Many of us spent an inordinate amount of time on our electronic devices during COVID-19 quarantine this spring. Although we were isolated, we didn’t want to feel alone. Virtual happy hours and social media were great cures to address loneliness.

At home or away, social media is always accessible and hard to escape. Much of it is used for good — staying connected, asking for recommendations, marketing a small local business — but it comes with plenty of the bad — inflammatory posts, hate-filled comments, fake news, trolling and a general lack of civility.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok have their fair share of controversy. Are they considered a publisher or a neutral platform? Like a newspaper, the former is legally responsible for the posted content and requires oversight. A platform on the other hand, like a telephone, simply enables communication. 

Facebook, especially, struggles to identify as one or the other. Opinions on the role of Facebook are not limited to Congress, the courtroom or traditional media. We feel it close to home, and nowhere is it closer than the Lakewood, Dallas and the recently formed LAKEWOOD / EAST DALLAS Facebook pages.

Lakewood, Dallas has been the go-to source of information related to East Dallas. I never joined, primarily because friends have shared with me the nonproductive comments on the page, and I’ve chosen not to witness it directly.  For most members, the page serves its purpose, and they are able to scroll past the incendiary remarks of a few to glean the information they seek — neighborhood events, school information, crime reports or the spreading of good news.

Over the years, as other local Facebook pages, such as Women of Lakewood, popped up, users relayed stories of disparagement on Lakewood, Dallas. Perhaps it’s because the description of the page is, “For discussions of all things Lakewood, like: finger-pointing and blame-storming,” along with “normal stuff too.”

A group of Lakewood, Dallas members decided they needed a more positive outlet and left the page. Others say they were removed for demanding that harassment of neighbors stop. In mid-May, there was a new place to go: the LAKEWOOD / EAST DALLAS Facebook page.

The core principle of the page is to be kind. Pretty much everything is acceptable with the exception of politics, drama and personal attacks. In summary, “Be benevolent or get out.” There is zero tolerance for anything otherwise. This page would act as a publisher, moderating to provide the good without the ugly.

I accepted the invitation to join because it sure would be nice to stay up to date on our neighborhood without the negativity.

The anonymous user who formed the page quickly passed the torch to four East Dallas residents: Erin Montgomery, Clay Sanders, Cathrine Tuck and Brian Ullrich — who administer and moderate the page around the clock. They say that while the majority of posts and comments on Lakewood, Dallas are suitable and helpful, a handful of the 15,000+ members seem to have a goal of enflaming conversations with “race-baiting, homophobia, name-calling, trolling and doxing.” The page, it seems, operates by design as a platform with little to no moderation.

Ensuring that all members of LAKEWOOD / EAST DALLAS be kind is a lofty goal and not without its challenges. There were frequent political posts, especially at the start, and new members who left or were removed from Lakewood, Dallas wanted to vent and name-call on the site. The administrators soon decided that while they may have felt the same, the hypocrisy was apparent. Screenshots from other pages are no longer allowed, nor are posts criticizing the administrators or members of the Lakewood, Dallas page. In truth, there are still comments that fall under the “not kind” column, although the drama has lessened considerably.

The administrators of LAKEWOOD / EAST DALLAS say their goal is to provide a stage for civility in discussions, and they believe moderation results in healthy discourse. As Tuck says, “It’s OK to disagree and discuss. What’s not OK is to attack and name-call.”

The general rule is that members who commit an infraction are given a warning to cease. If they continue, they will be muted up to 72 hours and subsequently removed from the page if the behavior continues.

As boundaries have been set and the number of users increased — at present, there are just over 3,500 — the administrators think that the page is almost self-moderating. They’ve told members that it’s not about what they’re saying, it’s about how they’re saying it. Some members who have been removed are more respectful when they rejoin.

The administrators of LAKEWOOD / EAST DALLAS believe this page will continue to get better in fostering healthy conversation. And honestly, in this age of divisiveness and polarization, who wouldn’t want to feel a sense of community?

Of course, there are those who think being moderated violates their right of freedom of expression. For them, the administrators say they can choose to leave without recourse, and there’s another page they can join.

Mita Havlick is neighborhood resident and Dallas Education Foundation director. Find her commentary regularly in the back pages of our print edition and online at lakewood.advocatemag.com.


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