White Rock politicians coy over online comments

White Rock politicians coy over online comments

After denying making anonymous online comments, two candidates – including an incumbent – admit to using pseudonyms.

Two of three politicians – including a sitting White Rock councillor – who confirmed they have commented on issues and people anonymously online at first denied participating in the practice.

In initial conversations with Peace Arch News this week, both Coun. Helen Fathers and council hopeful Cliff Annable said they believed it’s better if it’s clear where any comments they post at www.peacearchnews.com are coming from.

“If I’m responding to a comment, I want people to know it’s me,” Fathers said Wednesday. “I suppose everybody has the right to be anonymous, but it’s hard to actually solve issues and really talk about issues if you don’t really know who the person is.”

“If you’re gonna make a comment, put your name to it,” Annable said Tuesday, noting attribution is especially important on negative remarks.

PAN raised the issue this week after noticing links between anonymous comments and some of the city’s candidates for council in the Nov. 19 civic election, with some of the comments quite petty.

presenting2008 commentsThe issue of politicians making comments under pseudonyms became a hot one in White Rock after the 2008 civic election.

Veteran councillor James Coleridge was forced to vacate the seat he won in that election less than a year later, after a B.C. Supreme Court judge found he had lied to taxpayers when he said he did not know the source of a pre-election email terming opponents a “real estate slate.”

Coleridge – first elected in 1983 – didn’t come clean about where the email came from or who wrote it, even after being confronted with evidence that linked it to his computer, until the court case.

One of the recent handles – “presenting2008” – links to Fathers, a first-term councillor; another – “charleymike” links to Annable, who has served as a councillor previously in White Rock.

Council candidate Larry Robinson confirmed he uses WRAnon, but said he has no plans to post during the election or if he is successful in his bid.

While Annable was quick to confirm in a followup call that he had commented as “charleymike,” Fathers was less forthcoming that she commented as “presenting2008.”

When first asked about anonymous commenting, Fathers denied making any such posts. Told that online records link “presenting2008” to her computers (email and IP addresses were both used by Fathers), she maintained she was not connected to the username.

“That’s not me,” she said. “It might be somebody else here. It’s certainly not me.”

Asked if she had ever logged on under another name, Fathers again denied she had. She went on to describe the practice of anonymous commenting as everyone’s right.

“Every person that logs on anonymously has the right to do that. I’m just saying that I logged on as ‘helenfathers,’” she said, referring to a handle that appeared recently in regards to comments on street lighting. “I don’t think anybody’s doing anything wrong by logging on anonymously. There’s no law that says you can’t log on anonymously.”

Pressed, Fathers said comments posted by “presenting2008” – which include one defending Coleridge with “Good Councillor made a bad judgement call!!!” and another that casts disparaging remarks against Coun. Al Campbell – may have been made by her husband, Rob.

In a followup call moments later, Fathers conceded both she and her husband posted comments anonymously. She said she didn’t admit to it initially because both she and her husband had done it. She later said  her brother – who was staying at her home for a time – may have commented under the moniker.

Fathers said she could not remember which of the comments were solely hers, made by her brother or posted jointly by her and her husband.

“When you live in the same house as people, family members often share the same views.”

Fathers noted she has not used the handle in so long that she has forgotten the password to log on, and she does not plan to post further comments anonymously.

PAN records show the most recent post from “presenting2008” was made April 15.charleymike comments

Annable confirmed Tuesday he posted as “charleymike” on Sept. 23; he asked whether another commenter was the spouse of a former councillor – whom he described in the comment as “that git from Glasgow.”

Annable has since posted as himself, congratulating retiring Mayor Catherine Ferguson.

Annable said two comments posted by “charleymike” – one on Oct. 15 promoting Annable’s reputation, and another on Oct. 6 casting disparaging remarks against Coleridge (the latter of which was removed for legal reasons) – were not made by him.

Annable said he discovered the posts after an initial interview Tuesday, and knows who made them. He described the individual as “a person that does some work for me” but would not disclose the identity.

Annable said he does not think it’s “right or proper” that the comments were made using his computer and account, and that the person will “most definitely not” be making further comments from his computer.

He, too, will not be posting anonymously, Annable said.

“You can’t change the past, all I can do is deal with the future,” he said.

Robinson said that as far as he’s concerned, the issue is black-and-white: there’s no place for online comments – anonymous or otherwise – if you’re running for office.

Robinson said he suspended all of his online remarks as of 4 p.m. Oct. 14, the deadline for filing nomination papers.

“Up until that point, I was a private citizen. After that, I’m running,” he said. “Normally, who cares, but now, we’re in an election campaign and you really have to watch what you do, what you put out there – especially with what’s happened in White Rock.”

Robinson, who said he last commented anonymously on Oct. 11, said much was learned from Coleridge’s 2008 decision.

Mark Wexler, an ethics expert at Simon Fraser University, said deceptive or missing identities in online commenting is not uncommon. The practice is sometimes referred to as “gaming” or “astroturfing,” and certainly raises red flags in regards to credibility, he said.

“There’s nothing positive to say about it,” he said.

However, blame does not solely rest on those making the comments, Wexler said, noting websites like www.peacearchnews.com and others have to accept some of the responsibility that comes with allowing anonymous comments.

“The problem, really, has to do with two sorts, if one wants to allocate blame: the game player, for gaming the system, and the system keeper, for allowing a system which allows gaming – and could easily prevent it,” he said.

“It’s sort of like poker; if you let people bluff, they will.”

At the same time, “nobody should game the system if they want to claim to be honest,” Wexler said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey Fire Service responded to a fire in the industrial area of 192nd street and 54th Avenue early Saturday morning (Jan. 23, 2021). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Surrey crews respond to fire in industrial area

Fire happened early Saturday morning

White Rock Rotary Club president Mauricio Browne de Paula (front right) with other club and community volunteers at the launch of the free hot lunch program at the city parking lot at Russell Avenue and Johnston Road on May 21. (File photo)
Daily demand for White Rock Rotary, city lunch program surpasses 40

Recipients ‘are very good people… going through some tough times’

Students at Creekside Elementary in Surrey wrote letters to seniors over the holidays, and are planning to write more for Valentine’s Day and Family Day. (Photo: surreyschools.ca)
Surrey elementary students connect with seniors through letter writing

Creekside students planning to send more cards for Valentine’s Day

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Police called to Surrey home for report of weapon, man taken into custody

Surrey RCMP say people evacuated from house, one found in a bedroom ‘hiding from police’

Judy and Ken Reid share a smile at Peace Arch Hospital in 2018. Judy raised concerns last month about how the COVID-19 vaccine would be rolled out. Now, she says no one is telling residents or families when they will start to see restrictions ease. (Contributed photo)
Timeline for reduced restrictions in long-term care a concern for spouse of South Surrey senior

‘We’re not yet at that point,’ says provincial health officer

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 is International Lego Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 24 to 30

Lego Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day and Puzzle Day are all coming up this week

Giants defenceman Bowen Byram has recorded his first NHL career point (Rob Wilton/special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Vancouver Giants Bowen Byram records first NHL career point with Colorado Avalanche

Player with Langley-based WHL franchise assisted on goal against the Ducks

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Kimberly Proctor, 18, was murdered in 2010. Her family has spent many of the years since pushing for a law in her honour, that they say would help to prevent similar tragedies. (Courtesy of Jo-Anne Landolt)
Proposed law honouring murdered B.C. teen at a standstill, lacks government support

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has concerns with involuntary detainment portion of act

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Most Read