http://paloaltoonline.com/square/print/2007/03/16/to-the-eds


Town Square

To the Eds

Original post made by OhlonePar, Duveneck/St. Francis, on Mar 16, 2007

Dear Editors,

Just a little reminder, political debate is probably the mostly highly protected speech that there is. It's arguably the reason for the First Amendment.

While I realize that you can moderate your own forum, I wonder that you should set a particular set of rules in hopes of limiting discussion of a controversial political candidate. This seems contrary to what you, as *journalists* should want.

I'm sure each of you, as journalists, has had off-the-record sources. There are often good reasons for not using one's name. Many of us, for example, do not want our children penalized by this debate, but still want to be able to bring up important issues.

Particularly if there's an election at stake.

Comments

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2007 at 6:15 pm

I would like to echo the sentiments here. It appears that you have actually killed off any debate on a very important topic and if you can do it for this, then of course it would be possible to do this again.

Apart from the reasons for anonymity already given, it prevents children not only being targeted but also them getting involved in playground arguments on topics they do not fully understand. My main reason for not wanting to give my name is to prevent their embarrassment as I know that they read this forum themselves.

Keeping anonymous also keeps people able to debate who may be standing for PTA office or other school roles. It means that teachers and those who work in PAUSD can voice their opinions without fear of career ramifications, particularly if their job is not affected in any way about the topics being discussed.

I would ask respectfully that you reconsider your decision.

Thank you.



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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2007 at 6:22 pm

Completely agree.

Fear of retribution against our kids is a valid concern, and in fact has actually already affected at least one kid.

I think that it is better to simply set rules about what you will allow on the forum.

The expression of an opinion, especially backed by fact, is a basic tenet of our freedom of speech. Granted, of course it would be better if we could all simply own our opinions with our full names online, but given the highly emotional nature of many issues and the fact that not everyone is level-headed in their responses, I think that you are putting a severe crimp in the usefulness of this forum by requiring our names when giving our opinions.

Especially when it is opinions concerning the qualifications of people who have thrust themselves into the PUBLIC REALM through putting themselves into the position of holding what are normally elected seats which represent the people.

Otherwise, everyone will simply shut up.


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Posted by agreed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2007 at 6:49 pm

I completely agree, especially given the vindictive way certain "people who have thrust themselves into the PUBLIC REALM" have behaved.


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Posted by Simon Firth
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 16, 2007 at 8:03 pm

I think this is a great idea and I wish registration were required to comment on all Town Square threads.

I have made it a point to try to always comment here under my real name. That disciplines me to only say things that I am prepared to stand behind and that I am willing to be a part of a permanent record.

I think a community discussion is all the more healthy for it being between people who can expect to meet some day, in the flesh, in the community. I think anonymity breeds reckless, vituperative and unconstructive comments. There are people who clearly use their own name here and they (with a very few exceptions) seem to me to be this forum's most thoughtful, generous and thought-provoking participants.

Besides, for those who really need to remain anonymous, the current registration process really isn't that onerous. You can register under any screen name, can adopt an assumed first and surname and then use an email address from Yahoo etc. that does not reveal who you are. It's not like you are being asked your address or credit card number. I don't think Yahoo is going to tell the Weekly staff who you are if they try to track you via your email address.

Bottom line: you can stay anonymous if you really need to.

Registration, though, certainly helps overcome one major problem I have with this forum – that I have no idea with whom I am debating. Threads are full of 'parents' and 'residents' -- how am I to know whether one 'parent' I respond to is the next who responds to me? And what about the screen names we see often? Is every post by Wolf, or Periwinkle , or KS or even Grace Mah and Walter Wallis (how could any one person have the time to be him?!) by them? Maybe. Maybe not.

At least with a unique screen name you know you are dealing with the same person each time.

It's odd that the Weekly should only make this the process for some threads. Please let's all be expected to have a unique screen name at least – it takes seconds to do and it's completely standard at thousands of websites that PA residents use every day – and then we'd at least know the record of the people we're talking with, if not their actual identity.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 16, 2007 at 9:40 pm

I don't have a problem with a single moniker. I am always OhlonePar.

The more I think about it the more disturbed I am by the role the PA Weekly is assuming in this instance, which is a sort of protection of a particular candidate for a public office. That just is not and should never be the role of the Fourth Estate. There's a basic conflict of ethics here.

I mean, if a controversial figure's running for office, the paper's job is to report on the controversy, not supress it.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of University South
on Mar 16, 2007 at 9:46 pm

Nothing wrong with controversy, just insulting and bad behavior.

Sorry, it's a judgment call (which many of you may disagree on), but making yourself accountable (in such a small manner) helps to keep yourselves at least accountable to someone, if not yourself.


