Ghost of Midnight

… about neighbors, community and Front Porch Forum

Neighbors use Front Porch Forum to ignite drug dealing discussion

Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2008 by No comments yet

We love to see neighbors “hitting singles” daily on Front Porch Forum… finding babysitters, selling bikes, connecting about car break-ins and so much more. And the weekly “doubles and triples” smacked out of the infield are a joy too… e.g., several folks using FPF to organize a couple weeks of meals in support of an ailing neighbor, a citywide debate about the future of the Moran Plant, etc.

And then we have the “home run” shots like in Burlington’s Old North End recently. A weeks-long back-and-forth centered around drug dealing attracted lots of postings and some strong emotion. The results… loads of neighbor-to-neighbor discussion, involvement of the police and city councilors, media coverage, and now a public meeting is being organized to dig into the challenging issues tied up in this topic. We’re thrilled that Front Porch Forum acted as a catalyst for these concrete steps… especially the face-to-face efforts like the public meeting. At some point, it’s usually best to move these more intense discussions offline into real time and real space… I’m grateful to those organizing this meeting.

As part of all this, Seven Days published a piece this week about my decision to suspend the drug dealing discussion for a couple of weeks on the ONE Central Neighborhood Forum. The tone of the discussion was heading toward “flaming,” that is, it was devolving down to where so many online discussions go to die… personal attacks, strident statements, etc. My step brought criticism from a few FPF subscribers, which we take to heart. And it also brought lots of praise for keeping the peace. Experience predicts it was a necessary move.

Front Porch Forum is a fine place for neighbors to take on challenging subjects (and has been used that way dozens of times). And in these situations we won’t allow it to become an online shouting match among a tiny minority… there are plenty of other venues on the internet for that kind of thing… and there’s only one Front Porch Forum!

Time to watch the neighbors score some more runs on behalf of community in their neighborhoods.

UPDATE: Seven Days just published my letter to the editor

I was glad to see Seven Days’ coverage of a Front Porch Forum discussion about neighborhood drug dealing. However, the title of your article [“Moderator Shuts Down Online Debate on ONE Drug Use,” July 16] mischaracterized the situation. We were not squelching community dialogue about this important issue — just the opposite.

Front Porch Forum exists to encourage and facilitate this kind of communication. I took the highly unusual step of suspending a single topic on one of our 130 neighborhood forums for two weeks in an attempt to let tempers cool and to reclaim a civil and inclusive tone. Allowing a neighborhood forum to devolve into an online shouting match among a tiny minority of subscribers drives people away and serves no one’s long-term interest.

In fact, we’re encouraged by the results in this case. Where previously there was little talk about drug dealing, now there’s loads of it, among hundreds of neighbors, city councilors, police and others. Media is reporting on this important issue. Public meetings are in the works. Front Porch Forum was a starting point and a catalyst for this positive activity.

So I respectfully offer an alternative headline: “Neighbors Use Front Porch Forum to Ignite Drug Dealing Discussion.”

Michael Wood-Lewis
Wood-Lewis is the co-founder of

UPDATE 2: I continue to get lovely feedback from FPF subscribers on this issue, such as this one…

I wanted to express my support for you surrounding the recent heated discussion on our FPF.

I am a member of several listservs, and have been for about a decade. Your moderation appears to me to be very appropriate and even generous. The vigilante attitude about “dismissing” you as a moderator resulting from the alleged violations of the 1st Amendment was absurd and lacked maturity. Living in Burlington sometimes skews the lens of reality for people, and I think the most outspoken opponents to what was clearly stated to be a 2 week moratorium, not “censorship”, had no idea what they were talking about.

Please continue your fabulous work and your level of moderation. The FPF is such an incredible asset to residents and I have no idea how I lived without it before moving back here.

UPDATE 3: See this follow-up posting

Posted in: Burlington, Community Building, Community Management, Front Porch Forum, Local Online, MacArthur Fellows, Media, Neighborhood, Online Civility, social capital, Social Networking, Stories

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