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Anonymous Comments and Fake News

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Sunnyside Gardens

Last week we published a poll that asked readers whether comments (including anonymous) should continue to be allowed on HopNews. More than 420 responded, overwhelmingly voting in favor of keeping comments enabled.

Results as of May 27, 2023

Several readers offered helpful suggestions, some of which have been implemented. For example, we now include a reminder to keep comments courteous. We have also strengthened the way we moderate comments. Direct and personal attacks, vulgarity and off-topic comments are no longer published. This is a fine line for us to walk, because while we don’t wish to infringe upon freedom of expression, we feel a responsibility to keep the discourse civil. It is even trickier with elected officials and public figures, where criticism of them could be construed as a direct attack. In these case we are inclined to publish the comment. Elected officials knowingly sacrifice some amount of privacy when taking office.

On May 27, reader Amy Groves rebuked us for this practice.

In her comment, Ms. Groves wrote “How do we know that all the personal attacks aren’t coming from the same one or two authors who want to create a false narrative? Fake news can be very destructive to a small town.

Her feedback inspired us to take a deeper look at those that are commenting anonymously. As readers know, anyone can use any name and email address they wish when leaving a comment.

Our analysis reveals that what Ms. Groves intuited is correct. There is one reader that has contributed an extraordinary number of comments to HopNews since early May, always using a different name. In fact, in one article this person represented nearly 30% of all comments, and in some cases they replied to themselves to reinforce their original statement, essentially acting as their own echo chamber. 

In some comments they represented themselves as a man, in others a woman. In one they add the title “LSW” (Licensed Social Worker) after their name; an apparent attempt to give their statement more credibility.

Because they use different names, readers may be left with the impression that a consensus has formed that echoes their opinion. 

Here is a partial set of their comments. Continue scrolling to read all.  

