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Friending in Foxboro's casino fight - The Sun Chronicle Online

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Friending in Foxboro's casino fight - The Sun Chronicle Online

Friending in Foxboro's casino fight

BY LAUREN CARTER SUN CHRONICLE STAFF

Friday, December 23, 2011 3:48 AM EST




Casino advocates hold signs outside Foxboro High School earlier this month. (Staff photo by Martin Gavin)


Facebook, social media playing part in battle

In 2011, propaganda wars don't just take place via petitions and protests on the common. The battle of public opinion is also playing out in social media, as pro- and anti-casino forces mobilize on the Internet and put Facebook and Twitter to work for their cause.

On Dec. 2 - the same day The Sun Chronicle reported that Las Vegas billionaire Steve Wynn was eyeing a parcel across from Gillette Stadium for his next resort casino - a "No Fox-Vegas" page sprung up on the ever-popular Facebook social media platform.

The page is now a hotbed of activity. Many of its 700-plus friends post links to recent news articles and studies about gambling, update one another about stolen anti-casino signs and pro-casino phone surveys and generally vent about the hotly debated issue.

"This is really a neat example of how social media can help gather a community of people together pretty quickly and help things grow," said Collin Earnst, a marketing professional and resident who established the "No Fox-Vegas" Facebook account with his wife.

The anti-casino movement's other central hub is NoFoxboroCasino.com, a collection of fact sheets and studies, press clippings, videos, media releases and lists of upcoming events. The site - with a "Don't Let Foxboro Become Foxwoods!" slogan on its home page - also allows visitors to donate to the cause online.

"In today's day and age, it's one of the more effective ways of communicating with folks," said the site webmaster, a Foxboro resident and self-professed "computer guy" who declined to give his name, due in part to fear of retaliation.

The anti-casino movement's Twitter page (Twitter.com/NoFoxboroCasino) has been less of a focal point in the social media spectrum, with just 13 followers as of Thursday afternoon. Earnst said the lack of Twitter activity is due largely to the platform's 140-character limit per post, and the fact that Facebook is more popular with parents and community members.

The pro-casino side is putting Facebook's popularity to work as well. The "Jobs for Foxboro" Facebook page provides a mostly one-way stream of support for the casino, offering newspaper links, pertinent quotes and charts about career opportunities at a Wynn casino.

"At the end of the day, Foxboro deserves a chance to hear all sides of this issue," said Scott Farmelant, spokesman for Jobs for Foxboro, who owns the Mills & Company public relations agency.

As of Thursday afternoon, the "Jobs for Foxboro" Facebook page, established on Dec. 13, had 108 "likes," JobsForFoxboro.com was down for maintenance and the @jobsforfoxboro Twitter handle had 96 followers.

All are being run by Sage Systems, a provider of "campaign services" that was hired by Wynn Resorts to help with communication efforts in Foxboro.

Sage has, in turn, hired Farmelant, who served as a PR consultant to the New England Patriots from 1999 to 2001 - when Gillette stadium was in the process of being approved and built.

Farmelant mentioned social media's role in communicating "economic benefits that simply cannot be ignored," including an estimated 10,000 new jobs and at least $10 million in annual revenue for the town.

"So, you want to tell that story whenever you can, through social media, traditional media or in the local coffee shop," he said. "Social media does play an important role in making sure all viewpoints and perspectives are represented."

In addition to the PR-coordinated pro-casino movement, independent pages in support of a casino have popped up, including GambleFoxboro.com, run by 21-year-old Rich Saccone of Norfolk, who just started a companion "Gamble Foxboro" page.

"I started the website when I began to notice all the opposition to the casino in Foxboro, which is five minutes from my house," Saccone said. "Basically, I wanted to promote the benefits and urge people to take a deeper look into the issue before making a decision."

Saccone, a student at the University of Miami, said he built the website with the help of a friend, is not being paid by anyone for his efforts and is not affiliated with Jobs for Foxboro.

"The economic benefits aren't being fully addressed," Saccone said. "(Residents) need more specifics about tax revenue and effects on the community before they can make a rational decision."

Because the pro-casino movement has a wealthy mogul and PR firms at its disposal, members of the anti-casino movement say they are leveraging social media to fight a bigger opponent with deeper pockets.

"We are far outnumbered, our little band of whatever we are, by million-dollar PR firms and million-dollar law firms," said Holly Steel, a Foxboro resident who is handling PR for the anti-casino movement.

"This is a very small group," Steel said. "We've recently been accused of having a PR firm behind us, but basically there are five people and their spouses, so maybe 10 altogether, that handle everything from signs to the website to Facebook."

Earnst also maintains that the anti-casino movement is a grassroots group of volunteers who are putting their expertise to work for a cause they believe in.

"A third party couldn't do this as well as the organic grassroots response of a community of people that share the same opinion," Earnst said. "I feel very passionately that, quite simply, casino gambling isn't right for the town of Foxboro. The impact would be significant. It would be detrimental."

While the two sides butt heads in meeting halls and social media spaces, grappling for the support of Foxboro residents, both can agree on one thing: In an increasingly digital age, the Internet is the most efficient - and perhaps most effective - communication tool available.

"It's the only way to get the message out nowadays," Saccone said. "No one reads the mail that comes in the mailbox. A website's the best way to do it."

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