On May 11, 2023, as the debate over School Committee candidates raged across the pages of HopNews, “Noel Centino” entered the conversation on an op-Ed published by candidate Ashley Fogg. Centino wrote:
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.
Twelve hours later a user named “Kim M.” commented:
MadHop, you are right that Facebook pages like UnCommon & Real Housewives can be caddy (sic), 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.
Several other comments followed from users “DCD”, “Michelle O.”, “WWJD”, “Scott K”, and “Karen J”, which were equally condemning of candidate Fogg and supportive of candidates Munroe and Stephens.
Though they appeared to be from different people, they were in fact the same person: Darlene Hayes. Ms. Hayes is the current Chair of the Hopkinton Democratic Town Committee and also serves on the Board of Commissioners for the Hopkinton Housing Authority, the Cultural Council and the Board of Directors for the Hopkinton Chamber of Commerce. She is a full voting member of the Community Preservation Committee and is one of four moderators of the Real Housewives of Hopkinton Facebook group, whose membership numbers more than 4,100 women.
In all, Ms. Hayes used 24 different aliases between May 11 and May 26.
HopNews contacted Ms. Hayes for a comment but she did not return our message.
How this came to our attention
HopNews recently surveyed readers seeking their opinion on whether comments should remain enabled. Overwhelmingly voters indicated that they should. In the discussion that ensued one reader, Amy Groves, inquired “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.” This feedback inspired us to take a closer look the comments section.
The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A frequently cited 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission reads:
HopNews supports the Supreme Court’s position and openly welcomes comments, even from readers that employ pseudonyms instead of their real name. But there is a line between using a pseudonym for comments and Newsjacking. For the uninitiated, Newsjacking is a marketing strategy where individuals or businesses leverage trending news or current events to generate attention and promote their own products, services, or brand.
In this case, Ms. Hayes leveraged both HopNews and the Hopkinton Independent to promote the stated goals of the Hopkinton Democratic Town Committee, and specifically two candidates at the expense of another. She repeatedly made statements about Ms. Fogg that were factually inaccurate, statements that Ms. Fogg later denied. She represented herself as a 68 year resident, a licensed social worker and a former town employee. At a minimum, these comments were in bad faith and in the worst case they affected the outcome of the election.
How we confirmed this
While Ms. Hayes was careful to change her name for most of the comments, she primarily used two email addresses; her legitimate yahoo.com address and a throwaway account through ProtonMail, a Swiss company that offers a “private and encrypted” email service.
When Ms. Hayes submitted her first comment as Noel Centino, HubSpot placed a cookie on her computer. It did so again when she used her mobile phone to comment and again on a third computer she used. Each of these devices had different IP addresses and her Proton email address was stored in our database. Later, Ms. Hayes received our newsletter at her legitimate yahoo.com email address. When she clicked the link to read one of the articles, HubSpot recognized the cookie and linked the two accounts.
Since publishing the article Anonymous Comments and Fake News, several readers have accused Ms. Hayes in comments submitted. Hers was the only name mentioned. We did not publish the comments, because they were purely speculative, though they were in fact correct.
As stated in the previous article on this topic, the HopNews team will remain judicious with article comments and attempt to identify bad actors early so as to limit their influence. We urge our fellow residents to remain critical and to actively participate in town government and elections.
In this instance the Supreme Court’s opinion was inverted: Participation is the only way to ensure the true voice of the majority prevails over the tyranny of the individual.
June 5, 2023 1:20 PM: This article was updated to include Ms. Hayes’ membership on the Community Preservation Committee and the Cultural Council.
June 5, 2023 5:00 PM: Ms. Hayes has resigned from the Hopkinton Democratic Town Committee
June 6, 2023 5:00 PM: Ms. Hayes has resigned from the Hopkinton Chamber of Commerce.