Iran’s “Blogfather,” Hossein Derakhshan, in a recent interview on the NiemanStoryboard…
“The decline of the web in favor of social media entails grim consequences. Hyperlinks were the founding principle of the web; it secured a diversity, nonlinearity, decentralization and interactivity, which made the web so powerful. But social media’s very philosophy and monetization strategy, or the stream, cannot be friendly to hyperlinks, since they do not want their users to leave their space. This new environment, in addition to the currently dominant algorithms, which favors popularity and now-ness rather than diversity and quality, is worse than television in its potential damage to representative democratic societies, where majority is supposed to take informed decisions without jeopardizing minorities. The rise of identity politics and intolerance for diversity is directly linked to the current form of the internet. This is the deepest shock of this transition to me since my release. This shift from what I call books-internet to TV-internet.”
Unlike some other social media platforms, Front Porch Forum doesn’t aim to lure people in and hold their attention 24/7. FPF, for many Vermonters, is a 10-minute-a-day habit that leads to more face-to-face conversations with neighbors… and to friendlier, more informed, and more resilient local communities. Hyperlinks in FPF postings are an important part of that.
… social media represents the ultimate ascendance of television over other media.
I’ve been warning about this since November 2014, when I was freed from six years of incarceration in Tehran, a punishment I received for my online activism in Iran. Before I went to prison, I blogged frequently on what I now call the open Web: it was decentralized, text-centered, and abundant with hyperlinks to source material and rich background. It nurtured varying opinions. It was related to the world of books.
Then for six years I got disconnected; when I left prison and came back online, I was confronted by a brave new world. Facebook and Twitter had replaced blogging and had made the Internet like TV: centralized and image-centered, with content embedded in pictures, without links.
Like TV it now increasingly entertains us, and even more so than television it amplifies our existing beliefs and habits. It makes us feel more than think, and it comforts more than challenges. The result is a deeply fragmented society, driven by emotions, and radicalized by lack of contact and challenge from outside…
One reason why Front Porch Forum is text-based.
I know this election has shaken up a lot of people on both sides of the debate. One thing I see happening more than anything else is an inability for people to communicate and have empathy towards those with different views. It is sad, though luckily for us in Vermont it isn’t nearly as bad as some other places in this country.
I have set a goal for myself to sit down with someone with a differing perspective than my own, share a drink (whatever it may be) and to just listen a bit. I am not out to make a debate. Nor to talk at someone else. But I do want to know about what a Trump supporter sees as the biggest issues in their world, what about Trump inspires them, and what about him may be concerning. I also want that same person to hear someone who is different than them actually giving a shit about their opinion, in an effort to bridge the divide that the media says we all have.
This is an act of reconciliation and hope. I want to see us rise above our political differences. We are all in this together.
• Jake, Morrisville Front Porch Forum
“Vermont is awesome! We have this thing called Front Porch Forum – like a neighborhood Craigslist. I posted seeking to borrow a GPS unit with UK maps, and, low and behold, someone came through! Saved $150 on renting one with the car. Being able to trust a small subset of local strangers is great. Front Porch Forum has restored some of my faith in the good of humanity. Seriously.”
I couldn’t agree more with former Vermonter, Dan Gillmor’s recent piece…
Dan focuses on Facebook’s growing dominance as a news distributor…
How should we respond? From my perspective, two primary schools of thought have emerged. One is to embrace that dominance, albeit with some unease, and fully participate in Facebook’s ecosystem. Another is to persuade Facebook to take seriously its growing responsibility to help get quality journalism in front of as many people as possible.
Both of those approaches assume that Facebook is too big, too powerful to resist that we have no alternative but to capitulate to its dominance. But if that is true, the consequences will be disastrous. We will be living in the ecosystem of a company that has repeatedly demonstrated its untrustworthiness, an enterprise that would become the primary newsstand for journalism and would be free to pick the winners via special deals with media people and tweaks of its opaque algorithms. If this is the future, we are truly screwed.
