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What Kind Of Forum Is This??

Original post made by Observer, Old Palo Alto, on Jan 31, 2007

What the heck is going on these days with this forum? The Weekly police squad seem to be removing posts left and right and even locked the thread dealing with the topic of such "edits" (and deletions). Their "rationale" apparently is that you can say virtually anything against a non-specific person or group, or say something totally stupid or outrageous, but if you actually name a name, especially in terms of responding to a specific poster (who 9 times out of 10 is just using an online name like "Parent" anyway, so it's not like you're calling out a real person in public), that's it, it's history. What kind of standard is that?

Comments (29)

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Posted by Another mother here
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 31, 2007 at 5:16 am

I agree..freedom of the press...hired help or not hired help. Print it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Boaz
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jan 31, 2007 at 7:13 am

Clearly this is Palo Alto PC run amuck. They have even taken to deleting entire threads, besides the above mentioned locking threads and censoring posts.


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Posted by Jewish resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2007 at 7:15 am

I saw the "edits" thread before it was locked, and it had evolved into hateful diatribe against Jewish people, and blatantly violated the first two "terms of use" established by PA Online:

* You agree to be respectful of others, be truthful and be solely responsible for all postings you make.

* You agree not to use any profanity, nor post any information that is hateful, libelous or obscene, or that is threatening, abusive or offensive to any individual, group or class of person.

It is not just adults who participate in this forum, I have seen many posts by students as well, and it's important for them to see that as a community we value respectful dialogue. While everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, you must find a civil way to make your points, or they are not appropriate here.

There are plenty of other places online for people to express themselves in any way they want, no matter how offensive. I support Online staff for removing these comments.


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Posted by Uri Kimmelman
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 31, 2007 at 7:40 am

As a Jewish person, I can attest that I never read any ' hateful diatribe against Jewish people' here. I have read post condemning the Israeli occupation and habitual human right abuses in the occupied territories. I have read criticism of the efforts by various pro-Israeli lobbies to stiffle all criticism of the Israeli brutal occupation. There's a huge difference. Many Jewish Israelis despise the occupation and feel that the efforts of AIPAC and other pro-Likid lobby organizations to prevent any pressure on israel viv-a-vis the occupation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution are actually the worst threat to israel's future. Equating anti-occupation positions with anti-semitism is really nothing but demagoguery.


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Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jan 31, 2007 at 7:55 am

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

I think an examination of the posts on our site will demonstrate to any reasonable person that we have been very generous in allowing posters to express themselves on all sides of various issues. In the last week or so, however, a hand-full of people have exercised no restraint in posting disrespectful and sometimes hateful comments. They also have repeatedly attempted to start almost identical topics that are designed to simply "game" the system by ensuring that their topics are always at the top of new posts.

Those of you who do not like our policies are invited to find another forum for your conversation. Many forums initially designed as friendly places for the community to connect get taken over by those with shrill and extreme ideas and drive others away. Not everyone will agree with where we choose to draw the line, but it is our right to draw that line and we will do so in the interest of preserving a forum where children and adults feel comfortable coming and participating without being exposed to disrespectful treatment.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 31, 2007 at 8:27 am

All I can say is THANK YOU for tyring to keep this forum from turning into the mess that the Daily News forum has become. Once a forum starts getting dominated by a few extreme ideologues, it ruins it for everyone else. I think it would be wonderful if all those that don't like being moderated go there and let the rest of us stay here to carry on some constructive conversations! In my opinion, Palo Alto Online allows some of the posts to remain when they should be deleted.


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Posted by Another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2007 at 9:12 am

I agree with what you are doing. I do like to read all the threads, not just the ones that I am most interested in and I know my teenage daughter also reads many. When some of this hateful stuff is posted, that is when I turn off as I just do not choose to read it, but I am still interested in the opinions and for me the fact that it has become too hateful is a shame as I would rather read the same opinions from the same people, but in an appropriate manner.

This is not the first time things have got out of hand. I remember sometime ago a thread about Sears leaving and Home Depot moving in similarly got out of line and had to be locked. Since this was a completely different topic, it is obviously not the same two factions getting involved.

However, what did amaze me slightly was when I noticed a Halloween thread cut off about a house decorated with a space ship. I saw absolutely nothing wrong with that thread and given the proximity to Halloween, it was just the spirit of the season, so why was that one cut off?


