Within the Ann Arbor political scene, three community-founded Facebook pages have become the epicenter of online discourse of current events. These pages cover topics from City Council meetings to federal policy changes.
Ann Arbor Politics has 1,400 members and functions as a place for its members to post articles and information regarding the Ann Arbor community and engage in productive conversation to further discuss community issues.
Ann Arbor Townie Politics includes 198 members and works to facilitate discussions about local politics. Additionally, members are encouraged to share information about rallies and political events in Southeast Michigan.
Ann Arbor Townies – Politics has about 2,200 members and aims to be a resource for community members to discuss political races and topics at the local, regional and state levels.
Each of the three Facebook pages encourages group members to engage in respectful and factual discourse, emphasizing that participants must be kind to one another in their discussions.
In addition to the three main Ann Arbor Politics pages, some more specific pages have been created to discuss particular issues, such as Ann Arbor Public Schools.
All of the Facebook pages are moderated by individual Ann Arbor citizens. The moderators are responsible for accepting who is allowed into the group, as well as ensuring that members are following community guidelines. In order to be admitted into the group, proof of residency in Ann Arbor is required.
Stephen Ranzini, a co-monitor of the Ann Arbor Politics Facebook page, started the group in February 2020 after being active in the community as the president of the University Bank for more than 30 years. To hold an administrative position at a bank, you must pay attention and care about the wellbeing of your community and its future, Ranzini said.
According to Ranzini, the pages allow community members to raise awareness and generate solutions for problems they face.
“You can start to lose awareness about a problem in the community,” Ranzini said. “Some people may not even be aware that there is a problem and others (who know there is a) problem may have a place to say, ‘this is a problem.’”
For many residents, the forums serve to inform the larger community about smaller events that may not be promoted by larger media outlets. Members upload a variety of content ranging from historical information about Ann Arbor to business updates and political debates.
Jack Eaton, Ann Arbor resident and former City Council member, is active on the three pages. Eaton said he sees the Facebook pages act primarily as a space where people can compile articles from different news sources to stay up-to-date on local issues.
“I go (to the Facebook pages) because people will draw your attention to an article that’s been published here or there — a couple of the Detroit News outlets occasionally publish a really good article about Ann Arbor and I don’t check those outlets every day,” Eaton said. “But, if I log on to Facebook, somebody will bring it to my attention or vice versa.”
Besides serving as a source for news, the pages have become hubs for discussion surrounding local politics and concerns. Residents use the comment sections on posts about local politics to voice their opinions regarding certain policies or politicians.
Ranzini compared the Facebook forums to a town square model which prioritizes allowing everyone’s voice to be heard and giving residents the opportunity to give feedback to local leaders.
In a message to The Michigan Daily, Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, wrote she believes the Facebook pages’ lack of in-person components degrades the quality of information and conversation.
“I think social media is not the best place for people to debate substance and policy, but (The Ann Arbor Politics) group is trying to promote, at least, fact-based discussion,” Nelson wrote. “I encourage people to reach out directly to elected representatives and other community leaders when they are interested in understanding issues better. Local politics are accessible — no one needs to rely on social media for information.”
Ann Arbor resident Greg Pratt, who is a member of three Facebook pages dedicated to Ann Arbor politics, said the platforms can be beneficial for circulating information. However, he expressed concern about the reliance on social media for political conversation and said there are drawbacks that come from some forms of virtual communication.
“Some of the politics groups try very hard to replicate a town square, and in my view that’s kind of impossible,” Pratt said. “Social media, while it tries to resemble real-time back and forth, it’s really like a one-way conversation.”
To manage any negativity that may arise on the pages, many of the moderators have implemented a strike system to decide when a member should be removed from the group. According to the Ann Arbor Politics rule page, a strike can be warranted by posting false information, harassing other users or otherwise failing to adhere to the group guidelines.
Pratt said he’s worried these kinds of limitations will favor one viewpoint over another, based on the moderator’s personal beliefs.
“I don’t expect that everybody has to agree with me, and I certainly do not agree with everybody else,” Pratt said. “But I try to have at least an understanding of where somebody is coming from. And I think that the (online) medium does not promote that. I think it inherently sets up barriers that humans are able to overcome at this point.”
Daily Staff Reporter Shannon Stocking can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.