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A great article on "Why we need to get rid of anonymous comments".

Original post made by peter carpenter, Atherton, on Mar 10, 2011

Web Link

Two excerpts:

" Anonymity has long been hailed as one of the founding philosophies of the Internet, a critical bulwark protecting our privacy. But that view no longer holds. In all but the most extreme scenarios—everywhere outside of repressive governments—anonymity damages online communities. Letting people remain anonymous while engaging in fundamentally public behavior encourages them to behave badly. Indeed, we shouldn't stop at comments. Web sites should move toward requiring people to reveal their real names when engaging in all online behavior that's understood to be public—when you're posting a restaurant review or when you're voting up a story on Reddit, say. In almost all cases, the Web would be much better off if everyone told the world who they really are."

"What's my beef with anonymity? For one thing, several social science studies have shown that when people know their identities are secret (whether offline or online), they behave much worse than they otherwise would have. Formally, this has been called the "online disinhibition effect,"

**************************

As I have stated elsewhere on this forum "The people who post on this forum anonymously do so, by their own admission, for the very reason that they wish to hide something (definition - 1. without any name acknowledged, as that of author, contributor, or the like: an anonymous letter to the editor; an anonymous donation.

2. of unknown name; whose name is withheld: an anonymous author.

3. lacking individuality, unique character, or distinction).

What exactly they wish to hide can only be guessed - it may be their name, their actual place of residence, their occupation, their experience or lack thereof, their otherwise known biases and conflicts of interest or the fact that they have also posted under numerous other noms de guerre. What these anonymous individuals opine must then be filtered though the lens which they themselves have created. In a discussion such as this one about the airport it is always helpful to be able to assess the knowledge base of the poster - which is difficult to do if we have no idea who they are or of their competency on the subject matter. Each reader must therefore use their own judgment in evaluating such postings.

***********

Let the anonymous attacks begin.


Comments (12)

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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 10, 2011 at 7:34 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

An anonymous person creatively calling themselves anonymous asks:"Pete:

Is it the anonymity, or do you just want folks registered?

Please make up your mind about what distresses you so...."

My preference is to have an intelligent dialogue with individuals who use their real name. My second choice is to have a much more limited conversation with someone who has registered with the editors when a specific and constant nom de guerre vs an anonymous person who can constantly change their assumed name. I have no interest in a discussion with an ephemeral entity who has no accountability or responsibility for their utterances.

Others may feel differently but as the referenced article states so well "several social science studies have shown that when people know their identities are secret (whether offline or online), they behave much worse than they otherwise would have. Formally, this has been called the "online disinhibition effect,"


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Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Marie is a registered user.

I support requiring all posters to register. Most of the really obnoxious posts are from unregistered posters. Those posts discourage thoughtful exchanges and encourage trolls. They also lead to a high percentage of posts that are of no value. Registration also restrains people from posting criminal threats and bullying.

I applaud those who use there own names but I don't use my own name, because I am a single woman living alone and there are too many crazies out there. My address is too easily googled despite an unlisted phone number. I really don't worry a whole lot about PA Weekly disclosing my name inadvertently. Anyone who is going to work that hard at it can get it anyway. I worry a lot more about skimmers in gas stations getting my identity.


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Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 11, 2011 at 10:25 am

svatoid is a registered user.

Here we go again more complaints about so-called "anonymous" postings. SOme people are so sensitive to any criticism of their comments that they use the excuse of "being attacked by anonymous posters" to justify their lashing out as said posters.
I am sure there are plenty of forums that allow only registered posters to post. Those people who dislike anonymous postings should post there. It should be pointed out that the Weekly uses the same format as the NY Times, SF Chronicle, SJ Mercury News were you can be registered as a poster and still use an alias on your postings.
We have discussed many times the reasons for anonymous postings--many of these reasons are very valid. Unfortunately some people feel the need to know the identity of whomever comments on their writings. Why I do not know. But it does give me the creeps sometimes


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 11, 2011 at 4:12 pm

curmudgeon is a registered user.

