When all else fails: troll, spin, troll, spin…

Recently, the Guelph Mercury’s Chris Seto reported on reactions to the service provided by Guelph Transit on Twitter and through other social media forums. The Guelph Mercury also published an editorial in support of Guelph Transit’s use of and participation in social media in responding to the complaints and improving service.

The editorial almost reads, “Guelph Transit right to troll with social media”. But it doesn’t.

So, here I go. I have to take a different tack from that of Guelph Mercury on this one.

I recently posted this comment on 59 Carden St., in response to a Scott Tracey’s blog entry regarding an investigation into secrecy at certain municipalities (that didn’t include Guelph):

Scott, trolling of social media sites isn’t inconsistent with a culture of secrecy.

How much staff time and resources are spent, all departments considered, “following” social media sites?

How much “public money” does the Corporation of the City of Guelph spend on that?

I was glad to see Dave Sills follow this comment with his own, referring to Seto’s article:

Check this little tidbit out from the end of an Oct 27 Merc story on Guelph Transit:

The city is currently compiling data gathered from all points across the media spectrum in a project called Media Analysis. From stories published in traditional news sources, such as newspapers, to articles written in blogs, to snarky comments made on Twitter — the city is gathering up everything that happened between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012 to paint an accurate picture of the media coverage the city receives.

The information gathered will be analyzed and then used in the creation of a media relations strategy for the city. “We want to identity areas and ways to better identify the story of what the city does, to build a thriving future for Guelph,” she said.

“Media is traditional and new media. We look at it all, we value it all, we engage with it all and we want to step up our practices to better engage with social media.”

Roseveare said once the report is complete in the new year, it will be shared with city employees and the community.

I was impressed that Mr. Sills concluded his post with this quip:

I hope this isn’t an initiative aimed at improving media spin.

I’ll leave Mr. Sills to comment (or not) further on this issue. The rest here is mine.

It would seem that if you’re not entirely happy with the City of Guelph, it’s likely because the City hasn’t figured out how to best.. err, explain what it is doing, and how you are… mistaken?

So, what about that business of the City of Guelph using public dollars in this way towards knowing how to better present itself to you? Is this considered best practice now? What’s being normalized here?

I suggest there is more to this than scanning the Editorial Page for letters to the editor.

It’s tracking informal conversations. And joining in them. Perhaps the powers-that-be are OK with that. But suppose the day comes when they are on the outside looking in. Will they be as comfortable with someone else using “public money” to monitor, analyze and inject themselves into everyday conversations between citizens, towards a) modifying their message to them and b) guiding the dialogue?

Consider the above quote from Seto’s article. Imagine the staff time that sort of thing entails. No really. Imagine staff at City Hall or wherever they are working from, going through the various sites, tracking what is being said. Towards formulating a strategy for promoting what the City is doing and why.

Doesn’t feel like the City of Guelph really belongs to you, does it? Seems more in keeping with what you’d expect from some multi-national corporation, not your local government.

At any rate, surely, if transparency is a value here, we all deserve regular reporting to Council, in public, of all of the costs involved in this activity along with full disclosure of staff activities. What from which sites.

And councillors, you’re OK with this going on?

Tellingly, isn’t this what happens when an administration has run out of steam, isn’t it now more about opportunity and desperation for an administration that has lost its direction? It’s now devoting more of its energy to knowing how to talk to you?

I mean, really. Stop and think about this. We’re talking about staff basically spending their time trolling social media sites towards developing the spin the powers-that-be need to best present City Hall’s perspective. To you.

Perspective. Seems someone there has indeed lost their own.


I’ll close with one more post from the 59 Carden St. blog; the last word here goes to Geo:

We’ve made a mess, are proving to be incapable of cleaning it up, I know lets create a Media Analysis department (what’s another couple mil when your in this deep)and learn how to camouflage the whole thing…



Faithful trolls, troll the word “creepy”, and you may just find yourself. Better yet, just leave it all behind you — you’ll feel a lot better! We’ll find common ground yet.

Be well, everyone.

About Craig Chamberlain

Ward 3 Guelph resident, dad and step-dad.
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