(Updated at 8:20 p.m.) The chairman of the Arlington GOP has been booted from the “Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19” Facebook group for threatening to expose those who file complaints about local businesses.
In a post on Sunday, one of the group’s moderators said that Andrew Loposser posted screenshots showing the names and contact information of people who filed complaints about COVID-related violations in Virginia. He also threatened to reveal information others who complain.
“We have removed and blocked the chairman of the Arlington County Republican Committee, Mr. Andrew Loposser, from Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19,” wrote moderator Joshua Farrar.
Threatening to dox and protest members of our community who report potential violations of our public health policies, developed and enacted in response to COVID-19, in the interest of public health, is entirely unacceptable. Comparisons of those who support public health restrictions on local business to Nazis are horrid and inappropriate, and diminish the experiences of Holocaust survivors, and are an affront to the memory of the millions of lives upended and extinguished, murdered, by Hitler and his machinery of extermination. We do not know how this individual was able to obtain complaint data and we do not know what other data this individual possesses. As such, we have reported this incident to local authorities.
Loposser appears to have also made a “Nazi” comparison in response to a post about Arlington’s new restrictions on sidewalk gatherings and queues.
Loposser tells ARLnow that he decided to write the post about those filing complaints to combat what he described as a culture of “hysteria” over the pandemic.
“I believe people who are fomenting hysteria across Virginia and in our community should be criticized for creating an unsafe environment surrounding coronavirus guidelines,” he said. “The ‘Arlington Neighbors’ Facebook group is… being driven by misinformed busybodies who are wreaking havoc on businesses they don’t like. I posted about those busybodies, and the partisan admins block people they don’t agree with.”
Though outdoor gatherings are believed to be safer than indoor gatherings during the pandemic, a number of recent posts on the Facebook group have focused on outdoor behavior perceived as risky.
“I was out walking in my neighborhood and a rude runner ran literally right up on me, close enough I felt him breathe on me on an exhale,” wrote one user. “Should I be worried about being breathed on? Ew. I’m obviously annoyed and shaken, especially since I was a bit startled.”
Comments about the encounter were split between those criticizing runners and cyclists who don’t wear masks and those who do not believe such momentary outdoor encounters are likely to spread the disease.
“Hi, does anyone think The Lot in Clarendon is a nightmare and coronavirus mega spreader?” asked another user, regarding the outdoor beer garden, in a post that received more than 100 comments.
“Businesses like The Lot are being constantly harassed… with no regard to state or federal guidelines on outdoor gatherings,” Loposser said. “There are dozens of posts in the ‘Arlington Neighbors’ group driving this ridiculous narrative… The group used to be a net positive in our community, and it’s devolved to ‘Lord of the Flies.'”
Loposser said the Facebook group is private and “can do what they want,” but decried treatment of those skeptical of the prevailing views around ways to prevent COVID-19 infections.
“People with minority viewpoints are constantly personally attacked in this group,” he said. “It’s certainly a microcosm of the kind of intolerance we see in liberal communities like Arlington… Stepping outside the majority groupthink will get you personally belittled and attacked.”
The “Arlington Neighbors” group has been trying to combat toxic discourse that seems endemic to any online forum of a certain size in 2020. In a new post this morning, co-founder Kellen MacBeth outlined new posting guidelines intended to make the group a more welcoming and helpful place.
Among them: no posting photos of people “with the intent to shame” and no “unverified information about businesses or COVID-19 that could cause harm.”
When it was founded, the Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 Facebook group was an uplifting place where local residents could ask for help, share information, and connect with one another.
Now, as with just about any online forum of a certain size, the events of 2020 have darkened the skies over the formerly sunny space.
Granted, there are still plenty of heartwarming, helpful and innocuous posts. In fact, there are more posts than most people can keep track of — everything from school opening discussions to questions about car dealerships. But the darker side of online forums has nonetheless crept in.
“I think that there has been an increase in divisiveness,” conceded Kellen MacBeth, co-founder of the group, which now has more than 11,000 members. “It is likely driven by several factors — the increased size of the group and that the ‘coming together’ attitude that characterized March and much of April has been wearing off.”
