On Wednesday, June 12, a President’s Message entitled Social Media Survey was posted on the Oakmont Village website, and an on-line Nextdoor OVA/BOD Discussion Group Survey went live.

To be blunt, this survey, combined with devoting an entire OVA workshop to the topic (scheduled for July 2), is the most embarrassing, amateurish and petty project that I have seen come out of any Board since moving to Oakmont. I can only guess that our Board president came up with this, driven by his insecurities about receiving criticism, and ordered the OVA staff to implement the survey without approval from the rest of the Board. Below are the reasons for my low opinion of this effort.

The survey asks respondents to express opinions on what the facts are concerning this discussion group. To be valid at all, the respondents would need to be limited to members of the discussion group, because non-members have no direct knowledge of the discussions that go on there. Asking all Oakmont residents to respond to the survey is asking most of them to respond based on hearsay or on what they read in the President’s Messages in the Oakmont News. Why would the opinion of respondents on how many people post to the group at least once a week have any relevance to anything? Why not simply review the group discussions and state the facts?

The survey asks respondents whether the views expressed in the group ”reflect the views of the average Oakmont resident”. This is rather meaningless, since none of us have much insight into the views of the average Oakmont resident. The best such insight currently available is from the 2015 Voices of Oakmont survey, which does little to cover current hot topics in Oakmont and which the current Board has declined to repeat and update. On any specific issue, the best way to get the view of the “average Oakmont resident” would be to do a poll or vote of all residents, and this Board has steadfastly claimed that it is their duty to avoid such a poll. And no other entity in Oakmont than the Board has a chance of performing a poll with enough coverage of Oakmont residents to be meaningful. Even the current Board-backed survey will likely be responded to by only a small fraction of residents.

The bias of the survey is obvious, inviting respondents to characterize typical posts as helpful or unhelpful, kind or unkind, factual or misleading, and unbiased or biased. It is a political discussion group, so of course the posts will be biased, as is every President’s Message. Barring personal attacks, which can happen but are rare and are discouraged by Nextdoor guidelines, messages are neither kind nor unkind – it is an irrelevant quality to attribute to group discussions. Unsurprisingly, not everyone posting in the discussion group gets the facts correct, but the discussion group is just that, a discussion group, not a newspaper, and one can find misleading information even in places like President’s Messages in the Oakmont News.

The question about whether or not the group is a trustworthy source of Oakmont news is just silly. The group is not and does not pretend to be a news source, though messages often provide links to news sources, including the Oakmont Village website, the Oakmont Observer, the Kenwood Press, and even the Wall Street Journal. In a recent example, someone posted a link to a New Yorker article that he felt had some relevance to political goings on in Oakmont. These links are very useful and educational, but they do not mean that the discussion group purports to be something that it is not, i.e. a “trustworthy source of Oakmont news.”

The questions about community polarization imply that differences of opinion about important issues are bad. Issues are polarizing, not social media. If the potential consequences of a decision are large, and the uncertainty about the results of the decision are also large, then the issue will be polarizing. Suppressing discord seems to be the policy of this Board, rather than addressing discord with information. We are all adults, here, but the Board insists on treating us like children when it comes to the largest and most important issues. The OVA survey and the workshop to follow seem designed, not to decrease polarization, but to belittle those whose judgment and opinions are not in line with those of the Board (or its president).

Conclusions
As almost the only avenue for critical expression on Oakmont issues, the Nextdoor OVA/BOD Discussion Group naturally attracts more Board critics than Board supporters. But it is and always has been open to all Oakmont residents who post within Nextdoor guidelines. The vigorous debates that take place should be viewed not as an evil dividing Oakmont but as a hopeful symbol of the concern that most of us have for the future of our community.

The OVA survey is a very thinly veiled attack on free speech in Oakmont. It is embarrassing evidence of Oakmont politics gone off the rails. Unfortunately, ignoring the survey may allow it to partially achieve its purpose, i.e. to allow the Board to provide a political rally (aka “workshop”) in which the voices of Board supporters out-shout and out-clap and attempt to humiliate any opposition.

My advice, which I included in a reply to the second post linked below, is to treat the survey with the respect it deserves, i.e. very little. Because not taking the survey plays into the hands of those trying to suppress critics, I suggest taking the survey but providing exaggerated answers which go counter to what they want to hear, regardless of what the most honest answers might be. In particular, I suggest the following answers to the specified question numbers in the survey:

  5. More than 60
  6. Yes
  7. check all of the first 4 boxes
  8. Yes
  9. Decreases
  10. Not at all polarized
  11. 5

Change one or two of these, just so that they can’t simply throw out every response which matches this pattern.

For more discussion of the pros and cons of this survey, you might want to read the three Nextdoor OVA/BOD Discussion Group threads that have, naturally, popped up on the subject:

It may also be worth mentioning that Steve Spanier was not always so antagonistic toward Nextdoor. As recently as during his 2018 campaign, he made 9 replies in a single Nextdoor thread! It seems that his attitude has changed, now that he is one being criticized on Nextdoor and no longer has the time to read and respond.

The best way for anyone to evaluate the credibility of the various charges made by the Board president is to view the messages in the group, which you may do without joining the group by going to the OVA/BOD Discussion Group. If you wish, you may also click the Join Group, which allows you to receive Email updates, post and comment in the group.

In a companion Feature article to this editorial, Actual Statistics on the Nextdoor OVA/BOD Discussion Group, the results of a review of all posts and comments from the second half of May are presented and analyzed, to provide real answers to key questions that are represented in the survey as questions of belief (e.g. “How many different people do you believe post on average at least once a week on the NEXTDOOR OVA/BOD DISCUSSION GROUP?”).

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4 Comments

  1. Steven M. on June 17, 2019 at 11:26 am

    I agree wholeheartedly! This Spanier survey is a joke!! What a waste of time.

  2. Lisa Symonds on June 17, 2019 at 6:38 pm

    You make some valid points! Thank you for ignoring his scare tactics.

  3. S Simon on June 21, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    It seems that the OVA prez is trying to use social media and e-mail to infer what the Oakmont population believes. This is the WRONG way to run an association. Voting is the only sure way to determine the views of the majority. It is easy to have bots flood e-mail and social media. And it is easy to have Oakmont golfers flood OVA meetings and workshops, but VOTING is the ONLY sure way to determine the views of the majority.

    • BRUCE BON on June 21, 2019 at 3:42 pm

      I wouldn’t say Steve uses social media to infer what we believe — rather the contrary, he is threatened by critical opinion expressed on social media, so tries to discredit it and humiliate those who express themselves on it. But he is heavily influenced by personal contacts, being a very social person, and by Email. I don’t think we have much issue with bots here, but there has built up a cadre of folks, many of whom are wholehearted golf afficianados, who support the Board no matter what and who are the ones you refer to flooding OVA meetings and workshops. I believe that the result is an overconfidence that his positions are supported by most Oakmont residents.

      You are completely right when you say that voting is the only sure way to determine the views of the majority. But Steve, in particular, steadfastly holds that his fiduciary duty stands above the will of the majority, even for decisions that stand to transform OVA completely. I don’t agree with that view!

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