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Posted by Anonymous 2
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2007 at 10:04 pm

Everyone should be required to self-identify, same policy as for print media.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 16, 2007 at 11:24 pm

Unnamed sources are used all the time in the print media and affect public discourse.

Because I've chosen to keep my anonymity, I've actually been more discreet, not less. I've chosen not to make some information public, even though I consider it relevant because it is private.

Of course, both of you anons should, as a matter of principle, reveal yourselves.

Again, I would point to the reasoning behind the First Amendment and its role in protecting political discourse. It is not the job of a newspaper to protect a candidate for public office.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2007 at 11:06 am

Hmmm, maybe I wrote without enough knowledge.

Simon, you mean to say that there is a way to register that doesn't require my real name to be used online? I, like OhlonePar, use the same name all the time, but I agree with you, I am very suspicious about the fact that one person can use many different names on this forum, and basically carry on a conversation with himself if he wants!

I also have had to learn to ignore the "bait" when it comes up, as have many others, and I have noticed that the baiters are fewer.

But, if it is the case that you can register and still be anonymous, what is the point of registering? Is it that someone at the PAOnline knows who you are, and therefore if someone is inclined to be nasty, s/he might think twice knowing that SOMEONE local knows who they are? If that is the case, then I might consider doing it myself. Of course, then I would have to trust the PAOnline people to protect my identity...

I never say anything that I am ashamed of, and would love it if this would be a way for the PAOnline to write me and tell me WHY they deleted something I wrote, which has happened to my complete bafflement.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2007 at 6:02 pm

Resident: Yes, you can register with any user name and you don't even have to provide your real name where asked.

If you register and then log on, your name and neighborhood is automatically entered when you post a comment.

But, even if you are registered, if you don't log on you can enter any name/neighborhood you want when posting.

This "restriction" doesn't seem to really restrict anything.


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Posted by Not happy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2007 at 9:54 pm

Other than it creates a weird 'big brother' esque situation. Who registration 'see's, or can detect the identity of the posters, and why? And what will they do with it? What 'can' they do with it or who can they pass it on to?

And why are the cencors on PAO suddenly showing some pretty obvious selectivity in deleting in favor of a single 'side' on one of the most controversial issues? And responding to people that question their censorship policies that they have the perogative to filter on stuff they don't like and don't think their readers will like?

Its CREEPY, is what it is...


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Posted by Andrea
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2007 at 9:12 am

I agree with not happy. Lately, I've had the feeling that some of the censorship is the result of some bias, perhaps a response to an outside directive...can't put my finger on it, but it is CREEPY.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2007 at 6:43 pm

The silence from the Weekly on this matter is deafening!!


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2007 at 5:29 pm

The other obvious thing is that the controlled thread is pretty slow. The discussion is simply happening elsewhere.

Further note to Eds. These forums are supposed to generate traffic--trying to kill controversy decreases hits.

Also, the BoE is getting slammed pretty hard in a couple of threads right now. How come it's okay to do that, but not criticize someone trying her damnedest to influence local educational policy? And trying to nab a public office?


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 20, 2007 at 10:15 pm

The controlled thread is for bravehearts. Clearly those of you who have things to say anonymously (like myself) are cowards. As one post-registration poster exemplified, you don't have to sign in with your real name or real email address.

From the commentes here, many of you are paranoid AND cowardly. Do you really think the Weekly is going to give your emails and names away to "the big cheese"? Give us all a break.

If the malicious mud-slinging (aka "discussion") is happening somewhere else - that's good. No grafitti here.


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Posted by another parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 21, 2007 at 7:23 am

here here, anonymous! I'd much rather save the Weekly from cleaning up grafitti (purge the inappropriate postings), and see the tagging go on somewhere else. somewhere on another thread (or this one?) someone asked that thoughtful discourse stay on TownSquare and the random other comments (not thoughtful, not respectful) could go somewhere else, like the other local forum at the other paper.

zero tolerance!


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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2007 at 8:57 am

I think that anonymous and another parent should be put in charge of determining what postings will be allowed on this forum. Those that they consider to be "not thoughtful" or "not respectful" will be immediately removed.
I think that will go a long way in showing people that even newspapers that complain about censorship can do a good job in censoring others (in other words "do as I say not as I do").


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2007 at 8:40 pm

Some of us aren't paranoid, some of us simply survived Usenet. It only takes one weird obsessive to make using one's own name online real tiresome real fast.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 22, 2007 at 10:01 pm

They just let someone in Crescent Park call me "hysterical" several times for being against the blanket poisoning of a few acres behind Gunn High School. But several strong messages I wrote in other discussions, which did not use name-calling but simply expressed a strong opinion, were deleted.