“When the pandemic first hit, people were scared, searching for answers, and ready to help each other survive,” MacBeth continued. “Now that it’s become a somewhat ‘regular’ threat, people have settled back into routines less focused on getting through a crisis as a community and more so just trying to live life in this new normal. We also saw that as the size of the group increased, you inevitably get trolls and other people who join and don’t share the group’s values.”
The divisiveness isn’t just about the group’s size and the pandemic’s progression, though. It’s also about the many unknowns still surrounding COVID-19, leading to a cacophony of competing warnings and indignations, as well as the politicization of the virus. And it’s about those other big 2020 news stories: the Black Lives Matter movement and mass protests, and a heated presidential election.
Even though Arlington is a progressive stronghold, with social justice signs common even in the yards of the county’s more conservative neighborhoods, BLM-related posts in particular seem to frequently lead to online confrontation.
Last week Arlington Magazine published an essay by local resident Olamide Goke-Pariola, who recounted the vitriol she faced while “talking about racial justice and challenging my mostly white neighbors to think critically about their role in white supremacy” in the group.
“They consistently dismissed my lived experience,” she wrote. “One neighbor even told me my comments were ‘noise.'”
The “Arlington Neighbors” group is not alone in turning into a dumpster fire at times, however.
Things got so bad at the popular Fairlington Appreciation Society neighborhood Facebook group, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, that its moderators shut it down for good. Before it closed, the group hosted battle royales on posts about social justice, with online shouting matches that were a digital counterpart to the battle over signs on a bridge playing out in the physical world nearby.
Even the usually chipper Mothers of North Arlington email listserv started to see moms turning on one another. The group faced accusations that it was dismissive of calls for social justice during the George Floyd protests and that it deleted a Black woman’s Facebook post on the subject.
ARLnow has seen its own share of added divisiveness. A half dozen commenters have been permanently banned for a pattern of racist comments over the past couple of months. Others have been placed on comment timeouts for engaging in extended flame wars. And there has been an uptick in criticism of our articles, with commenters on the site and Facebook questioning our coronavirus reporting and savaging our reporting about multiple COVID-19 cases at a private swim club.
Local state Sen. Barbara Favola (D) posted a photo on Facebook over the weekend that she said was Lewis, the civil rights leader and Georgia congressman, at her house four years ago.
“I had the honor of hosting John Lewis for a fundraiser at my home in 2016,” wrote Favola, who represents a portion of Arlington in the state Senate. “Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act and each of us must uphold John Lewis’ legacy each and every election by casting a ballot.”
The problem: the photo actually showed Cummings, the former Maryland congressman who died in October.
The mistake was pointed out in a comment by Julius Spain, Sr., the head of the Arlington chapter of the NAACP. The post was subsequently taken down.
Spain said he spoke to Favola about the error Saturday night.
“She apologized stating it was a mistake,” he told ARLnow.
Online Forums Devolve into Shouting Matches — Falls Church News-Press columnist Charlie Clark writes about how a Nextdoor post about kids not wearing masks during a baseball game erupted into a barrage of insults and debates among neighbors. Nextdoor is not alone in becoming a forum for heated local debates on hot button issues: last month the popular Fairlington Appreciation Society Facebook group shut down after flame wars broke out over issues related to the Black Lives Matter protests. [Falls Church News-Press]
Virtual ‘Arlington Cares’ Event Tomorrow — “This free, virtual event will recognize the 2020 Community Service Award Winners and remind us of the importance of serving others. A heartwarming opportunity for all ages that will celebrate the overwhelming goodness that is within our community.” [Event Calendar]
Reduction in Homelessness Prior to Pandemic — “For the 20th consecutive year, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee has conducted a regional Point-in-Time (PIT) enumeration of the area’s residents experiencing homelessness and those who were formerly homeless. This year’s enumeration and survey occurred on January 22, 2020. Arlington saw a 7-percent reduction in overall homelessness, down from 215 persons in 2019 to 199 in 2020.” [Arlington County]
More Flood Damage in Waverly Hills — “After countless floods in Arlington’s Waverly Hills neighborhood soaked his basement, Tom Reich finally ordered a custom-made waterproof door to protect his home’s bottom level.
