“We’re all in this together to create a welcoming environment. Let’s treat everyone with respect. Healthy debates are natural, but kindness is required.”

The message is part of the text which appears under the “About” section of the Ridgefield, CT Facebook page. It was written by John Frey, a lifelong Ridgefield resident who started the private Facebook group in 2009 and has watched it expand to more than 13,000 members — all with some Ridgefield connection.

Over the last few months, however, several group members have accused Frey (the site’s administrator) of violating his own call for respect and kindness by removing or censoring posts related to the Black Lives Matter movement and COVID-19.

Frey disagrees. “We’re not censoring,” he said. “There are plenty of posts that I read and wince but allow.”

Frey is a Republican who has served as Ridgefield’s state representative in the 111th District since 1998 (he is not running for re-election this November). But he says political affiliation does not factor into his role as Facebook administrator.

“From the get-go, I have made it a point not to post anything about politics or real estate,” said Frey, a broker at Coldwell Banker. “I don’t decide what others can post based on those things either.”

Charges of censorship swelled on May 31, six days after George Floyd’s killing by police officers in Minneapolis. A post by Da’Misi Adetona (a Black woman who went to Ridgefield High School) about her experiences in the community was deleted by a moderator who feared that the comments were “going to get ugly.”

“One post (about Black Lives Matter) was removed by a moderator, not me, and she put it back up,” said Frey. “It was a mistake to take down the post.”

Shortly after, Frey announced that all posts would be removed after 25 comments were made. That decision was met with more charges of censorship, and Frey relented.

“We never went through with it,” he said. “We thought it might be a good idea at first but we never actually deleted posts after 25 comments.”

Frey did shut down the site for two days as a cooling off period. When the site was back up, he posted the following message:

“So, with the BLM (Black Lives Movement), coupled perhaps with a population that is tiring of being quarantined (due to COVID-19 safety measures) … some of the posts and or comments have been edgy. Far too many,” Frey wrote. “Personal attacks, name calling, careless assumptions etc. are probably why a record number of posts are being ‘reported’.

“This won’t be tolerated. Either be neighborly, or we’ll be forced to close conversation on certain issues — which we don’t want to do. (There are other groups that may be more appropriate for some posts). Sometimes, it’s best to back away from the keyboard … “

His warning was met with a quick rebuke.

“Picking and choosing which posts can stay seems problematic,” a group member responded. “Isn’t this group supposed to amplify and respect all voices?? All of the posts I’ve seen taken down have not been “edgy” but rather worked towards educating and starting conversations on different issues. (Specifically BLM movement, experiences of racism, ways to be an ally etc.)

“For example, a question regarding how police forces could enact positive changes and reforms in response to a person sharing their experience as a policeman was removed. The question was asked eloquently, sincerely, and could have started a productive conversation. Why are these type of comments and posts getting removed?”

Frey insists that he and the moderators are not deleting posts.

“A lot of people don’t understand the mechanisms,” he said. “People can take down their posts or end the commenting on them. If you comment on someone else’s post and then that person takes down the post, your comment goes away. We’re not doing the deleting.”

As the administrator of a private Facebook group, Frey does have the right to deny or delete posts, turn off commenting, and decide which topics can be discussed. Ridgefield’s second biggest Facebook group page, Hello Ridgefield & Fairfield County!, does not permit posts about politics or religion.

“Some people say we shouldn’t allow posts about BLM and COVID,” Frey said. “But we’re not immune to those things in Ridgefield. I think it’s important to have these discussions, as long as they remain civil and don’t go off the track.”