Date: 5/11/2023
Display Name: Noel Centino
Article: Ashley Fogg: There is No Place for Bullying in Hopkinton
Ashley out Fogg, you offered private meetings not open transparency to questions asked. People wanted your voice heard, in open forum transparently not behind closed doors. You skirted direct questions being asked by concerned citizens, public officials need to be an open book and accountable to questions asked which is in no way bullying but very concerned parents. Vote for Munroe & Stephenson, they are experienced, invested in education & been attending school committee meetings in person (if you only watch on HCAM at your leisure this year, which is what Fogg said at the women’s club event, not a very vested approach) nor did she attend town meeting that both Munroe & Stephenson did, both asked questions especially with the vital budget needs for the schools being addressed. Hopkinton needs to come together and vote for Adam Munroe and Susan Stephenson.
Date: 5/12/2023
Display Name: Kim M.
Article: Ashley Fogg: There is No Place for Bullying in Hopkinton
In reply to MadHop. MadHop, you are right that Facebook pages like UnCommon & Real Housewives can be caddy, yet they both offer a place to find support and information too. You take the good with the bad, it’s the facts of life. These pages are everywhere, checkout the Wicked Women of Westboro. Whether or not a teacher who is also the president of the Hopkinton Teacher’s Association lives in town, this state or Neptune doesn’t matter because she plays an integral role in teaching students and as the person chosen by the Hopkinton teachers to speak for their concerns. Whoever is elected to the school committee better have thick enough skin to undergo public questions & complaints. Fogg spent time voicing her complaints at school committee meetings against masking, she was treated respectfully and given the time to express her concerns. She is unwilling to answer direct questions, wants to do it behind closed doors and this cannot be tolerated, candidates throw their hat in to these volunteer positions are also accountable to public input. Call it crying about lack of transparency or call it a candidate who is hiding a personal agenda like wanting to ban books and is anti-pride flags that support our LBGTQ+ residents which includes marginalized student populations who need our support.
Date: 5/12/2023
Display Name: DCD
Article: Ashley Fogg: There is No Place for Bullying in Hopkinton
For someone who was raised here, Ashley may have forgotten Hopkinton’s school colors were GREEN & WHITE! Townies know this, the orange was added maybe a decade or so ago as a result of athletic clothing that arrived with orange added by mistake. Overtime it was incorporated into the school colors that are currently green, white & orange. Blaming political parties is also BS, at one point the town was primarily governed by republicans and a scattering of unenrolled and Democrats, remember Ron Clark, Eric Sonnet, Claire Wright and now it seems to be more Democrats with a scattering of unenrolled & Republicans. A look at the town website, I see Ken Weismantal chairs CPC an R, Eric Sonnet a very vocal R is on several town committees, Board of Health has unenrolled Dr. Jacobs, Planning Board Chair Gary Tendall is a U, Select Board currently seems to be all Democrats but that has not always been the case even from recent years, Tedstone was very vocal about being unenrolled, Coutinho & Herr were both R’s. One thing they all have in common is they are volunteers, and they care about the town. Sitting behind your keyboard what have you done? blaming political affiliations is just being divisive and not having Hopkinton Come Together. Get out and vote on the 15th for the candidates you want and questions that impact our town budget. What I want is not to be taxed out, if you don’t remember Brown’s, know what a Stonethrower is or where Lumbertown is you are not a townie, I have lived in for 68 years and I always vote. I don’t vote by party I vote for the candidates that seem to understand what the town needs and they could live here ten minutes or a lifetime if they bring that understanding to the table.
Date: 5/12/2023
Display Name: Michelle O.
Article: Ashley Fogg: There is No Place for Bullying in Hopkinton
In reply to Hop Dad. Wow, I guess the HRTC who used to control the town can no longer elect any local leaders. When only 9% of the state is registered Republican and over 75% are unenrolled. The big bad blue democratic machine of engaged citizens are supporting local candidates but elections are won local and across the state and beyond by unenrolled voters. These local elections are not won because of the letter next to the candidate’s name tgey are won by showing up, being involved & organized. Fogg is blaming people she doesn’t know for her inability to be answer questions in a public forum on local access tv and her own campaign Facebook page where she deleted posts, blocked individuals and claims unsubstantiated bullying by not being honest tgen threatens to sue by private message. I choose to vote for leaders who are receptive to constituents, Fogg is not.
I will vote aka a carpetbagger over disingenuous any day, regardless of party.
Date: 5/12/2023
Display Name: WWJD
Article: Ashley Fogg: There is No Place for Bullying in Hopkinton