On Tuesday, the day before it was scheduled to arrive, yet another storm dumped buckets of rain on the region — and especially on 18th Street North. There, overwhelmed storm water mains sent three feet of water coursing down the street.” [Washington Post]
Beyer Furious at Response to Shooting Inquiry — “‘For nearly three years Bijan Ghaisar’s family and community have sought answers from federal authorities about why these officers killed Bijan and what consequences they will face. This response which tells us nothing after an eight-month delay is an insult to the people we represent,’ said [Rep. Don] Beyer. ‘The contempt such a pathetic answer shows for public transparency and accountability is unacceptable and will further damage the standing of the U.S. Park Police at a time when the region’s trust in them is already at an all-time low.'” [House of Representatives]
Report Businesses Flouting the Rules, Gov. Says — “As Virginia starts seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Ralph Northam reiterated Friday what has become a familiar message about limiting crowds, washing hand frequently and wearing face coverings. But he added a new fourth point: Report businesses flouting the rules to the local health department.” [InsideNova]
Freddie’s Closes Temporarily — “Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to close temporarily. One of our employees has tested positive for COVID-19. We are actively reaching out to customers and staff who may have been in contact since Wednesday July 8. We are beginning the process to have the restaurant fully sanitized so we may safely reopen as soon as possible.” [Facebook]
Nearby: MoCo Starting School Year Online — “Montgomery County students will begin the next academic year online, with a phased approach to bring them back to school buildings part-time by the end of November, according to the school district’s draft plan released Saturday.” [Bethesda Magazine]
Black Lives Matter Live Chat with ACPD — “Yolande Kwinana will interview Chief Jay Farr and Andy Penn on the current situation regarding police brutality and what ACPD is doing to protect the Arlington African American people. I encourage Arlingtonians to send in questions during the live and in the discussion tab before the live chat.” [Facebook]
N. Va. Unemployment Rate Rises — “Northern Virginia’s unemployment rate hit 10% in April as business shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic ricocheted through the economy. A total of 163,158 Northern Virginia residents were unemployed and looking for work during the month, the Virginia Employment reported Wednesday.” [InsideNova]
Nearby: Movie Theater Unlikely to Reopen — “The Regal Potomac Yard movie theater appears to have shown its last picture. Regal Cinemas has scrubbed the 16-theater multiplex at 3575 Potomac Ave. from its list of Virginia locations on its website. Couple that with the fact Virginia Tech and JBG Smith Properties plan to redevelop the North Potomac Yard site on an accelerated timeline, it’s likely the theater showed its last film months ago.” [Washington Business Journal]
During this time of social distancing, some Arlington residents are trying to form tighter community bonds online.
A Facebook group called Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 opened at the outset of the coronavirus crisis, and now is approaching 7,000 members.
“This group was created as a space to ask for help, share information, and connect to our neighbors,” the group’s about page says. “Many of us are still healthy and able to lend a hand to those who may be at higher risk.”
Posts range from the mundane to the inspiring. Group organizer Kellen MacBeth’s post raising money for the Arlington Food Assistance Center, for instance, is nearing its $20,000 goal after just a day. Those seeking help getting groceries or medical items are finding it thanks to group members.
Examples of other recent posts include:
- A first-hand account of a resident’s experience after contracting COVID-19
- Another first-hand account of going through Arlington’s drive-through testing site
- A doctor’s account of what’s happening inside Virginia Hospital Center
- A post seeking furnished rentals for State Department employees returning home from overseas en masse
- An alert about masks available at a local hardware store in Courthouse
- A call for volunteers to help deliver meals to the volunteers manning the county’s coronavirus hotline (703-228-7999)
“I started the page on the morning of March 16 after I had been invited to a Facebook page for D.C. with a similar purpose the night before,” MacBeth said. “When I saw it I did a quick search to see if anything yet existed for Arlington, and finding that none did, decided to create it as a resource for Arlingtonians to help one another and share information.”