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Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jan 31, 2007 at 10:34 am

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

The Halloween thread deletion was a mistake. The staff person monitoring the forum that day misunderstood the post and thought someone had posted maliciously, when in fact it was all in good fun. Our apologies.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Robin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 31, 2007 at 11:08 am

Why didn't you post this as a topic so we aren't left wondering who is responsible and what their reasoning is?

"I think an examination of the posts on our site will demonstrate to any reasonable person that we have been very generous in allowing posters to express themselves on all sides of various issues. In the last week or so, however, a hand-full of people have exercised no restraint in posting disrespectful and sometimes hateful comments. They also have repeatedly attempted to start almost identical topics that are designed to simply "game" the system by ensuring that their topics are always at the top of new posts.

Those of you who do not like our policies are invited to find another forum for your conversation. Many forums initially designed as friendly places for the community to connect get taken over by those with shrill and extreme ideas and drive others away. Not everyone will agree with where we choose to draw the line, but it is our right to draw that line and we will do so in the interest of preserving a forum where children and adults feel comfortable coming and participating without being exposed to disrespectful treatment."


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Posted by Draw the Line
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 31, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Even though I was deleted once and have no idea why ( I can only assume that someone misunderstood something I wrote, which would be my fault for not writing well) I have to 100% support keeping dialogue as civil as possible. I avoid all other blogs because of the rapid deterioration into non-civil discourse.

I would like a way for us to get what was "wrong" returned to us so that we can know what was not said well enough. I am not kidding when I tell you that I was completely baffled about why I was deleted. I hadn't kept a copy of it, so I couldn't go back and review it, unfortunately.

Do you have a way to send us back "inappropriate" posts? Can you do this? Or does this all come in through to you in a way that you don't know who is sending it? ie: Can you hit "reply" on our sending, or is it anonymous for you, too?

Also, I am grateful you have recognized the "gaming" of the system. I don't know how you are going to stop it. I don't know if you can, really. I suppose the best the rest of us can do is to ignore the bait. Hard to do on emotional topics. I am embarrassed to admit I have been drawn in myself, especially lately, to very close to my heart topics, and had just very recently realized we were being baited.

By the way, Mr. Johnson, I like your "draw the line" picture. Am I being paranoid to think you are referring to me in particular? Or was that coincidence?






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Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jan 31, 2007 at 2:21 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

The idea of being able to communicate back to a poster with reasons for a deletion or edit to their post is a good one, but it would require all posters to register and provide an e-mail address. Currently, we have no way of responding. We are looking into providing an easy way for a poster to send an e-mail to our staff and ask for the reason, which is what some people have done anyway by looking up our e-mail addresses. Ideally, I agree it would be nice to be able to return a post and request that it be rewritten. Maybe the answer is to require an e-mail address for all posts that doesn't appear online but that is available to our staff if needed.

One of the pleasant surprises of Town Square in these early months has been the degree of self-policing that takes place. More times than not, if one poster gets too emotional and posts an inappropriate or "baiting" comment, others will either ignore the post or respond with a firm admonition that it is inappropriate and is counter to the goals of Town Square.

In the case of the problems of the last week or so, however, one disrespectful comment has led to a retaliatory disrespectful comment, and we have found it best to step in and either lock the thread or remove it entirely to put an end to it. My hope is that this will discourage these people and they will go elsewhere. Unfortunately, these folks sometimes then redirect their hostility toward Town Square and claim their posts were "censored" because the Weekly or Palo Alto Online didn't agree with their points of view. This in turn leads to posts similar to the one that started this thread.

Like all forums of this nature, we are feeling our way. It's only been six months and the success of Town Square has vastly exceeded our expectations. I'd rather error on the side of cautiousness right now, and take our lumps from those who see us as censors.

And to Draw the Line....nothing personal lifting your posting name, it just fit the need!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Robin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 31, 2007 at 3:19 pm

So are we forbidden to post a topic about Israel's 30:1 kill ratio or Israel's littering Lebanon with 1.2 million cluster bomblets?


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Posted by Brian Kaplan
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2007 at 7:13 pm

Bill,

I want to commend your efforts in creating and maintaining this on-line forum and stepping in only when necessary to maintain the overall integrity of the environment.

I have been equally impressed by your willingness to take valuable time to provide thoughtful responses in good faith to address concerns.

