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Torpy at Large: Fear, loathing and trolls in Johns Creek

A subscriber recently asked me why The Atlanta Journal-Constitution doesn’t allow comments on some stories.

“Because reading the comments would cause you to lose faith in humanity,” I said. There’s name-calling, racial slurs and worse. Last year, after an immigration story, one reader suggested taking “illegals” up in a chopper and tossing them out.

Nameless, faceless trolls have turned online discourse into a sewer pipe with words bobbing like turds.

So I was intrigued last week when I saw that Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker posted on Facebook that he would not run for another term because “social media has created an easy mechanism for people to hide in the shadows using fake personas and hurl some of the most vicious, untruthful and frankly indecent statements about or at people and not allow that person a proper way to defend themselves.”

Bodker, mayor since 2006, when Johns Creek became a city, told me someone online recently called him a pedophile.

“Everyone has a tipping point,” said Bodker, adding that such caustic allegations are causing good people to stay away from public service. He also said he’s getting an attorney and will try to find out who’s slandering him.

His goal?

“To take them to court and nail their butt to the wall,” he said.

At Monday’s City Council work session, an increasingly irritated Bodker read a long statement that said, “Trolls are hidden. … They are dark creatures lurking in their own putrid waste of their lives.”

Aside from the pedophile slur, Bodker said he has been accused of being a cradle robber, a Communist, Kim Jong-Un, crooked, criminal, a fraudster, corrupt … and someone who medicates his wife.

The mayor is absolutely correct. All that invective is terrible. Politicians have a hard enough time fixing roads, balancing budgets and weathering citizen complaints without having to endure accusations that they are scheming, jailbait-chasing Commies.

Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker, shown here at the City Council meeting on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, is fed up with anonymous online invective. 
Photo: City video

Johns Creek’s leaders then moved on to holding their City Council meeting. That’s when things got full-on weird — in a suburban/small-town crazy government kind of way.

Aside from working on the budget, council members spent perhaps an hour debating the state of nasty civic discourse, Johns Creek-style. And they spent time sticking it to a local muckraking blog run by a mother of four young kids. We’ll get to that in a minute.

The city is looking at creating a “Rumor Page,” something like the one the city of Roswell created. (No joking here.) Roswell says its site “eliminate(s) false information and misconceptions by providing our citizens with the facts about issues.”

Johns Creek officials — well, some of them — want government to get out in front of the public’s half-truths and before those prevarications take on a life of their own.

“It’s not a rumor page; it’s a facts page,” Councilman Lenny Zaprowski, its proponent, tried to explain. “What’s wrong with that?”

Well, since you asked …

Johns Creek City Council members address rumormongering at the council meeting on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. From left, Lenny Zaprowski, Jay Lin, John Bradberry and Chris Coughlin.
Photo: City video

Councilman John Bradberry said it sounds like an “unfree country” where “they have someone on the street corner trying to listen to the scuttlebutt. … What we are talking about is Orwellian and I want no part of it.”

Councilwoman Stephanie Endres said such a page would create a slippery slope toward creating a local version of Pravda: “This is a prime example of ‘I’m going to tell you what the truth is and you’re going to believe it because I’m the government.’”

Bodker seemed to like the Roswell approach.

“They simply cite factual inaccuracies and cite an alternative set of facts,” he said. “People can continue to write and say anything they wish.”

Zaprowski then went into another of his goals, making a quasi-official city statement concerning “cyber harassment.”

He took aim at the Johns Creek Post, the local blog I referred to earlier that is run by resident Jennifer Jensen, who started the site a few years ago after fighting a radio tower the city wanted to build.

Jennifer Jensen, founder of the local muckraking blog the Johns Creek Post, goes on the offense at the City Council meeting on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018.
Photo: City video

The blog is like a small-town paper, with an attitude. It currently carries a story about a local educator being named the state’s teacher of the year, as well as this feature: “Mayor Bodker Won’t Seek Re-Election & is Unravelling in Council Meetings.”

I watched the tape. He seems more cranky than unravelled.

“The Johns Creek Post has belittled, name-called, ridiculed, posted half-truths and lies about councilmen,” Zaprowski said. “They have smeared their good names, offended their reputations and accused them of bribery and wrongdoing.”

He went on to list terms attributed to city officials: Ignorant, crooked, shady, corrupt, stupid, comrade, liar, dolt, on the take, dishonest, crackpot, bully, liar.

Yep, “liar” is listed twice.

Screengrab of Mayor Mike Bodker mixing it up with a critic on Facebook.

“But you’re allowing those things on your site,” Zaprowski said to the bloggers. “Shame on you! We have to stand up to this and say, ‘No more.’ I ask the citizens to say, ‘No more, we don’t accept this.’”

While not calling for a boycott, he was in the neighborhood.

“That’s the exact type of behavior people are fighting against,” Endres told him.

Minutes later, during the public comment section of the meeting, resident Ernest Moosa, who writes for the Johns Creek Post, told council members that Zaprowski, or someone else using two computer IP addresses connected to him, has filed several comments to the blog site. Anonymously, that is, using several different names not his own.

“I have not posted on your site,” Zaprowski shot back. “If you’re accusing me, take it back.”

Jensen then followed up at the podium, telling Zaprowski, “The person complaining about trolls is a troll himself.”

It’s a he-said/she-said, but that’s politics today. They said they will provide evidence of the posts.

Asked about the criticism, Jensen said, “I don’t cry about it. I’m a big girl.”

She added, “I have a bigger following than ever.”

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