What's to keep crackpots from hiding behind the names of respectable citizens who don't care to bother with this forum, as I suspect often happens?


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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 11, 2011 at 4:21 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

"What's to keep crackpots from hiding behind the names of respectable citizens who don't care to bother reading these forums, as I suspect often happens?"

Actually the editors DO follow up when someone uses someone else's name and they generally ban further postings from the IP address involved.


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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 11, 2011 at 4:24 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

"Unfortunately some people feel the need to know the identity of whomever comments on their writings."

Thoughtful anonymous comments stand on their own merits, as do unthoughtful ones.

Thoughtless personal attacks from anonymous posters reflect only on the poster - who is unfortunately hiding.


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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 12, 2011 at 6:49 am

peter carpenter is a registered user.

Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, 8 hours ago
RS is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online

Peter,

The problem with actual names is that I can get the phone number and address for anyone that uses their actual name here. Its not clear to me that everyone that participates on or reads this forum, I trust to have my phone number and address. I obviously dont mind registering as long as I dont have to use my real name.

The other problem with real names is one might not want to have their opinions impact them outside of this forum, or follow them around until the end of time. I have usenet posts I made in the 80s that are still out there. Fortunately they are all benign, but still its not clear I want an opinion I expressed once upon a time to follow me around for life.

Now a few of this forum's non-anonymous posters are quite harsh and one even risks slander in almost every post he makes on this forum. The fact that the posters are easy to find in the real world has not inhibited the tenor of their posts in the slightest.

Conside that it might be the nature of the topics in this forum rather than the anonymity of the posters that contributes to disrespectful tones.
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Posted by Bully, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, 7 hours ago

PETER also states that NO topic on this forum EVER involved intelligent discussion on any topic!!! Yet peter continues to post on this forum!! Not talk about needing to get off your high horse!!
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Posted by peter carpenter, a resident of Atherton, 8 minutes ago
peter carpenter is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online

RS states:"The other problem with real names is one might not want to have their opinions impact them outside of this forum, or follow them around until the end of time."

Precisely - that is what I mean by the lack of accountability. If you don't have to/want to stand behind your words then why should others place much credence in those words.

Bully - I await an example of a topic on this forum that involved a clearly stated question, a balanced discussion of the pros and cons and any sense of agreement ( including as an option agreeing to disagree).


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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 12, 2011 at 11:22 am

peter carpenter is a registered user.

Well the Editors have chosen to close the other thread on this topic just as we were starting to have a reasonable discussion so I will add those postings here and perhaps we can continue the constructive dialogue.

******************

Posted by peter carpenter, a resident of Atherton, 2 hours ago
peter carpenter is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online

Resident - Let me also apologize for not responding earlier to your voting question.

I responded to the first part of your posting but I missed responding to the voting question and I do have a responsibility to respond given that I am advocating that the forum be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion.
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Posted by peter carpenter, a resident of Atherton, 2 hours ago
peter carpenter is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online

Bully - you are fully entitled to your opinion and I to mine. I find no need to attack you as your opinions speak for themselves.

But why are you so compelled to misspeak for me - "He does not believe in any opinion but his own." Why not put forth persuasive arguments as to why anonymous posting, particularly by unregistered users, add value to this forum being a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion?
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Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, 2 hours ago

"Do you give more value to what someone with known expertise says than to that of a stranger? Do you give more value to a teacher that you know than to an anonymous person?"

Just because someone uses their real name here, does not make them less of a stranger. You use your real name and I dont know you from Adam nor do I really know thats really your real name. ;-)

If I used my real name how would that make me less of a stranger? It just gives you a convenient way to associate all my opinions. Besides you might be able to figure out I am really just some Stanford student's AI experiment. ;-)
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Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, 1 hour ago

Peter

I agree that this is not a place where votes are counted.

I chose voting in elections where all voters are anonymous as an example where there is a strength in the fact that we do not have to stand behind what we say. If, for example, we had to sign our names on our electoral votes, perhaps we would be voting differently than when we have anonymous votes. For instance, if there was a means to look at the voting record of everyone living on our street and finding out who or what they voted for, I suspect that those who voted for McCain/Palin (as an example) would be looked down on by the majority of Palo Altans. This may prevent those people from voting altogether or even to vote for someone else.