Ashley comes off a whiner. She isnt being bullied she is being asked accountable questions regarding her issues with curriculum, perceived issues with acceptance of all and is known to have had confronational problems with several classes her children have been in. She can’t handle parents concerns pre-election reflects how she will be intolerant if, I shudder to think elected to the School Committee. My Christian family who are fiscally conservative Republicans but socially accepting of individuals rights will be voting for Munroe and Stephenson.
Date: 5/12/2023
Display Name: Scott K.
Article: Ashley Fogg: There is No Place for Bullying in Hopkinton
In reply to Hop Dad. All candidates fundraise regardless of party. There finance reports are public record and Fogg has raised more from her donors and has been publicly solicitating on her campaign Facebook page than the other two candidates. 3 x Munroe & nearly 2x Stephenson. Request the reports yourself instead of making false assumptions of HDTC bank rolling any candidates. These committees both R & D have bylaws that dictate giving. Stop spreading fake nears and call town hall and see for yourself.
I don’t want my elected officials to be evasive. FWIW, agree in regards to Munroe.
Date: 5/12/2023
Display Name: Karen J., LSW
Article: Ashley Fogg: There is No Place for Bullying in Hopkinton
Throughly involved? Very false narrative it is more self serving involved. To be the room mom in her kids classrooms to meddle, be intrusive to the classroom environment wanting it to confirm with a narrative you want for your children. What books did you have issue with? In a post you said several but refused to elaborate? Did you have any issue with a pride flag in a classroom? Why did you quit youth commission? Your attendance at the parent teacher board that you brag about being on yet you rarely attend a meeting? What two school committee members encouraged you to run, non admit to this? Fogg also tried to get off the ballot two weeks ago, emotionally perceives she is bullied because she doesn’t like parents questions then blocks them and threatens to sue them privately. Fogg is not fit to serve on the School Committee.
On Monday, please vote for Susan and Adam.
Date: 5/12/2023
Display Name: Noel Centino
Article: Ashley Fogg: There is No Place for Bullying in Hopkinton
In reply to Noel Centino. Kristin, Your point, she attended school committee meetings in person over past several years to make comments, is self serving for her own agenda. Not attending in person in 2023, is that because unmasking is a mute point now?Which continually unnamed school committee members urged her to run? I recall three were on the ballot last year and Ashley spoke out against at least two of them. You are obviously Ashley’s friend, that’s nice but condoning lack of transparency with direct questions from parents and school leadership is not a good characteristic for a school committee member or the continual behind the scenes threats to sue community members. The school budget is high enough, I don’t want any of it wasted on legal consultation over Ashley’s personal issues.
Date: 5/14/2023
Display Name: Hiller Dad
Article: Letter to the Editor: Kramer endorses Stephenson
Tomorrow I plan to vote for Susan Stephenson and Adam Munroe for school committee. Their CVs showcase vested careers in academia and leadership. They have professional maturity that is critically needed. There are fiscal challenges with population growth, excellent schools need proper managers. My votes are going to Stephenson and Munroe
Date: 5/14/2023
Display Name: Fresh Perspective
Article: Letter to the Editor: Kramer endorses Stephenson
I am supporting Susan Stephenson. She brings knowledge and a fresh perspective. It is valuable to have a person that hasn’t had issues with the schools or emotional baggage. Susan offers a clean slate on the School committee without a personal agenda.
Date: 5/16/2023
Display Name: Do Better
Article: Ashley Fogg: Be Leery, Friends
Dear Ashley, Last year you ran on anti-masking and belittling your opponent’s health. The voters said no.This year, no clue what you ran on since you don’t answer questions.The voters again said no. Shame on you Ashley. Do Better.
Date: 5/17/2023
Display Name: Do Better
Article: Ashley Fogg: Be Leery, Friends
In reply to Enoughwiththebullies. Did you watch Ashley’s public comments at school committee meetings in 2022?
My child has a rare disease, to diminish her kids inconvenience during a global epidemic was insulting to families with at risk children. Insulting to teachers who returned to in person learning who have families. The daily Covid alerts for our schools of cases among teachers and students was overwhelming. Actions speak louder than words. Her actions were evident against masking, masked as a concerned parent then took jabs at her opponent’s high-risk health needs. Do Better.
Date: 5/17/2023
Display Name: Mary M.
Article: Ashley Fogg: Be Leery, Friends
Philippians 2:14 ESV
Do all things without grumbling or disputing
This opinion article was written by a Bible study leader, hypocrisy.
Date: 5/17/2023
Display Name: Hop Parents
Article: Ashley Fogg: Be Leery, Friends
Congratulations to Adam Munroe and Susan Stephenson. Thank you for running for school committee and wish you both success.
My family voted for you both.
Date: 5/18/2023
Display Name: Truth detector
Article: Republicans: Hopkinton Can Do Better
In reply to Truth Bomb. You can’t handle the truth
There are two sides to every story, social media is a cesspool and the validity of selective screenshots, texts, deleting content and emojis do not reflect the full story of a situation.
Date: 5/19/2023
