the upcoming election by members using their real name. No nicknames allowed as they are anonymous and should not be if you are commenting about local politicians or issues. It seemed to me to be one way of eliminating the vitriol that became part of too many elections in the past.
But it backfired. I pissed off people and they sent me a clear message.
What was that message? — If we have to use our real names and identify ourselves, we won't do it here. Instead we will move to Facebook.
All well and good of course, as this is a free country and you are free to post anywhere you wish.
But wait a minute.
They moved to Facebook all right, but they used their real names, the very thing I asked them to do here. Go figure. Some will call this column sour grapes, but it is a fact and still a mystery to me after a decade of alerting folks to the shenanigans of various councils with the hope of change.
Over on Facebook they are free to ramble on for paragraph after paragraph, sometimes entire essay length posts. Not that it was not allowed here, it was, but never in the volume now there and it has become tiresome.
Now one has to search all of Facebook to gather and assess the opinions of fellow residents, instead of it all from a central page like the forum.
The St. Albert Community Page, The Grandin Page, Other neighbourhood pages, the T8N Community Dispatch page, the St. Albert Coalition page, the Library Petition page, the Polywings page, St. Albert Voice, St. Albert Chat, the Community of St. Albert page (strictly moderated) and on it goes.
For people who do not participate in posting on FB, few even know about the many pages that now exist. For people who do not use, or even want to use Facebook for that matter, your opinions posted on Facebook are lost to them.
There used to be far more people who read the opinions here than ever registered as members. Why? Because it was all in one place and divided neatly into areas of interest. That was do to the constant urging of one Dean Doucette, now deceased, who wanted a central forum for all matters St. Albert without the distractions of Facebook.
I know from data gathered that far more folks read this forum than who were ever members. The opinions of the 170 or so who did post were reaching far more people every day including 1,000 or so each day who skulked in the shadows to see who had posted what. They did so because they did not have to join to read the forum, nor did they have to endure all the hoop-la and barrage of advertising they have to endure on Facebook. They could simply drop by, read what was going on and glean the information and opinions presented to form their own opinions. In fact, they themselves unwittingly became anonymous in their own way by reading as casual visitors.
Much of the forum opinion was discredited by so-called 'people who matter', as not to be taken seriously because it was the opinions of *gasp*, anonymous posters. Somehow anonymity made your opinions worthless or invalid by those in power. But they read them. And closely. And they worried about them. And they took them personally. Politicians and their supporters all the while claiming those opinions didn't matter. Odd that, don't you think?
I have to wonder if it was not the intent of 'those who matter' all along to entice former forum members to Facebook? Did they believe it would dissipate and dilute the force of the forum and be to their advantage? Maybe so.
I moderated the forum with a light hand, mostly to protect folks who posted libel, from themselves. Now Facebook contains outright libel and misinformation, some of it from the same former posters here. No one there cares what they post and the usual suspects who think they matter will pounce all over anyone whose opinions they do not agree with, free of any moderation.
Has the move improved matters? Not much other than it has spread the information posted across the platform so that unless people join certain pages, and all of them at that, they never see it. But it did one thing. It ID'd whose opinion it is.
And what about Facebook itself as a platform?
My concern with social media in general is changing and so is the opinion of many people who have abandoned social media.
After over a decade, things went up in smoke and the forum is pretty much deserted. The question now is, does it die or is there still a place for it to once again become an outlet for opinion?
Here are some things you may want to read and watch:
How Facebook invites you to live in a bubble where you're always right.https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2018/01/14/facebook-invites-you-to-live-in-a-bubble-where-youre-always-right.html
Former Facebook Exec Says Social Media Is Ripping Apart Society.https://www.theverge.com/2017/12/11/16761016/former-facebook-exec-ripping-apart-society
Video: Everybody Needs To Hear This
At any rate it is done. Former forum members now have their own forum. Make that plural. Forums. The mishmash that is Facebook now has over a dozen different places one has to search for, to read the viewpoints of the folks who post items about the issues and politicians of St. Albert.
Take the St. Albert Coalition page as a prime example. It has in no way, been fostering the aims and goals of the Coalition. That is if the Coalition even has any now. You cannot tell that from the Facebook presentations purported to be Coalition fodder. From what they allow being posted under their name is suspect at best and worthless to them at worst. Instead it is mostly the ramblings of one person and 90 percent of what is posted there has nothing to do with the Coalition, the city, or even things that have any effect on the community.
I suspect Coalition members or the executive never formally approve the vast majority of what is posted there. It has turned into a mini version of Facebook itself. And that is a shame as once again a locally founded group with good intentions, like the St. Albert Taxpayers group of old, has sharpened its own blade and neutered itself.
And that is not good for the community or the Coalition.
What's your opinion? Should the forum persevere, or cut its losses and run?