‘Voices is a community,’ site admin says
When Samantha Chaplin needed a babysitter for her two young children last week, her co-workers suggested she use a Facebook page she’d never seen before. Chaplin lives in Lexington, but for the last five years, she’s been a design production manager at Nitro USA, a ladies’ custom apparel shop on Crossfield Drive. Not long after she was approved as a member of Voices of Versailles and her post was issued, she got the response she was looking for. “I actually got a message back within about three hours, actually, of a lady that is local and … and her and her sister both live in a house in Adena Trace and they’re really great ladies …” Chaplin said. “They had positive references and I am over the moon ecstatic with the results Voices of Versailles has given me, actually.” Chaplin said her first request to become a member of the now nearly 6,900-strong site was disapproved. “I actually had to get a message to the administrator and I had to plead my case ... in order to be put on it. It was quite the process,” she said. However, considering the sort of assistance she was was looking for, Chaplin didn’t mind taking the time to explain that while she needed a babysitter at her Lexington home, she worked in Versailles. “It’s nice to know that they care about who their members are,” she said, adding that her post was approved, too. “It’s good to know that they’re not just letting anybody post anything out there, either.” That’s the kind of story that pleases Christa Stoudt, who began the Facebook page in 2012 and worries about the page’s reputation in some circles. “We are not as bad as some might make us out to be,” Stoudt wrote The Sun after an interview. Stoudt and fellow page administrator Eric Petty said there are a few basic rules members and posters must follow: Members must have some link to Woodford County, not issue personal attacks or business ads except for Friday, substantiate their information and not “re-post” rumors. “Well, the gossip mill has always existed, and that’s one of the reasons I started Voices in 2012, was because there wasn’t that much information out there. There’s the Woodford Sun, which I’m a subscriber of … But the gossip’s always out there …” Stoudt said. She cited Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott’s willingness to step in when the gossip “gets out of hand,” a habit Traugott acknowledged, but also one that he has occasionally regretted. “You can imagine with my thin skin and, sometimes, passion for a subject. Yes, there are plenty of times I’ve engaged on there where I wish I hadn’t. I do, at times, try to clear up false information, but I’ve kind of backed away from that,” Traugott said. Traugott said the site helps him be a better, more responsive mayor. “The primary way I use the site is to stay informed. There’s some things that don’t necessarily get brought to my attention on a face-to-face or phone call (basis) …” Traugott said. “Crime, for instance. Trash pick-up problems. … Someone will say, ‘Why wasn’t the trash picked up on this street yesterday?’ and I’m able to get the company over there immediately.” You can find most anything on the page: A picture of and complaint about shopping carts not put away properly in the Kroger parking lot; an inquiry as to how to prevent dog owners from letting their pets urinate on the bushes of a private residence; a request for leads for a part-time restaurant job. “It’s social media. It’s instantaneous. We’ve had people that have had needs – needed clothing, food – and they can give a ‘Help!’ and within minutes, we’re socially connected to, like, the church ministries. So it’s a social network that’s slowly growing,” Stoudt said. Stoudt said within two hours of a woman’s request for help for her and her young children, beds and food were delivered to her home. Petty said farms and business owners looking for employees have begun to use the page. Stoudt, who said she’s unpaid for her work, has loftier goals. “I call it the consciousness of Versailles, because there are so many voices, and it’s just a newsfeed streaming. Just about anybody can get on there. We try to vet as closely as we can,” Stoudt said. Stoudt said the idea for the page came during a conversation she had with a couple of other dog walkers at the Woodford County Park. “The first roll call was like four or five people, you know? And slowly, it’s been word of mouth. We’ve never had a public release of Voices,” Stoudt said. Stoudt wants people to focus on the good offered by the page, but admits some users try to get away with lesser posts. “We’ve had people specifically try to post images, pornographic in nature, because we have removed somebody of their group, their social network. That was a personal grudge,” Stoudt said. “We don’t like to remove people, because it’s a community network and we go around and around. … We have to keep open communication. That’s the goal.” Stoudt said a recent decision to require administrative approval of all posts was made because so many people were posting at the same time that administrators couldn’t keep up with the volume. “Still, the rants and raves and ‘Hey, my fries are cold,’ and that sort of thing – they still come through. It’s just, we want to make sure if there’s a post that’s going to be a little sketchy … that at least we know to keep an eye on it before people start getting ugly about things,” Stoudt said. Stoudt has bigger plans: establishing a limited liability company to raise funds for the struggling Woodford County Historical Society and using Voices of Versailles to “bringing focus back to Big Spring Park.” She said the page’s ultimate goal hasn’t changed. “We’re trying to create community,” she said.