In these contentious times, when civility, useful information, and real communication seems to be frequently missing from the big social media platforms, it is pretty wonderful to have a local resource where we can learn what is happening in our local towns.

The Community Discussion Lists are just that. Hosted by Vital Communities, they allow members of a community to post and respond to email messages about town events, notices about town government, questions for the school board, recycling announcements, items for sale, questions about lost or found pets, etc. They are a great way to keep up with what’s happening, and to see everyone in the community interacting in this local, non-partisan way that exemplifies small-town New England.

During the pandemic, the lists have also been a lifeline – a resource on how to find assistance and support for those in need as a result of health concerns or economic disruption.

In the 12-month period ending on June 30, 2020, there were over 43,000 subscribers to 42 lists in the Upper Valley. Subscribers posted over 115,000 messages over that period.

The intent is to keep the discussions about each town. A post that concerns more than one town should be posted on the Upper Valley Discussion List. The full guidelines are on the Vital Communities website and at the end of every morning’s “Digest,” but the big ones are: keep it local, keep it civil, and don’t post anonymously. 

The key here is that individual subscribers are responsible for their content. Vital Communities doesn’t control the content distributed through the list. Nor do town governments. The lists are moderated after the fact by community volunteers supported by VC. With the exception of one list, posts are not screened before they go to the digest. Accomplishing this across all lists would be an impossible task, given the number of lists, users and postings daily. We can only moderate after the fact, usually by restricting the offenders’ posting privileges or outright banning a particular party.

Of course, that gets messy sometimes. One person recently anonymously posted some inflammatory political views. The moderators took care of it pretty quickly, as they do. When you see posts like that, it’s best to forward it to the moderator, rather than post about it on the list – especially as one objective of “trolls” is to hijack list discussions.

The Community Discussion Lists are our own, volunteer driven, locally managed, nonprofit social media. They can be a terrific antidote to the impersonal partisan bickering that happens elsewhere on the internet. But they need care and tending by all of us to be the community resource we all want them to be.

Vital Communities is grateful for the many people who help defray the expense of administering the Lists by making an annual or monthly gift (you can restrict the gift to Communities Discussion Lists if you wish). People can support the Lists by contributing here [https://vitalcommunities.org/donate/waystogive/].

Rob Schultz, Coordinator, Community Discussion Lists, Vital Communities