Fredericton mayor Brad Woodside has been getting a fair amount of press about his pro-Costco Facebook group.

He created it to prove that there was a clear majority of people in favour of the Costco. Of course, the anti-development people decided that they would use this Facebook group to promote their cause. That was his first lesson, if you create a Facebook group on a controversial subject, there will be controversy in your Facebook group.

He also left the Links and Photos sections open on the group, these got filled up with anti-development links and photos pretty quickly. So what does Mr. Woodside do? He takes down those two sections (while keeping the discussion boards and wall open). Two of the deleted links were anti-development and the other one went to a link on this site. The discussion board and wall soon filled up with cries of censorship. His second lesson is that any time any site maintainer removes a posting, there will be cries of censorship. It didn’t matter that he removed postings from both sides of the argument, there were still cries.

A kind individual set up a poll on an external site as it was becoming too hard to judge how many people were actually for the development. The poll asked whether you were in support of a Costco on the woodlot, somewhere else in the city, somewhere else in the province, or not at all. Mr. Woodside advertised the poll in the group and sent the group members a message about it. For the first few days, the poll registered a fairly consistent 80% of people being in favour of putting the Costco on the woodlot.  It only took a few days, but on Saturday, the poll suddenly read 55% against putting the Costco in the woodlot. That was Mr. Woodside’s third lesson, if you have an open poll, it will get hacked or swarmed. Hacking involves finding a flaw in the duplicate detection system that prevents someone from voting several hundred times. Swarming involves encouraging people who don’t have anything to do with the original discussion to go and vote on that specific poll. They may have gone onto a larger discussion forum and had anti-development people from all over the world vote on this poll. Without having access to the server logs, it’s impossible to tell which one it was in this case.

So now the poll gets closed as it was pretty obvious that it was tampered with. That leaves the discussion board.  That just got swamped with cries of censorship and it ended up being impossible to discuss anything.  That caused the discussion boards to close. Now all that’s left is the wall, the same few people are now continually reposting the same thing again and again so that it stays near the top. It won’t be long before those posts are purged and even more claims of censorship are given. The mayor’s fourth lesson will be that online discussions will spill over into other places. I can bet that this experiment will haunt him for a while. Expect to hear about it in the old media in the next few days.

I believe that Facebook can be used by city officials to connect with the people. Hopefully this experience doesn’t discourage them, as great things can be accomplished with social media.

**UPDATE** This made it on Fark.