Keep up the good work and thank you for your efforts to keep this environment from being overwhelmed by a few who seem always in attack mode and interested in picking a fight.

I would strongly encourage you to err on the side of quickly removing any content you feel does not meet the "cilivity" test.

Nor would I spend too much time trying to explain to folks why their material has been removed - it's highly unlikely your answer will satisfy the recipient.

Best regards,

- Brian Kaplan


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Posted by Jewish resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2007 at 7:33 pm

Uri, you said, in response to my post, "As a Jewish person, I can attest that I never read any 'hateful diatribe against Jewish people' here."

Perhaps you didn't see the specific posts I was referring to before they were taken down. As you can see, your post is still here, so it was not found to be offensive. Criticizing the acts and policies of a foreign government is one thing, maligning an entire religious group is quite another. You understand the difference. Others clearly do not.

You ended with, "Equating anti-occupation positions with anti-semitism is really nothing but demagoguery." I agree completely!


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Posted by Robin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 31, 2007 at 9:07 pm

My entire post was just deleted.

Interesting that it's so important to silence me.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2007 at 9:48 pm

You agree not to use any profanity, nor post any information that is hateful, libelous or obscene, or that is threatening, abusive or offensive to any individual, group or class of person.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 1, 2007 at 12:03 am

I have always felt that Bill Johnson has the full right to edit whatever he likes. After all, it is his forum. I complained about the nature of the edits, which recently became much less discriminating, rather than about their right to do it.

I do however, take exception to Bill Johnson's willingness to take his lumps from "those who see us as censors." What else should we see you as, if not as censors? You can be a highly discriminating censor, or a heavy handed one; a wise one, or a foolish one; a benevolent one, or a malicious one. But you still are a censor, whether you like it or not.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by joyce
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2007 at 5:50 am

I am concerned that threads and posts about the Israeli occupation have been deleted. For far too long any criticism of Israeli barbarism has been silenced by censorship and if it couldn't be censored, the individuals smeared as anti-semitic.

Palo Alto isn't isolated, you're a community newspaper, and people should be able to discuss world affairs here. I wonder if you would have deleted postings about South Africa if this were years ago?


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Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Feb 1, 2007 at 7:52 am

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

Joyce,

I can only assume that you are new to the forum and are basing your comment on the posts on this thread. There have been many comments critical of Israel and its policies. Just take a look at the Issues Beyond Palo Alto section. What we won't allow are comments made in a shrill and disrespectful way that are designed only to provoke and inflame others, and repetitive new posts that are simply made to create another opportunity for the same few people to make the same disrespectful comments. How does that "dialogue" contribute to anything productive?

Wolf,

I accept your point. I think of "censor" as having a political motivation, with the purpose of manipulating the information people receive to achieve an end. I don't feel that's what we are doing, but understand why you might not agree.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Robin
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2007 at 8:52 am

Bill,

Are you sure it's appropriate for children to read the topic "Suicide Bombing in Israel" and its associated comments?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by observer
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2007 at 11:10 am

The notion that public information should be presented at a child's level is just too much dumbing down. I've heard of this once before, when the media reported on some terrible crime. But this is ridiculous. Parents are becoming so fearful, and of course it is encouraged by the media.
If you don't want children to be exposed to violence and obscenity get rid of the TV and don't let them go to the movies. That's where the cesspool is. But it is important for everyone to know what the real world is about, even though you may want to tone it down a bit for your children. As an adult, I prefer knowing what is really going on, including opinions about it.


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Posted by Robin
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2007 at 12:06 pm

observer:

In part I was responding to an earlier comment in this topic:

"It is not just adults who participate in this forum, I have seen many posts by students as well, and it's important for them to see that as a community we value respectful dialogue."

Do we really want students and children (or anyone else) to see the kind of verbage found throughout the topic "Suicide Bombings in Israel", such as:

"Jimmy says they might stop bombing as soon as Israel gives them everything they want."

"They just have to acknowledge Israel's right to exist, and stop trying to kill Israelis."

"the Palestinians are not serious about peace--they are only serious about the destruction of Israel"

"the Palestinians use children to fight their war, knowing that dead children will earn them sympathy. They have little regard for the lives of their own children, let alone the numerous Israeli childen murdered by Palestinian homicide bombers that you seem to support."