This shows that there are times when being able to put forward an anonymous opinion is a strength, not a weakness. I also happen to think that there is a strength in this Forum that people can put out their own ideas without fear of repurcussions and can actually change their minds on a topic when reading other opinions can bring forward ideas that they hadn't thought of. It is possible that people can change their minds on a topic just like people can change their minds on which party to vote for from election to election.

So now I have taken the discussion out of the realms of this forum into a bigger stage. That is how discussions develop.

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Posted by peter carpenter, a resident of Atherton, 1 hour ago
peter carpenter is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online

Resident - very helpful comments.

I see voting as a system wherein each vote has equal value and hence there is no need to 'weigh' the experience or qualifications of the voter. When it comes to opinions then I think that the strength of the argument as well as the source of the opinion are relevant to evaluating that opinion - someone with a vested interest in X may make a strong argument supporting X but their argument needs to be considered in light of their vested interest - that is hard to do if X's vested interest is hidden behind an anonymous name. And with facts there is a need to document those facts; just because someone calls himself truth that does not mean that everything that person says in truthful. And if someone calls themselves Bully then might one begin with the assumption that there is a reason that they have chosen to so describe themselves?

For example, if someone offers an opinion on the challenges of instrument flying then it is useful to know if that person has any source credibility - with a known poster their FAA privileges are a matter of public record but with an anonymous person you have to reserve judgment.

As for changing ones mind I often change my mind and am seldom embarrassed when I have done so in response to new information - why should my prior position bind me forever holding a particular view? You suggest that being anonymous allows you to change your position but implying that once you state your name that you can never change your position - the only difference is that a known person may have to eat some humble pie but an anonymous person can simply change their name every time that they want to change their position - hardly a way to gain source credibility.

Thanks for engaging in a thoughtful discussion.
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Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, 1 hour ago

Been thinking about the teacher question while I was showering.

I think that if I as an adult were to sign up and pay for a class, I would be very keen to know the credentials of the teacher, who he was and what experience he had in that subject. I was presumably hoping to be taught facts and although I would welcome his educated opinion I would want to be able to discern between the facts and his opinions and hope to be able to form my own opinion. Alternatively, if it was my child being taught in a public school, I would expect the teacher to be teaching facts to my child and leave out most of his opinion. So yes, knowing the credentials of a teacher is a good thing.

Perhaps a different scenario would be if I was looking for a church to attend. First I would look to see what different churches were in my neighborhood and what they called themselves and what were their afilliations. I would visit several churches, find out about their doctrine, listen to some of the teaching. If it followed my own ideas on what I believed then I would attend on a permanent basis. If it did not, I would find somewhere else.

Both these scenarios, in my opinion, are different from having a civilized discussion with another. Whether I was having a discussion with a neighbor (someone we just happen to know) or a friend (someone who we choose to spend time in the company of) makes little difference. If I choose to enter a discussion here on Town Square, I do not expect everyone to agree with me. Actually that would make very dull reading. I do expect to find some thoughtful opinions, ideas different to my own, a side to the topic I hadn't thought about, and expect my ideas to be treated with the same courtesy that I give to the others. I don't think the fact that the person's name being there adds more or less credibility to the worth of those opinions in this Forum. I am not paying for them as in a class, and I am not expecting to deepen my faith as in a church. I am choosing to enter a dialog with complete strangers as a means of stretching my mind in a safer setting than standing up on my soapbox on a street corner.

This is a great discussion but now I have to get on with my day.
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Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, 1 hour ago

Peter

I now begin to see where you are coming from

I do take more credence on the posts where you have spoken about flying because I do believe that you have experience in this topic and it makes so much more sense to me than those who are obviously completely ignorant. In that respect I respect you for signing your name.

I agree that on some emotive issues, people who hide behing a moniker like "Bully" takes away from what they are saying even if you happen to agree with what they are saying.

