In Cary, impostor posts complicate fix-it forum

akenney@newsobserver.comAugust 29, 2013 

A screenshot shows the confusion caused by what the town is calling an impostor account on SeeClickFix.

ANDREW KENNEY — akenney@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— You can pretend to be anyone on the Internet: a wizard, a buff bodybuilder or even the town of Cary.

Yes, someone out there is posing as the local government for reasons unknown. The impostor appears often on SeeClickFix, a third-party website where locals pinpoint potholes and other municipal problems.

The messages are innocuous but confusing, and they illustrate the question that comes with ever-multiplying lines of communication: Should government staff engage in discussions across the Internet, or should they focus on a few official channels?

The SeeClickFix impostor exploits the website’s setup: Users can post anonymously under nearly any name via a “guest post” option, which doesn’t require registration.

The mysterious “Town of cary” – the user never capitalizes the town’s name – pops in when other users request repairs or fixes in Cary.

“We do not follow See Click Fix,” the user wrote on several topics this year, most recently in July.

The fake posts are almost indistinguishable from town staff’s genuine posts on the forum, and users are left to wonder whether their complaints about abandoned vehicles and unsightly lights have reached Town Hall.

“It is something we’re concerned about,” said Mike Bajorek, assistant town manager. “We don’t want anyone speaking for the town of Cary.”

In response, his staff has tried to gather information about the origins of the posts. Town staffers also have kept closer tabs on the website, in some cases responding under the name “Town of Cary.”

The town hasn’t, however, created an official presence by registering a SeeClickFix account with the town’s logo for a fee.

Cary hasn’t claimed its name because it doesn’t want to promote SeeClickFix as an official avenue to reach the town, though the town does monitor the site.

“There’s not necessarily anything wrong with SeeClickFix, but it’s not integrated into our work order system,” Bajorek said. “It creates a lot of additional work for us.”

Town Councilwoman Lori Bush has pushed the town to make more use of its digital connections, including SeeClickFix. “It’s our job to communicate with the citizens where they are, and this is honestly one of the best ways to do that,” she said.

No matter what the town decides to do about SeeClickFix, residents may soon have another way to talk to Town Hall. In the coming weeks, the Cary Town Council will consider a proposal to buy a $200,000 software suite that would change how Cary deals with complaints and requests for work.

The new package would coordinate work orders and customer relations internally, and would include an “outward facing” website and app, much like SeeClickFix, where users could make requests.

“We see this as a very important way, and we want to get into this, but like with all things, we want this to be first class, we want this to be a good experience and an easy experience,” Bajorek said.

Meanwhile, town staff have had little luck tracking down the rogue “Town of cary” poster, even after calling in the company for help.

Even so, the unofficial posts have stopped in the last few weeks. Perhaps someone realized the jig is up.

Kenney: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @KenneyOnCary

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