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The challenges of moderating a community Facebook page

Social media has tremendous benefits, but it also presents some significant challenges.

Haddenham dotNet

The Haddenham dotNet Facebook page has existed since 2016 and now has a following of over 5,000 local residents. In some ways the platform has become "the local newspaper" as fewer people choose to purchase the Bucks Herald or other local newspapers and, instead, look to online sources of news and information.

The HdN Facebook page works at its best when it can notify local people of lost pets, found credit cards, wallets, and keys, or offer information about important road closures or service outages. It also offers reminders of local events and assists in communicating key messages from the parish council to a wider group of residents.

The platform has also been used to inform the local community of the passing of dear friends, and the platform's interactive nature allows the posting of condolences and tributes in direct response.

There is a more negative side, however.

Given its interactive nature, posts on social media can raise hackles in others or lead to potentially heated online conversations. In the past, such discussions might have been played out between a few folk in the local pub. These days, social media opens up such conversations to many thousands of people.

Most of us will know the term "keyboard warriors" — I.e., those who makes abusive or aggressive posts on the internet, while also concealing their true identity. It seems that a few individuals are quick to say things via the keyboard or smartphone that they would never think of saying to another person face-to-face.

But such is the nature of social media.

So how do we help to maintain a community Facebook page that maximises its usefulness while looking to minimise its potential challenges?

Firstly, the page has a set of posting guidelines, established to help shape the style and content of the community platform so that:

1. It is very locally focused — village news, events and issues, rather than national concerns

2. Discussions are offered in a way that maintains a degree of decorum and mutual respect for those who hold differing opinions — and no foul language.

The Haddenham dotNet Facebook page has three moderators, each acting in a voluntary capacity to help to ensure that posting guidelines are followed. This can take up a lot of personal time and can also be a thankless task, as some folk can become quite indignant when their posts are disallowed for ignoring the posting guidelines.

It is not unusual for moderators to receive personal messages that seek to criticise and complain of "censorship" when they are simply trying to apply the posting guidelines in a fair and consistent manner. These 'rules' are readily available to view by anyone using the platform, posted at the top of the page.

That said, moderators are always happy to revisit the 'rules' of the page when a strong and reasonable case is made to do so.

The other primary role of the moderators is to seek to maintain a membership of local residents only, defined as folk living in Haddenham Cuddington, Stone, Dinton, Aston Sandford and Kingsey. Some less than polite messages follow when moderators do not admit new members who live outside these geographical boundaries, but the desire is to keep things very locally focused. Thame and Aylesbury (for example) have plenty of their own social media platforms and their residents do not need to belong to the Haddenham page.

Haddenham Freebies

The Freebies page serves a very specific purpose: it is a place where local people can give away their unwanted items for free, so that the use of such items can be extended and landfill is reduced.

Again, the intention is to keep the exchange process very locally focused, so that residents of Haddenham (and neighbouring villages) can give items away to their close neighbours.

Experience tells us that folk living further away are more likely to be 'no-shows' when arrangements have been put in place for giveaways to be collected.

Unfortunately, we do know of examples in which new joiners tell 'porkies' in answering the joining questions, one of which is to declare one's home location.

When the Freebies page was established a couple of years ago, it was hoped that it would be largely self-operating and self-policed — requiring little input from the two moderators. However, this Facebook page is also not without its own challenges.

The primary ones are:

1. Getting donors to delete their post once the item has been collected

2. Maintaining a fair system in which the first individual to say "yes please" to an offered item is given priority when several others are also keen to receive the gift

3. Concerns over some folk maintaining a very close watch on the page and being the first to say "yes please" — only then to sell the item on a different platform.

The latter issue has seriously divided opinions.

Some argue that, if a few people are on modest incomes and are prepared to go to the trouble of re-listing and 'selling on' the items they have travelled to collect from a donor, then this still serves the ultimate purpose of reducing landfill.

Others argue that the giving-and-receiving exchange should be more locally focused, with the intention that receivers will utilise the donated item(s) themselves.

There is no easy solution to any of these challenges. The moderators have evidence that several of those individuals who are actively 'selling on' the items they collect as gifts do not live close by, and attempts are made to determine their precise home location by checking out personal Facebook profiles. But this can be a very time-consuming process and the moderators have lives to lead with many other demands on their personal time.

The moderators are always open to feedback on these challenges — we don't pretend to have all the answers and sometimes the role requires careful judgement calls.

What we won't accept, however, are public posts that criticise moderators when they are simply acting to maintain a civilised platform, based on the well-established posting guidelines.

Please feel free to comment on any of the above, preferably by email. Your editor will ensure that all moderators (four in total, across the two Facebook platforms) are copied on all related correspondence.

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