I say: no. Let’s not give up so easily. Instead, let’s resist and find a way out of this trap… (click to read the full article)
And… to add to Dan’s call… let’s go beyond journalism. Let’s click local for retail, for discussion, for classifieds, for reviews, for sports, for entertainment, for networking and more. Many communities have local efforts underway, and they struggle to capture people’s attention as so many of us habitually scroll through our Facebook feeds, go to Amazon, Yelp, etc. Why not try local efforts? While the internet and mobile devices still hold the promise of decentralization of power, we now know that the digital juggernaut is also acting as a giant concentrator of wealth into a small number of pockets. Thousands of local taxi companies replaced by Uber and Lyft. Thousands of local bookstores replaced by Amazon.
To quote Dan one more time…
I say: no. Let’s not give up so easily. Instead, let’s resist and find a way out of this trap.
The Rutland Herald reported recently that…
A proposed social media policy that would cover both town employees and elected officials was met with pushback last week in Rockingham, with Select Board members saying they felt the proposed policy was a threat to their First Amendment rights…
Abby Friedman, director of the municipal assistance center for the [Vermont League of Cities and Towns], said Friday that many larger towns and cities in Vermont have social media policies, but she said she didn’t know whether they had adopted the one drafted by the league.
She said Barre City, Williston and Colchester were among the larger communities that had policies.
“The policy was written back in 2010. It was before Front Porch (Forum) existed. We need to look at our policy too to see if it needs any updating,” she said, noting that a lot of towns were concerned about the social media issue.
Chris Winters, deputy director of the Vermont Secretary of State’s office, said his office so far had not given towns and town officials any official guidance on the issue.
“Eventually, this summer, we were thinking of putting together some guidance,” he said. “And give the towns some help on online and social media behavior.”
In many Vermont communities, more than half of the households participate on their local FPF. So many more residents of these Towns read comments on FPF than would ever attend selectboard meetings. If we want healthy local democracy, we should update state and local policies to encourage participation… not the opposite.
One correction… FPF has been serving Vermont Towns since 2006, and we’ve had public officials participating during each of the past ten years.
And thanks to Vermont’s own Angela Evancie for nailing the facts while conveying the neighbor-helping-neighbor spirit of FPF.
It’s Town Meeting season. We get plenty of questions about how to use Front Porch Forum to address local issues this time of year, so we thought we’d share the following.
Postings about local Town Meeting topics, elections and ballot measures are welcome on each FPF. We ask that people who submit postings keep their tone civil one person’s witty remark is another’s cutting insult. Also, please focus on the topic rather than on specific neighbors. If you think someone is abusing this opportunity for open community dialogue, feel free to contact us with details.
Every single town in Vermont now has Front Porch Forum, and many of them become more lively this time of year as neighbors ask questions and share facts and opinions leading up to Town Meeting Day. We’re grateful to be able to make this contribution to Vermont’s centuries-long tradition of local and democratic decision making. We’ve heard repeatedly that people feel more informed and better able to participate and vote on Town Meeting Day thanks to their neighbors’ postings on their local FPFs. Please feel welcome to join in.
Of course the best way to participate is by showing up at Town Meeting and/or the ballot box!
P.S. From Susan in Montpelier today… “Thanks for being a digital Town Meeting prep station (ugh)… but you know what I mean, right?”
Reported in the Manchester Journal yesterday…
In other business, [the chairman of the Sunderland Selectboard] said there has been discussion lately on Front Porch Forum, the social media site… about town government and… how to get more people involved in local government. He said Sunderland has been having trouble filling open positions, some of which include compensation…
“These positions are open routinely. The lister hasn’t been filled for years,” he said. “We just can’t get people to come in. The lister is a paid position. The auditor is a paid position; it’s 20 bucks an hour … it actually pays something. No one wants to do it.” Hyde said if these positions stay open, contractors would have to be hired…
The board decided to post meeting agendas to Front Porch Forum, to help disseminate the information.
Wise decision by town leadership! A new survey recently found that FPF subscribers are twice as likely to be “very informed” about local government services than those not using FPF. And the number of people who attend municipal meetings at least once a month increases 38% when joining FPF.