"Perhaps you can trust your Palestinian compatriots, but I think history has shown how trustworthy they are."

"you are completely wrong and have for some reason thrown your sympathies entirely to a group that is bent on Israel's destruction."

"it is a fact, not propoganda, that the Palestinians wish to destroy israel--it is in their charter and in the words they speak. It is also a fact that the "brave" Palestinian fighters hide behind women and children and even have tried using them as homicide bombers. They send children out on the street to throw stones, which are deadly weapons in certain cases."








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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 1, 2007 at 12:40 pm

Robin, Since you have cut and pasted a number of things that I wrote (among all the quotations you cite above), all I can say is that I am expressing my opinion in a repectful manner (this must be the case since these postings have not been edited by the staff). I think that is important for students and children to see and was one of the points that Bill Johnson made.
WE may not all agree with the Palestine/Israel issue but I think we can be civil in our discourse unlike some people who have their postings edited continuously by the staff.


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Posted by Robin
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2007 at 12:52 pm

Marvin,

Last night I posted nearly the very same quotations taken from the topic "Suicide Bombing in Israel".

My entire post was deleted.

Does that make any sense to you?

Do you believe Town Forum moderators being fair to those on both sides of these issues regarding Palestine and Israel?



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Feb 1, 2007 at 1:40 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

Robin, your recent posts have been deleted because they are simply repeating stuff you have already posted. The effect of this is to create multiple threads on the same basic subject, which then attract the same small number of people who become increasingly hostile and disrespectful in their comments. No one is served by this type of communication.

We will continue to delete your posts if 1) they are repetitive, 2) they occur too frequently, and 3) if they contain inflammatory and disrespectful language. If you aren't willing to accept these actions on our part, then please find a forum that will be more open to your style of communicating. There has been plenty of robust debate on this site pertaining to Mid East politics and you can participate if you adhere to the policies we have established.




 +   Like this comment
Posted by Robin
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2007 at 3:00 pm

Bill,

How is the verbage in the topic "Suicide Bombings in Israel" neither inflammatory nor repetitive?

Repeated comments in that topic alone dishonestly and disrespectfully labeling critics of Israel as "Israel haters", "Israel-bashing", anti-Israel, and "anti-Semitic".

In the same topic, repeated comments dishonestly and disrespectfully insist "Israel's neighbors" and the Palestinians need to "stop trying to kill Israelis" and Palestinians "are only serious about the destruction of Israel" and "wish to destroy israel". One poster accuses another of having "thrown your sympathies entirely to a group that is bent on Israel's destruction".

So again I'm wondering, is Town Forum being even handed placing the same demands on opposing sides of the Palestine/Israel issue?



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Posted by Brian Kaplan
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2007 at 5:29 pm

Bill,

Not sure what control you have over the software environment but I would love to see the "Posted by xx, a resident of the xxx neighborhood, xx hours ago" moved to the top of the post.

This would make it much easier to quickly see the poster, assign credibility, and then skip over posts from folks whose comments one does not particularly value.

I find myself more and more needing to go to the bottom of long posts to see the poster name first to see if I "trust" that the comments will be worthwhile. If so, then scroll back to the top to read on

Just a thought…


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Draw the Line
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 1, 2007 at 8:51 pm

I like Brian's comment. Good one. Can you do it? I am now doing the same thing to see if it is someone posting I think is worth spending my time on.

I agree with his "thanks" also.

I have been thinking about whether or not I would post my honest opinion as bluntly as I sometimes do if I were required to "register" my identity so that "someone" could send my post back to me if needed.

The problem would be one of trust. Could I trust that "someone" to keep my identity anonymous? Not because I am ashamed of or don't back up what I say, but because I believe there really are people who could seek me out to hurt me in retaliation for some of my opinions.

I have actually read a couple people say that they believe I, and other people who agreed with me, should be forcibly shut up for my views. So, this tells me that there really are some very dangerous, radical people here, and that it wouldn't be wise to come "out" to them. We have real fascists living right here! Or, at least, I assume they live here, who knows where the reality is?

So, that would be the only problem I would see with the registration idea.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2007 at 4:30 pm

This site is the property of The Palo Alto Weekly, and they have an absolute right to control the messages that are left here.
I am disappointed that they have chosen to limit the response to insults to the choice of the U.S. electorate and to the troops projecting our interests around the world, but then I don't always get what I want.


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