WALLINGFORD — The moderators of Wallingford CT Community Forum, a Facebook group for town residents, have shut off any new posts on the page amid concerns over “attacks.”
Administrator Wayne Harriman archived the group Tuesday, a move that allows the private group’s 16,633 members to view past posts, but prevents them from having any new interactions, including likes, comments or new posts.
In a post announcing the decision, Harriman said a series of incidents led to “several personal and professional attacks” on the group’s moderators.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the attacks happened online or in person, and Harriman declined to comment further. Wallingford Police officials said no complaints were made Tuesday resulting from activity on the forum.
The group began in October 2012 as a response to Hurricane Sandy, according to the group description.
“This is no longer the same group we created six years ago,” Harriman’s post said, “with the vision of creating a place to foster community and goodwill. Over time it has become more of a place to belittle others for their beliefs, complain about things beyond your control and attack the admins for perceived injustices, and we’re tired of it.”
Adam Chiara, University of Hartford assistant professor of communication, said group administrator burnout happens when they must make difficult decisions about what’s allowed every day.
“They’re not trained professionals,” Chiara said. “They don’t study the intricacies of free speech, and it’s a hard judgment for a lot of them to make.”
Group administrators can set boundaries, but the conversations can go in any direction.
“You’re often the bad guy,” he said. “They have to make decisions to block, publicly reprimand… The smallest things can be misread or misinterpreted and turn into a larger issue.”
Rich Hanley, Quinnipiac University associate journalism professor, said the forum’s closure is a major cultural and political loss.
Public discourse, he said, is “a huge chunk of civic society” but online discourse often devolves into “a cycle of rage people get caught up in.”
The rage, foul language and lack of empathy is nothing new, though, and was clear in the early days of the internet.
“This was spotted back in the early days of (internet) bulletin boards,” Hanley said. “The whole idea of free and open discussion, the great democracy of forums, but the rules of decorum and respect disappeared and became foul.”
A new group, called The New Wallingford CT Community Forum, sprang up Tuesday afternoon and soon gained more than 300 members.
Another Wallingford residents group, Wallingford News and Information, is a closed group and had 9,348 members as of Tuesday. The group Wallingford Uncensored Community Forum has 3,111 members as of Tuesday.
Hanley said his advice for the new forum’s moderators is to police the content.
“Set rules and enforce them,” he said, including banning people. “Give a wide berth to express ideas, but not disrespect.”
Empathy and respect matter, he said.
“Just because it’s anonymous, you’re dealing with humans,” he said.