MacBeth said he initially invited 30 friends and had 2,000 members by the end of the first day.
“I am shocked at how quickly it has grown,” he said. “I think people were looking for a way to be connected and feel part of some sort of effort to get through the crisis.”
“The desire for a local community response to deal with COVID-19 was dare I say… contagious,” said Choun, who joined as a co-admin of the group after himself starting a crowdsourced Google Sheet with key information for Arlington residents during the outbreak.
Some needs are more serious — food for seniors stuck at home, for instance — but others are asking for, and receiving, help with a variety of things.
“Others have used it to reach out for help because there are not a lot of options for some people to request non-emergency help… needing a laptop charger, getting art supplies for your elementary school students stuck at home,” MacBeth said. “As the needs of the community change, we will likely work to adapt the page in the ways that are most needed.”
While altruistic, the group has seen some of the negativity that comes with any large enough online community. According to MacBeth, moderation has been getting more strict.
“More recently we have seen an uptick in people who are less concerned with how others are impacted by what they post,” he said. “We have had to step up post approvals, dealing with flagged posts, and sending out announcements that only kind and helpful posts should be made on this page.”
Ultimately, said Choun — who is still running for County Board but has “shifted from a political campaign to a humanitarian campaign” — it’s community and caring that will get Arlington to the other side of this crisis.
“I think that in times of trouble and in times of crisis, love is what gets us through,” he said. “And love means caring for each other and doing whatever it takes to be sure everyone’s taken care of.”
The plan for the group, Choun added, “is to let this online community of Arlington neighbors continue to grow and evolve in a way that makes us a stronger, more loving people.”
APS Creates Learning at Home Guide — “We have created a Learning at Home webpage that pulls details on instruction, additional educational resources for families, activities and resources for coping with stress. If you have questions, please send them to [email protected]” [Arlington Public Schools, Twitter]
How to Report Price Gouging in Virginia — “If you see excessive price increases for coronavirus (COVID-19) necessities, report it to Attorney General Mark Herring’s office.” [Facebook, Attorney General Mark Herring]
Costco Encouraging Social Distancing — Costco in Pentagon City has had lines out of the door every morning since the start of the coronavirus crisis. The line has gotten longer — and more spread out — in the interest of social distancing. [Twitter]
Signature Theater Show Goes Online — “Signature Theater in Arlington, Va., is looking to make its production of Dani Stoller’s ‘Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes’ available online to ticketholders.” [New York Times]
Ramen Shop Offering Free Food for Seniors — “Gaijin Ramen Shop management and staff are heartbroken by elders without food because of the COVID-19 pandemic… We are offering FREE delivery of fresh vegetable ramen soup to any elderly in need.” [Community Post]
Free Pizza for Kids at Troy’s Italian — “On March 20, from 12-8 p.m. we will be doing free pizza slices for kids. We are also offering contactless curbside pickup. Call us at (703) 528-2828 when you get here, and we will bring the food out, and put it into the trunk of your car for you.” [Facebook]
Vehicle Inspection Enforcement Suspended — “Governor Northam has directed the Virginia Department of State Police to suspend the enforcement of Motor Vehicle Safety Inspections for 60 days.” [Gov. Ralph Northam]
New Local Facebook Page — “Community activist and Arlingtonian Kellen MacBeth has centralized tools and resources for people in need during the coronavirus outbreak. His Facebook page, Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19, is up to 2,000 members in just one day of its existence.” [WDVM]
Nearby: Coronavirus Strikes Falls Church Senior Center — “A resident at The Kensington assisted living center in the City of Falls Church has tested positive for COVID-19, the Fairfax County Health Department reported today. It is the first reported case of the coronavirus in the City.” [Falls Church News-Press, Twitter]
People are more interested in the news these days. Part of that is due to the political climate, but part of it is that there’s an abundance of news and news-like content online, which often makes it difficult for readers to know whom to trust.