Display Name: Independent Voice
Article: Republicans: Hopkinton Can Do Better
From recent local elections, the HDTC has not swept all elections nor did they this year. HRTC seems to be re-energized, for a long time HRTC won far more elections than the HDTC and was more active in Hopkinton. This year the town elected unenrolled, democrats and a republican to local offices. Several years ago, Amman Haidri a Democrat lost to John Coutinho a Republican for Selectman. Shahidul Mannan a Democrat ran against Brendon Tedstone an Unenrolled a couple years ago, Shahidul Mannan lost that election and the voters in town reelected Brendon Tedstone as a Selectman. Shahidul Mannan did run for Selectman again last year and was elected on his second go around to be a Selectman. Each party or unparty, has wins and losses. All these people are volunteers who give their time for Hopkinton, appreciate them.
Date: 5/19/2023
Display Name: Those were the days
Article: Republicans: Hopkinton Can Do Better
The picture with the article about Officer Brennan and with the Selectmen, not a single Democrat in the picture. The good ol days of GOP rule and good ol boys club with a token woman. Those were the days.
Date: 5/20/2023
Display Name: An old Stone Thrower
Article: Republicans: Hopkinton Can Do Better
The HRTC current and past members have been very involved in lots of areas in town. Remember to thank them for; the Starbucks parking lot, the downtown corridor fiasco, pushing for the Legacy Development, wanting multiple crossings on Hayden Row for the Upper Charles Trail, the town paying out for misappropriation of water sewer funds, spoke out against the expansion of our beautiful library and against continued investments in the schools. An old past elephant remembers.
Date: 5/21/2023
Display Name: Respect the Blue
Article: Sergeant Tim Brennan Placed on Administrative Leave
In reply to Christina Anderson. The Deputy Chief was on paid leave for 8 months before being charged. He has pleaded not guilty, it’s in the hands of the court. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. The authorities are investigating, trust the process. These officers have families.
Date: 5/21/2023
Display Name: Innocent until proven otherwise
Article: In reply to Rachel Werrick. You are accusing the chief of police of making Sargent Brennan his scapegoat? That’s shameful.
Date: 5/22/2023
Display Name: An Old Stone Thrower
Article: Republicans: Hopkinton Can Do Better
In reply to Me. Wow, that’s horrible of the deplorable Repeblican boys club. Hopefully they are more accepting now like their mission statement, but past actions don’t reflect it. The past republican chairs lacked transparency and had many closed doors meetings with the town manager to push developers’ agendas and spoke out at town meeting for Legacy to continue development. These folks also served on Planning Board, ZAC, and as Selectmen. Legacy North couldn’t even have a school bus stop because the road was pushed through too early, tons of environmental issues, concerns about LNG and school costs are out of control from allowing Legacy. An old past elephant remembers.
Date: 5/22/2023
Display Name: Do Better
Article: Republicans: Hopkinton Can Do Better
In reply to Me. ME u are right. Fogg lost twice. Twice HopNews ran whining, opinion editorials from her that are just her OPINION. Fogg needs to realize she wasn’t the preferred candidate by 2/3’s of the voters. Advertisers you are paying for these click bait Blatts. HopNews do better.
Date: 5/24/2023
Display Name: Free speech everywhere
Article: Should Comments be Disabled on HopNews?
In reply to Ashley Fogg. I think you said you support comments and free speech, even ones with aliases on HopNews. Yet free speech wasn’t allowed on your campaign social media where community members without aliases asked questions that went unanswered, residents blocked and made deletions. Seems selective support of the First Admendment.
Date: 5/24/2023
Display Name: Fake News
Article: Should Comments be Disabled on HopNews?
In reply to Ashley Fogg. It is clear, you choose free speech for your mean-spirited Op-Eds on HopNews and not for your campaign. Why would you have deleted two weeks of activity on your campaign page if you support free speech? Even volunteers need to answer questions from the public. It is very fake to want free speech one place and not all places including concerned parents who publicly asked you direct questions in public platforms, to be answered there who did not want to engage in private one on ones. No one likes tough questions; it was clear avoided them and lashed out at those who ask them, which is of course your free speech. Clearly your view of free speech is just a fake news narrative.
Date: 5/25/2023
Display Name: Credibility matters
Article: Should Comments be Disabled on HopNews?
In reply to Ashley Fogg. Peter Thomas does offer a valuable service to the community. He has responded to pro and con benefits of his platform from real and anonymous commenters. He answered questions openly, Ashley you refused to.
Your “street cred” is weak because your lack credibility.
Date: 5/26/2023
Display Name: Past Town Employee
Article: Should Comments be Disabled on HopNews?
In reply to Former staff. Another former town employee. OMG so true, the micromanagement is intense.
Norman Khumalo & Maria Casey need to GO!
Date: 5/26/2023
Display Name: Brad
Article: Should Comments be Disabled on HopNews?
In reply to Ashley Fogg. To quote: “If you don’t want to read them, don’t read them.”.