I also agree that it is easier sometimes for a person to invent another name for themselves to (a) make it look like there are more people agreeing with a topic than there really are (it is easy to use more than one computer to do this e.g. at work, the library, etc. and (b) change one's mind without appearing to have done so by using a different name.

In that we are in agreement.

But I tend to use the same name and I know others use the same name also. If we are having a useful dialog/discussion does the fact that I call myself "resident" as opposed to "John/Jane Smith" make any difference to the discussion itself? In some cases perhaps I agree with you, in a techinical field, for example (see you are beginning to alter my thinking), but not always.
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Posted by peter carpenter, a resident of Atherton, 56 minutes ago
peter carpenter is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online

Resident states"I don't think the fact that the person's name being there adds more or less credibility to the worth of those opinions in this Forum".

Perfect, because this is where you and I disagree. I try to evaluate each opinion or offered 'fact' first on its own merits and then on the basis of the source. I give more credence to what someone says about firefighting if I know that they are or have been a firefighter. I am less concerned about the posters credentials if we are discussing matters of belief or religion. If someone whom I know offers me an opinion then it is much easier for me to evaluate that opinion than if it is an opinion offered to me by a stranger. There are thousands of examples on this forum where posters have stated facts without any documentation of the source of those facts. If a know the poster (either by virtue of their real name and their known and public record or, as in the case of POGO, because they are a registered anonymous poster who ALWAYS uses the same name and who has a long track record of postings that define his credibility, then I can decide how much validity to give those undocumented facts. But if the poster is anonymous without a long posting track record using the same name then I am not inclined to accept their proffered 'facts' at face value. If someone uses an anonymous name that has never appeared on this forum before (like Bully in this thread) then I have no way of determining their credibility.
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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, 38 minutes ago
Walter_E_Wallis is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online

I still go for a split forum - One for names and one for anonymous.
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Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, 37 minutes ago

Peter, more thoughts.

I have read your posts about flying and from the beginning, you said that you had expertise and your posts showed that. As a result, each time you posted using your name I knew exactly what my thoughts on you were and I respect you and your opinion on such topics. I have said that in discussions with regards to flying.

If, for example, on a topic about rocket science, I was to call myself John/Jane Smith, Rocket Scientist, and then proceeded to show through my posts that I know nothing about rocket science, I would not have much credibility even though I had posted my name and my presumed expertise. Likewise, on a topic about education, if I call myself "Resident, a parent of a Paly Student" and then prodeeded with information and opinion that supported the fact that I was indeed a parent of a Paly student, would it detract from the fact that I was not posting my name. I think, or would hope, that my knowledge and opinion would stand up much more than the name John/Jane Smith.

I do thank you for posting your name and your expertise in topics dealing with flying and yes they do carry more weight as a result. But if you were to post about an issue in regards to Paly I would take your name as of little relevance unless you were also able to prove that you were more knowledgeable than me, particularly if we disagreed.
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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 12, 2011 at 11:56 am

RS is a registered user.

Locking it seemed quite arbitary. Not clear that trying to make this forum a better place is worth the effort when a topic about making it a better more useful place is locked up. I think this forum is more about ad revenue than being a community resource, but thats just my opinion. So if the powers that be want to explain why that topic was closed, I'd like to hear.


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Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Mar 12, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

We decided to shut down the other thread because the posts had become repetitive and largely a debate between a couple of stubborn people making the same points over and over again. It had run its natural course.


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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 12, 2011 at 12:36 pm

RS is a registered user.

so I can see that, how does that cause an issue for the operation of this forum?
Just moderator overhead?


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Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Mar 12, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

It's mostly to discourage this behavior on the site. It becomes tiresome for readers and if allowed to go on unabated at the whim of a couple of posters, we fear it could become more frequent. Our goal is to have many voices and viewpoints represented on Town Square, not to provide a place for a couple of strong-willed people who are trying to land a knock-out punch and/or have the last word. It tends to get personal when everyone has left the room except a couple of die-hards. Plus, as you point out, it does demand additional moderator attention. Hope that helps.


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