In the real world, Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. represents a tough corner of Brooklyn and is under indictment on corruption and bribery charges. But most days this year, Boyland goes to another place, a virtual place, where he’s the mayor of his own thriving city—William’s Town.
The place is CityVille, a Facebook game where users create their own city. And Boyland doesn’t just play the game on his personal time.
A comparison of Boyland’s Facebook activity with a record of Assembly sessions shows the scandal-scarred pol logging on when he is supposed to be doing the people’s business. Boyland sponsored zero bills and missed one-third of the Assembly’s sessions—ranking dead last in the chamber on both measures—for his $79,500 state salary. But he was busy—on Facebook.
On June 21, when the Assembly debated and voted on bills—including an extension of rent regulations—from 10:34 a.m. to 8:21 p.m., Boyland was tending to William’s Town.
At 5:44 p.m., William’s Town’s virtual police needed a feeding. On his Facebook wall, Boyland wrote he needed “donuts to fuel hungry cops.” The fuel was necessary, the post noted, “to apprehend the bandits.”
An hour earlier, he posted a request to Facebook friends to help upgrade the William’s Town Mall. He logged on to CityVille at least seven times that day, while the Assembly was still in session.
He missed the Assembly’s sessions on March 23 and 24, but appears to have spent the entire night between them playing CityVille, posting game updates seven times between midnight and 8 a.m.
On May 9, Boyland skipped the Assembly’s three-hour session but spent the better part of the day playing CityVille, posting updates at least 12 times that day.
He was absent with an excuse for the Assembly’s June 6 session, but he managed to do some work in CityVille and post a video about prisons during the four hours the chamber was in session.
While a spokesman for Boyland did not return a request for comment, his social-networking habits did not go unnoticed.
“He was rarely there, and when he was, he often seemed distracted by his phone, and the leadership and their staff often had to remind him to press the button and vote,” said one Assembly Democrat. “He seemed often distracted by whatever was going on on his smartphone.”
Boyland missed 20 of 60 Assembly session days this year. Perhaps he overslept: His Facebook logs reveal that on the nights before sessions he skipped, he frequently stayed up taking care of William’s Town or uploading links to music videos between midnight and 6 a.m.
When news broke of the indictment on March 11, he stayed away from the Assembly for weeks. But late on March 20, Boyland clicked the Facebook button to “like” the New York State Assembly.
CityVille is one of a suite of games for Facebook that encourage social interaction. Boyland also dabbled in other popular Facebook games like FarmVille, FrontierVille and Mafia Wars.
His preferred game appears to be CityVille, which he plays almost every day. On days when the Assembly is adjourned, he updates the feed as often as 12 times a day.
CityVille can be addictive, as the Wall Street Journal noted earlier this year.
“CityVille is the perfect hospital-waiting-room activity,” wrote Liz Gannes. “Unlike in a real city, everything you can possibly accomplish in the game is good. You receive money, goods, reputation points, energy and random bonus prizes constantly.”
In William’s Town, Boyland spends time catching thieves, planting flowers, getting endorsements and engaging in other expressions of civic pride. And it’s not necessarily against Assembly rules to play games on your phone while you’re supposed to be working, said Ron Canestrari, the Assembly’s majority leader.
“It’s done; it’s hard to stop them; I hate it. But as long as someone’s not loud or disrupting things,―people do use them—go to the rear of the chamber, the front of chamber; they walk out,” Canestrari said.
He described Boyland as a “very quiet and private individual” with a “great sense of humor.”
Other Assembly members who sit near Boyland say he was virtually invisible, even when he was present.
“He didn’t spend much time in the seat,” groused Assemblyman William Magee, an upstate Democrat who sits directly behind Boyland.
“Other than that, he was kind of a low-profile guy, didn’t speak out much in the session,” Magee observed. “I didn’t have much to do with him.”
Boyland joined the Assembly after a 2003 special election that put him in the family business. Both his father and his uncle are former Assembly members, and his sister, Tracy Boyland, is a former New York City councilwoman.
Experts on social media say his habits may seem familiar to some political observers.
“Obviously, it all sounds a bit like Rep. Weiner’s circumstances
—without the sex, of course,” wrote Stuart Fischoff, senior editor of the Journal of Media Psychology. “Both politicians hung out in alternate realities and utilized social media like Facebook and Twitter.”
The game would make sense in the context of problems in Boyland’s daily life, Fischoff suggested.
“It would seem as though, increasingly, cyberspace and virtual reality are risky or questionable environments to inhabit for politicians who go there for some gratifications they can’t satisfy in the real world, be it sex, power, political success, or other drive or fantasy urges,” Fischoff said.
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