What is alarming about this is that so many of the comments are centered around town politics, and in particular one candidate for School Committee. We are left wondering if these helped shape the outcome of the election.

In broad terms, misleading comments and fabrications that cast local politicians or candidates in a negative light can sow seeds of doubt and division, eroding the public’s trust in the democratic process. Consequently, voters may make decisions based on false information.

Additionally, the propagation of “fake news” impedes informed decision-making and stifles constructive dialogue. When Hopkinton residents are bombarded with conflicting reports and baseless claims, it becomes increasingly challenging to discern fact from fiction.

Having one person contribute to so much of the narrative is akin to the well-documented Internet bot issue, which are created and controlled by individuals or groups with ulterior motives, and have the ability to amplify and spread disinformation on an unprecedented scale.

Our poll was a clear mandate: Comments – including anonymous comments – will continue to be allowed on HopNews. But whether we like it or not, Hopkinton is confronted with the very real threat of fake news and bad actors. This will undoubtedly test the resilience of our democracy. The HopNews team will try to do its part to be diligent in moderation, and we urge our fellow citizens to stay informed, remain critical, and actively participate in the democratic process to ensure that the voice of Hopkintonian’s prevails over the forces of misinformation and manipulation.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. I voted no comments- our town doesn’t need more social media outlets opportunities for non civil discourse. I likely will now refrain from reading this site myself to avoid all of this

  2. Wow, very interesting. It was obvious there were people using aliases or choosing to be anonymous but I didn’t realize how far some participants went with it. Thank you for making us aware of the magnitude of the circumstance.

  3. Can you out the Fake News makers so we know who they are? I think Hopnews is right, the election process may have been effected by the fake comments that seemed to come from many, but were actually just one. That’s pretty pathetic!

  4. I would love Hopnews to actually publish the name of this fraud. Our society has fallen prey to fake narratives of those trying to skew actual facts supported by the few to be driven into accepted by the many. Do your homework people. We are an educated town. Don’t take “fake media” as the final word and turn your back on the truth.

  5. Nice analysis. I think comments can be helpful in offering alternative views but I agree that they can be used. Not sure how easy it is to do but if it’s possible without too much trouble to note when multiple entries are from the same person with different pseudonyms, that’d be great, and useful information. Something like “Noel Centino, Kim M, Do Better and WWJD, are the same person.”

  6. Creating multiple identities and so many posts is really disturbing behavior, like deep mental illness and approaching criminal disturbing. That person needs to seek help immediately. At what point does it go from “fake news” to election tampering?

  7. I’m astounded that one, ill person was able to act as many on your comment pages BUT thoroughly impressed that HopNews was able to decipher this. Out them. This is the story. Serious personality disorder!

  8. I am amazed that one person took that much time to do something so counterproductive. Someone needs a job or a new hobby. I do hope you block that IP address in the future.
    I do not believe the comments influenced the election one bit. If anything I think someone may have received more votes due to the article they submitted.

    • Beth, What would make you conclude that the comments had no impact on the results? I see it as Last year’s election was much closer because there was no bogus smear campaign.

      • I disagree. Could be that that candidate didn’t get out into the community and meet folks at the various events? Was there a mailing? What actually efforts were put forth? Being transparent on tough questions, instead of skating around the questions would have helped a LOT! That didn’t happen and yes that took its toll. Saying’I grew up here’ just doesn’t cut it. I ran a campaign last year along w Ashley and others. I am a registered Democrat but took no money from anyone. I did receive some much needed guidance, from the Hop Dems, in how to run my campaign that proved to be extremely effective. I was forwarded documents on how to get things done and did them.
        IMHO blaming others for yet a second loss, yet taking no blame yourself seems odd to me. The candidate lost 2 years in a row. The people have spoken.

        • Beth do you agree with everything the HDTC did during the election and stand by all their actions over the past 4 weeks?

          • Nikki, Tell me what exactly did the Dems do? I believe what I said to be true. IF there was no attempt to block books being read to the kids why would there be a complaint made against the school to the BOE? In my opinion it solidified it as true. Was there a mask issue discussed last year and certain candidates who complained about our SB? Yes there was. It was discussed during the ‘Meet the Candidate’ night last year – yes. I was there and I heard it. So tell me what exactly did the Dems do? Were stories discussed that did not help her- yes. Direct questions from a mom w/ a transgender son were never answered. “I love all the kids the same.” Doesn’t cut it.

  9. Question: are you sure the poll wasn’t rigged by the same person? I would suggest this person gets a life. What a sad miserable existence.

  10. A suggestion I made was to require registering with HopNews by name, have registered users vetted with a physical address that matches a public record, and then only registered users can comment. The user name shown in public could be anonymized, meaning the commenter can use an alias but it would always be the same alias. How many unique commenters are there – perhaps 200 – so it might take a little extra time getting it set up and it might discourage some from commenting but could help keep things more civil. Some online papers use a similar approach with success.

  11. Yes, please block the IP address of the person posting under multiple names. And, please make people sign their true names and no made-up ones. The person posting as Kim M and as a LCW is too close to my professional title I use: Kim Manning, LMHC. I’ve lived and practiced in town for over 20 years and I do not want to be associated at all with Kim M. I always use my full name.

  12. It seems to me that someone who is both hiding and faking his/her identity has forfeited the right to maintain anonymity in a forum such as HopNews. There’s nothing like transparency to serve as a disinfectant to the scourge of fake news and thoughtless invective.

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