“The political situation we’re in now has actually made people much more consciously aware of journalism, and what good journalism is and what it isn’t,” said David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance (NMA), a Ballston-based nonprofit that advocates for the news industry. “Journalism is much more central to people’s consciousness in public conversation than it was certainly three or four years ago, 10 years ago.”
The Trump presidency has certainly accelerated the public’s focus on journalism, according to Chavern, but more people are having a harder time knowing where their news is coming from.
“There’s always been conspiracy theories,” Chavern said. “They were usually delivered to you by a crazy uncle over the dining room table. And that was clearly different from what was on TV and what was in the newspaper and in the driveway. Those are three clearly different sources of information. In the internet blender, all that stuff is delivered exactly the same way and it puts a big burden on readers to pay attention to where things come from. And what stands behind them.”
NMA’s mission, along with its partner organization the American Press Institute (API), is to promote good journalism through advocacy, education and training.
“Journalism plays a central role in a democracy,” said Jeff Sonderman, API’s deputy executive director and executive vice president. “We want people to be informed of what’s happening both in their government and more broadly in their community. We want people, in any given place, to be able to have a shared conversation with each other about what’s happening here. What do we want to happen in this community? How are we making decisions together? And journalism is really the medium that facilitates that, that both creates a platform for it and also shapes it into a responsible platform.”
Before moving to its Ballston headquarters (4401 N. Fairfax Drive) in 2012, API hosted training seminars for journalists at a facility in Reston. As fewer and fewer newsrooms had the money to pay for these seminars, API shifted its business model toward online and in-person training, and research.
“We’re really interested in supporting changes in journalism that make it more innovative and use new technology and storytelling in data and science, but in the service of making those organizations sustainable financially and otherwise, so that they can continue to exist and do the work that’s really are the core of what we’re working on,” Sonderman said.
With accusations of “fake news” running rife through the industry, API has done a lot of research about mistrust of media in order to inform its newsroom training. It’s also partnered with the Trusting News organization to help newsrooms adopt practical, everyday strategies for instilling trust in readers.
“Trust is the foundation of the relationship that any journalist wants to have with an audience,” Sonderman said. “It’s difficult to do all these critical things about serving democracy and informing citizens if there isn’t a foundation of trust to build that on.”
“Newsrooms need to be more transparent about their process. Something as little as adding a sidebar to a story explaining why the news outlet thought it was important to cover the story and how the reporter researched it can go a long way toward establishing a trusting relationship with readers,” Sonderman said.
Elections around Arlington may not attract the sort of expensive TV ads that have come to dominate local stations ahead of the midterm elections, but candidates around the county have shelled out thousands to bring their messages to Facebook.
An ARLnow analysis of the social media site’s political ad database shows that Arlington’s six candidates for Congress and local office on the ballot this fall have combined with the county’s party committees to buy 549 Facebook ads from Jan. 1 through today (Oct. 29).
Thomas Oh, the Republican mounting a longshot bid to unseat Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District), led the way among the county’s candidates, buying 100 ads on the site since launching his campaign in February. According to campaign finance reports, he shelled out about $2,100 to pay for those posts.
But Oh was far from the bigger user of Facebook ads in Arlington — that distinction belongs to the Arlington Young Democrats, who have purchased 270 ads on the platform over the course of the year. The Arlington County Democratic Committee wasn’t far behind, buying 91 ads.
The county’s candidates for local office have relied on social media advertising a bit less, but have still used Facebook to reach thousands of potential voters.
In the lone race for a County Board seat this year, pitting independent incumbent John Vihstadt against Democrat Matt de Ferranti, the challenger has run a bit more Facebook ads so far.
According to Facebook’s database, de Ferranti has run 34 ads on the platform since launching his campaign in January. Records show he’s spent nearly $1,900 on Facebook ads in all, though campaign finance documents only detail spending through end of September — candidates will release their final reports of the campaign later this week.
