12 January 2022

Who's really behind our Facebook community noticeboards?

| Lottie Twyford
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screenshot of the Canberra Community Noticeboard home page

Have you ever thought about just who ensures your local Facebook community noticeboard remains a safe space for everyone? Image: Screenshot.

As the not-so-famous saying goes, behind every successful community noticeboard is a team of dedicated admins and moderators who keep things running smoothly.

While you may never have spared them a second thought before, this team works tirelessly to keep those in their community safe from sexism, homophobia, racism, and scams, and do what they can to prevent “fake news” and conspiracy theories.

Ricardo Stantini (not his real name) started volunteering his time as an admin for the Queanbeyan Community Noticeboard around six months ago.

Since then, he’s heard a couple of wacky theories, including that the COVID-19 vaccine is made from graphene oxide and will kill you, and that the jabs won’t kill you now but will do so next winter (or the one after that, or the one after that).

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Other times, the admins delete posts because they are repetitive. For example, after daily press conferences, multiple people will post the case numbers for the day, which Ricardo says just isn’t necessary.

As one of four or five admins, he doesn’t get paid for his time, so Ricardo explains they each tend to do what they can, when they can. He averages an hour or so a day spent moderating comments, replying to messages and removing posts that don’t adhere to the guidelines.

None of the admins of this group actively monitor posts. Instead, they keep an eye on what other members are reporting and then go in themselves to see if a post needs to be removed.

As well as being blocked, members can be muted for a couple of days – a bit like a cooling off period – if they keep on breaking rules.

In recent COVID times, the admins have decided to start pre-moderating all the posts because of an influx of fake news and misinformation.

two Facebook messages side by side

Just a taste of the kind of messages Ricardo can receive from disgruntled community noticeboard members. Image: Screenshot.

For Ricardo, who is a very community-minded person, being a group admin is just one of the many ways he gives back to those around him.

He’s been heartened to see that during the recent lockdown, most people are looking for the positives online, rather than seeking to pick arguments with others.

“Maybe it’s because people have been taken away from us that we are trying to reach out to others on the noticeboards,” Richardo said.

Over the border, Jesse Byrne is not only the admin for Canberra Community Noticeboard, which has almost 30,000 members, but the founder of it too.

He got fed up with a couple of the other noticeboards which were “stopping people from having their own opinions”.

Instead of this, he envisaged a board which functioned as just that, a place for people to post, ask questions and have discussions on a wide variety of topics – within some boundaries.

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Obviously, members can’t be rude, they can’t de disrespectful and the usual ‘isms are a no-go.

“We wanted it to be free from politics and business – people don’t have to pay to advertise their business here – it’s just a community forum,” he explained.

With a few admins, the system its very similar to that of its interstate counterpart. The admins don’t “trawl” the board as such, they wait for posts to be reported by other community members, and then make a judgement call from there.

For the charity-minded Jesse, the beauty of helping run the page is that he’s able to see where he can directly help – either himself or through his wide range of contacts. At the moment he’s helping Garry Malhotra organise the mammoth task of delivering thousands of free meals a day to Canberrans in lockdown.

Currently at hone with his children home-schooling, Jesse says the amount of time he spends working on the page per day really depends on what’s happening. If he’s watching TV in the evenings, for example, you’re likely to find him scrolling through and checking posts.

He could easily spend eight hours a day on the page if he had the time, he said.

When it comes to how he copes with the trolls, Jesse said it’s all about the one nice story or message which counteracts the other 10 difficult ones.

“I would just remind people that we are real people with families, and we do other things outside of running the group,” he said.

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