Of the Democrat’s ads, 19 ran in the run-up to his primary victory over Chanda Choun in June, with 15 reserved for the general election contest with Vihstadt. In general, de Ferranti’s ad buys have each been less than $100 each, with only seven falling in the range of $100 to $500 — Facebook only provides ranges, not specific numbers, for spending and traffic figures.
Two of de Ferranti’s ads picked up between 50,000 and 100,000 impressions, while two others range between 10,000 and 50,000.
By contrast, Vihstadt has only run 10 ads on Facebook so far. His current campaign finance reports only show him spending about $100 on the posts, but he’s ramped up his activity on Facebook in October, meaning his spending will be reflected in the next set of reports.
However, Facebook’s database shows that the incumbent has recorded four ad buys of $100 or more, and one of more than $500, in all. He’s also had two ads reach between 50,000 and 100,000 impressions and two more range between 10,000 and 50,000.
Notably, Vihstadt has also turned to television advertising, and recently started running a single ad on local cable stations.
In the contest for the only School Board seat on the ballot, independent (and frequent candidate) Audrey Clement has outpaced incumbent Barbara Kanninen, who has the endorsement of local Democrats in the nominally nonpartisan race.
Clement has run 32 ads this year, spending about $1,520, according to campaign finance reports. She’s only spent more than $100 on three separate ad buys, but she’s still managed to reach plenty of people. Eight of her ads have secured between 5,000 and 10,000 and impressions, while two have managed between 10,000 and 50,000.
Kanninen has run just 12 ads, by comparison, sending about $241 to Facebook in all. Her ads have been viewed a bit less, with three ranging between 1,000 and 5,000 impressions and one making it to the 5,000 to 10,000 range.
Beyer appears not to have a run single ad on Facebook, despite raising more than $1.9 million over the course of his bid for a third term in Congress. However, he has benefitted from plenty of ads touting his candidacy from the local Democratic committee and the Young Democrats.
Oh faces quite the uphill battle to best Beyer, considering that the 8th (covering all of Arlington and parts of Alexandria) is among the safest districts for Democrats in the country. But the first-time candidate has managed to attract some attention to his Facebook ads at least, with four attracting between 10,000 and 50,000 impressions and seven attracting between 5,000 and 10,000. He’s spent more than $100 on seven different ad buys, which has surely helped boost those traffic numbers.
Facebook’s records don’t show any evidence of any ad spending from the county’s Republican committee, or its Green Party.
Disclosure: both Clement and Vihstadt have purchased ads on ARLnow.com. Flickr pool photo via wolfkann
Overnight House Fire in Rock Spring — The Arlington County Fire Department battled a blaze in the basement of a home in the Rock Spring neighborhood early this morning. One occupant of the home was brought to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation. [Twitter]
ACFD Battles Falls Church Fire — Arlington and Fairfax County firefighters battled a two-alarm house fire in Falls Church early Sunday morning. The home’s occupant was able to get out but was transported to the hospital. The house, which had “hazardous hoarding conditions” inside, it believed to be a total loss. [City of Falls Church, Falls Church News-Press]
Warner Blasts ‘Dark Underbelly of Social Media’ — Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) went on NBC’s Meet the Press over the weekend and addressed the topic of Facebook’s privacy issues and alleged Russian election interference. “I think the whole industry has been reluctant to accept the fact that we’re seeing the dark underbelly of social media, and how it can be manipulated,” Warner said, adding: “frankly, Mr. Zuckerberg needs to come and testify.” [YouTube]
Arlington on ‘Healthiest Communities’ Rankings — Arlington County ranked No. 31 on U.S. News and World Report’s new Healthiest Communities rankings. Neighboring Falls Church ranked No. 1 while the City of Fairfax ranked No. 6 and Loudoun County ranked No. 10. [WTOP, U.S. News]
County Recognizes Businesses for Transportation Programs — “The Arlington County Board honored 19 local businesses and properties for their dedication to providing sustainable transportation to employees and tenants, as part of the Champions program. The program… motivates businesses, multi-family residential communities, commercial properties and schools to recognize the impact they can make on reducing traffic congestion in Arlington County.” [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman