http://paloaltoonline.com/square/print/2007/07/11/our-town-more-about-town-square


Town Square

Our Town: More about Town Square

Original post made on Jul 11, 2007

This is a response to reactions to the column I wrote last week about the level of rancor that is often evident in the anonymous postings on Palo Alto Online's Town Square forum.

Read the full story here Web Link

Comments

Posted by bystander, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2007 at 9:04 am

"Be nice or go away."

Nice sentiment. You might like to have it added to the boilerplate in the "Add a Comment" section of the town square posts. A small reminder may have a subtle but noticable impact.

On the other hand, your post is at odds with your editorial staff who have choosen a post from one of the recent more caustic threads to highlight in your "This week on Town Square" section of Wednesday's paper: Web Link

The first entry from "Sally L." is taken from this thread: Web Link
The thread has numerous [Portion/Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] entries and is now locked!


Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Jul 11, 2007 at 9:45 am

Don,

I do think requiring people to sign their statements would dramatically reduce the number of postings an dunderstand that you are not advocating requiring signed postings.

But signing does more to respect American values than annonymity.

When people speak in public or write in newspapers we know who they are. When elected representatives speak (here or in Washington) they take public responsibility for their statements.

Our entire legal system is based on "signed" testimony. The right to face your accuser is fundamental to our version of a fair legal system. On talk radio even if you don't give your real name someone can recognize your voice.

I guess annonymity would be less of a challenge is, as you suggest, comments were respectful.

And I understand that we all participate in Town Square voluntarily.

Yet the Weekly bears some responsibility to ponder whether this is what you wanted. For it is surely true that only people who can take a good deal of "in your face" back and forth will continue on Town Square as it is. Which, in a way, is exactly the opposite of providing a forum that draws people into coming together to discuss and move toward solution on local challenges.

I guess in the end I would take the position that you have taken, but boosting annonymity as a legitimate forum for the kind of venom that often makes it into Town Square leaves a bitter taste.

Are there any constitutional scholars out there who can comment on annonymity and the first amendment?


Posted by Craig, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2007 at 11:27 am

The desire to, in a manner of speaking, crush your opponents, is probably just part of human nature. Civility and respect are virtues that seem to be emphasized less in recent years. In this particular online environment, when people disagree, they seem to want to just go for the jugular of the poster - attacking their credibility. For example, someone might comment about the war and a response might essentially be - "You aren't a soldier, so your opinion isn't valid." In fact, it would be nice if someone said it that way - typically, it might by phrased as, "You're an idiot. Unless you served, shut your mouth." I once commented about the police and Tasers, and the next post said something like, "You must be a white guy." Please keep in mind, these examples weren't meant to spark discussion of those controversial issues.
When you scroll through the postings, the communication tends to be so informal that the issue itself isn't really fleshed out, its more just some form of attack or unsupported claim. Here's the part where I included quotes taken from the board where I practice what I preach.
Another problem is the ease with which people can present statements as fact, and often there is little research behind those statements. These days, there are a million "studies" which all seem to contradict each other and these are used as evidence. Additionally, there are a million "news sources" and even some of the most well known have made some serious mistakes over the past few years. We are at a point where it seems like public opinion surveys are being used as supporting evidence where there is no logical connection. You see headlines like, "63% of Americans believe that X is true." It does not follow that people's opinions make the existence of X any more likely.

I'm not sure how much time the weekly wants to spend monitoring posts, but I think the best answer might be to have posts not be immediately viewable - rather, be reviewed for quality, then posted. If a post is nothing more than, "You are a complete idiot," then perhaps it shouldn't go on the public board. Here's what I believe would be a model exchange:

"Topic: Swedish Immersion -
I think the time has come for this great program. Swedish is a wonderful language and a great country. Lets start a program."
Posted by Sven 12/3/09 2:23pm

Reply:
Sven - Sweden is a great country, but I feel that it would not be the best use of school resources to provide a specialized program where the language is spoken by only about 8 million people - that's just X percentage of the world's population. I do appreciate your committment to exposing our kids to many different cultures though.
Posted by Steve 12/3/09 4:30pm

Instead of:
I think the time has come for this great program. Swedish is a wonderful language and a great country. Lets start a program."
Posted by Sven 12/3/09 2:23pm

Sven you are a complete moron. Swedish? You've got to be kidding me. Where the hell is that anyway? Bunch of commies. Where is the money gonna come from? Living around people like you scares me.
Posted by Steve 12/3/09 4:30pm

I'm not suggestion there has to be a specfic format, but rather that any posting should be civil, and provide a fairly original logically supported counter argument. There's plenty of room for wit and humor, as well - as long as its done respectfully.


Posted by PA Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2007 at 11:48 am

"Why anonymity?", Google remembers everything. If one is going to engage in a gloves-off verbal exchange, does one want all of that to live forever on the Google servers, with one's name attached?

That said, anonymity permits one to make several points, using different identities - points that might otherwise be rejected out of hand by readers who have a built in bias against a known real person, or even a particular pseudonym. In this way, multiple identities permit a forum participant to present often conflicting sides of an argument - i.e. opinions that would otherwise be written-off by readers who have created a perceptual bias. Thus, multiple identities can be an effective rhetorical tactic in online forums.

When two or more participants get particularly obsessive about making a point, it might help to to have an email address that is posted along with their name, or pseudonym; that would permit more off-line haggling around fine points, as in "let's take this off line".

Bottom line: it's the Weekly's forum, and the Weekly can monitor and edit as it pleases. I don't always agree with some of the edits, but se la vie

A few additional notes:

email postings are notoriously famous for being misinterpreted, because they are not accompanied by facial expression or verbal intonation. So, many remarks that are uttered tongue-in-cheek, or with a slightly raised eyebrow, or with a mildly sarcastic tone, are often mistaken by participants as harsh insults.

How about giving us the ability to enter graphic representations of facial expressions (like smileys)? That might help to lighten things up a bit.

Another thing I have found here is that there are some posters who insist on dead-level, extremely measured prose. Their style of presentation, one might say, is almost akin to having the color of their potential language "neutered". Those posters uses a kind of passive-aggressive "niceness" to push agendas that is often based on information that is dead wrong on their face - based on good information to the contrary.

When it comes to most municipal issues - things like staff funding, infrastructure, etc. we see most postings dominated by those who are intensely critical of staff, and policy makers - making generalizations without data, or skewing data to serve incomplete ends. The recent library audit post is a perfect example of this behavior, where the usual suspects showed up to trash the library. We will see the samer suspects coming out to trash the public safety building, or increases in education funding.

These residents need to be called on their facts, as the forums are often scanned by policy-makers. We need more balance in these forums; we need voices of reason accompanied by vision, instead of the penny-pinching, regressives (who like to call themselves fiscal conservatives). What's a conservative any more, since Goldwater?

What botthers me about this forum, most of all, is that an H.L Mencken-like "color", or an Oscar Wilde-like "demeanor" seems to be taken as verbal abuse. Where's the spice?

I'm still not sure whether this has to do with the plain vanilla-like behavior that some editors of the Weekly prefer, or if it's a general community norm.

One thing for sure: there will always be disagreement on public issues. With that as a given, why NOT permit the clever use of words used to make light of a point that someone disagrees with. Otherwise, the entire forum turns into tedium.

A recent thread on whether University Ave, should be turned into a pedestrian promenade is another example. I saw one after another resident advocating for a pedestrian mall, but when good information to the contrary was presented, the more measured (in their manner of posting) individuals kept coming back at those who knew what this would do to retailers (including a retailer who seemed to know the score).

Thtese forums are more about the VARIETY of kiinds and modes of communication than they are about the way that communication is presented.

Some people, many people, LIKE a little spice in their food - same goes for conversation.

Of course, the Weekly has a demeanor, which it will project into its online forum. Perhaps the Weekly - a paper I respect - can look at ways to "loosen up" and permit arguments and disagreements as long as their are not full-frontal personal attacks.

One of my current favorites is Christopher Hitchens. I don't agree with everything Hitchens says, but I'd bet money that if Jitchens was writing for the PA online forums the way he talks in public, or writes (for Vanity Fair, and elsewhere), much of his language - especially his descriptions of those he disagrees with - would be deleted.

This forum needs to "lighten up" a little, and let the sparks fly. If there are a few who are too timid to endure that, or can't see it for what it is, maybe THEY need to go somewhere else. Hasn't Palo Alto been ruled by a minority for too long? Do we want the minority of plain vanilla "nice" people dominating this forum? I hope not. There's a place for everyone.

Last, I've posted in this forum, and have had bitter disagreements with some. I still like those people, and why shouldn't I. After all, if they didn't exist, it woudll be a perfect world - and wouldn't that be boring?


Posted by unres, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 11, 2007 at 1:03 pm

you got yuppie types pulling knives on ''undesirables'' now in our fair city. is mr. america and blond wife fed up with their percieved withering of ''privileges'' in this global catastrophe world? .put that knife away , sir, its a criminal threat. police should watch out for mr. america types with blond model wives too...


Posted by underemployed, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2007 at 1:22 pm

The weekly could allow anonymity but provide some level of accountability by including the IP addresses of the postees. That would show whether "PA Resident" was "Broccoli" instead of just suspecting it.

You can enter HTML directly in the posts to hightlight or quote other entries in the posts. This might allow for more effective communiction along with emoticons if you want smileys.


Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2007 at 1:59 pm

Thanks Editor. More civility would really strengthen the discussion.

A good way in my experience is to lead by example. It is hard(er) for people to be rude and disrespectful when we bend over backwards to be constructive and polite ourselves. It also, hopefully, provides a banner for the silent majority of the civil to rally around.

I don't really agree with those who think "spicing it up" is part of the fun. They are entitled to their views, of course, but the question is whether you are doing this for sport or to improve the community? I'm not sure that these pundits realize the impact their words can have - on individuals and on our town. I enjoy a good slugfest as much as the next guy/gal, but try very hard not to provoke on these forums because I actually believe something greater is at stake than some good banter.

Fred


Posted by NoIPAddress, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2007 at 2:12 pm

Showing IP Addresses should not even be an option ! There are quite a few things that one can figure out from the IP Addresses. If the forums want to keep the IP address as a meta-data associated with the post - thats ok ( they may already be doing that, since most of the forums do it ) - this data should not be exposed to the general public.

I agree - Google will get to this sooner than later; "Parent" or "PA Resident" search on Google will result in a link to one of these posts !


Posted by Mr. Cheerful, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2007 at 2:13 pm

Fred, I agree with you that that "something greater is at stake than some good banter" in these forums.

Let's start with accuracy, as one presents facts in an argument. How about that?


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2007 at 2:35 pm

What's an IP address?

Sorry, I am not being silly, it is one of the phrases that keep coming up by techies, but for the likes of me, I have no idea what you are talking about.

Do I have one?

If you make it too complicated, you will keep people like me from joining in. I can just about do the codes that used to be here. I don't think I could work round a lot of techie jargon.


Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2007 at 2:41 pm

Mr. C - I agree, you make a good point. I find some of the best postings are the ones that focus on facts, without necessarily grinding whatever ax we have in hand. The facts, often, speak for themselves.

Fred


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2007 at 2:43 pm

LIES ARE BAD, SO DON'T YOU DARE POINT THEM OUT

This could be taken as a basic rule of a twisted notion of "civility" that is routinely seen in Town Square Forums. The moderators seemed to be only concerned about _tone_ and not _content_.

Consequently, it is perfectly acceptable to
1. Make false statements about what was in another's posting.
2. Fabricate facts.
3. Make statements contradicted by the available facts.
4. Make false arguments using a wide range of well-known rhetorical tricks.
I have argued with the moderators (via email and f2f) that the biggest disrespect you can show to a civilized discussion is contempt for facts and logic - the choice of words is at best a distant second. They reject this notion.

Consider a poster that engage in a long string of the above behavior that is so consistent and so flagrant that any reasonable person would immediately conclude that their behavior is malicious:
1. Other posters cannot say such, and if they do the moderator will delete it, with an annotation that those postings were inappropriate.
2. The moderator will take no action against him/her.
This is a local version of appeasement - a belief that if you treat bullies with deference, they will stop and magically become respectful of others.

Consequently, one is faced with the immediate (tactical) choice either letting the lies stand or replying to them one-by-one as if each one represented an innocent misunderstanding by the other poster. Of course, this does absolutely
no good because the miscreants can spin out lies faster than you can swat them
down.

So the only real (strategic) choice is to not participate in these forums. I don't participate anymore unless someone sends me a pointer saying that I should/need to respond. And that is what I also hear from many, many others.

As to decision-makers reading these forums: My experience is that they don't. When I have mentioned something said in a TSForum to decision-makers, I cannot remember a single instance of him/her having seen it. The response is that they don't bother with TSForums because they are overloaded with junk and that when there are nuggets, they will get them through other channels.

I originally had high hope for these TSForums, but the policies of the moderators has gone against the experience from a wide range of similar sites and made these forums a waste of time - when you not only let the bullies run free but protect them from attempts at self-policing by the other participants, all the reasonable people leave.


Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2007 at 2:44 pm

Parent -

An IP address is the unique identifier of your place on the internet - it is how the particular packets of info you ask for find their way to you. Kind of like your street address...

IP addresses of course are a little tricky, since individuals often do not have a "fixed" IP address - they get a new one every time they log in (or from time to time) from their ISP. So I may have a certain one now, but you have it tomorrow. Tricky for tracking identities over time...

Fred


Posted by underemployed, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2007 at 2:46 pm

There are quite a few things that one can figure out from the IP Addresses.

I'll let you into a secret. You're IP address is already out there. Simply look at your firewall logs and see how many attempts were made to access your computer. Every time you submit anything over the web, your IP address is being sent. You don't need to do anything. As mentioned, PAWeekly is more than likely storing this information already.

What is will show is if you are accessing these forums from a work machine. That may be what people are concerned about. ;)


Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2007 at 2:52 pm

Doug, I respect your position, but tend to agree with the moderators. Civility is the framework within which the truth can be discovered (analogous I guess to the "laws that set us free"). If we can be civil, we can point out (and admit) shortcomings in our and others postings.

The problem is that no one has a monopoly on truth, so it is tricky to say that my posting is true (so should stand) while yours is false (so should be stricken). But we can say (at least more easily) that yours is respectful while mine is an ad hominem (sp?) attack.

The forums are not perfect, I agree with you. But I do think they have some impact - I personally have talked to decision makers (School Board members in my case) who clearly have read them.

Free speech is for sure not efficient, and often darn frustrating - but it beats the alternative!

Fred


Posted by I wanna do that!, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 11, 2007 at 2:56 pm

"You can enter HTML directly in the posts to hightlight or quote other entries in the posts. This might allow for more effective communiction along with emoticons if you want smileys."
Underemployed, that's cool. Will you tell us how? For example, is it the word bold enclosed in square-brackets, followed by the text to be highlighted, followed by /bold enclosed in square-brackets, [bold] like so? [/bold] (We'll see as soon as I hit enter, won't we?)


Posted by I wanna do that!, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 11, 2007 at 2:57 pm

Urg. Maybe it's angle brackets.


Posted by underemployed, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2007 at 3:15 pm

Hopefully this will come through - trying to escape the html to show you how:

<b>bold</b>
<i>italic</i>
<u>underline</u>
etc...


Posted by I wanna do that!, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 11, 2007 at 3:18 pm

Very Cool! Thank you!


Posted by Mr. Cheerful, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2007 at 3:42 pm

I think the moderators in this forum have been quite consistent with the tone that is represented in the Weekly. They delete statements that fall outside the boundaries of whatever private rules they have created as appropriate to that goal; it's their forum, and it IS read by some Council members. I have had posts deleted, and when I think back on the kind of posts those were, I begin to get a sense about what is expected. Sometimes, it's possible to sneak in a "good one", but the Weekly moderators are pretty good (darn!) at catching that stuff. Some of my most brilliant retorts have been edited out - lost forever on humanity...sniff...


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2007 at 4:10 pm

Thanks for your follow-up comments, Don. I agree with PA Resident that too much vanilla is not a good thing, and the PA Online censor erases way too many innocuous comments.

The problem is that everyone has a different tolerance for spices. Some think extra mild is too hot, others can't even taste extra mild. For example, bystander thinks Sally L's comments are caustic. I think her humorous sarcasm helps make her point.

BTW, this difference in tolerance is not just a problem on blogs, but in also in face-to-face conversation.

Doug Moran raises an excellent point about facts and logic. Opinions are certainly worth posting and discussing. But facts and logic are the only way to determine whose opinions are valid. It's frustrating when one poster repeats the same comments over and over – with no proof points – in response to everyone who questions his/her opinion.

Fred says "no one has a monopoly on truth." Truth is a tricky word. I may be providing false information out of ignorance, yet believe I'm telling the truth. Religions claim to have many "truths," which may contradict the "truths" of other religion. That's why I prefer "facts" (or "data") to "truth."

Fred is correct that respectful discourse is much more likely to get one's point across than emotional rants.


Posted by atotic, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 11, 2007 at 4:12 pm

I've have been thinking about anonymity on this board for the last few weeks. The discussions are sometimes civil and informative, and sometimes unreadable. If TownSquare is going to reach its potential as the "go to" place for politics & news, is has to evolve. It has to allow its posters to be identified by more than a temporary nickname.

The bulletin boards follow the same evolutionary path:

small: Starting off small & focussed. Everyone knows everyone else, and most readers participate in the discussion. There are alpha members whose opinions are valued by many. They often keep discussion on topic. Signal to noise ratio is high.

medium: As the group gets popular, the community dilutes. Many new members do not know existing ones. Flame wars, off topic comments, uninformed (newbie) questions appear with some regularity. Signal to noise is deteriorating.

large: No one knows anyone else. Flame wars can go on for months, and between spam, off topic comments, it is hard to find good stuff. The original alpha members usually leave, and start another group. Signal to noise ratio is mostly noise.

Anonymity definitely makes the problems of flame wars,

If I was running this board I would at least:
- give users option to create an account. Give each user a home page, where their posts are listed. This way, when reading the comment, you can see what other posts they've written, and tell them they have your vote for city council.
- everyone who posts can either post anonymously, or with the account.

This solution is very 1999, what Slashdot did then. It worked for a while. In 2007, a cooler solution would be something involving the Facebook accounts. Go talk to someone at the company, they are right on Hamilton, and I am sure they've brainstormed about what the right way to run a town community board is.

Some history:
- one of the most successful early Internet communities, WELL, had no anonymity. Their motto was "You own your words". They stayed civil until the very end.
- brad templeton wrote a very good essay about the community stages, but I can't find the right search term combo for google.


Posted by Me, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 11, 2007 at 4:35 pm

How do you deal with signed comments when dealing with schools (and other city services)? I have a special needs child; we tug-of-war with the schools every year on her services. If I criticize the school board, or a school, or a pet program, however validly, under my own name, how can I be sure I'll get a fair shake when I show up to talk about services?

Obviously there are pros and cons to any solution, but I know there are a reasonable number of posters on school topics who worry about this type of situation.

Any suggestions?


Posted by Mr. Cheerful, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2007 at 4:42 pm

Mr. Cheerful's "First Law of Anonymity"

"Anonymity enlarges the sphere of ideas in cyberspace, and decreases security in physical space".


Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Jul 11, 2007 at 5:12 pm

My vote (not that the Weekly ever asked for our votes, but it seems we're ignoring that detail) is for encouraging using real names but allowing anonymity. In other words, keeping the status quo.

The (justifiable) reasons for wanting to remain anonymous are about as numerous as the number of anonymous posters. "Me" touched on one good reason. Why silence them?

How about public community members & leaders who have opinions worth considering? If they were forced to sign their names it might appear to be an endorsement of their employer/organization. Let them be anonymous so we can hear what they have to say - unfiltered. Examples? Primary care physicians, principals, presidents, CEOs and the like, board members (of any type), police, firefighters, librarians, teachers, etc. etc.

If the real problem is keeping a civil tone, there are other solutions to be explored. It's possible – to a degree – to separate these issues from each other: anonymous vs. non-anonymous; rancorous vs. civil. The issue isn't so much "shall we allow anonymous posts" but rather "with anonymous posts, how do we increase the level of civility".


Posted by Honestly, a resident of Stanford
on Jul 11, 2007 at 5:22 pm


yet another parent asks:

The issue isn't so much "shall we allow anonymous posts" but rather "with anonymous posts, how do we increase the level of civility".

.....

Ban the abusers.

Repeat offenders get longer sentences.



Posted by Mr. Subjective, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2007 at 5:37 pm

Who's an abuser?


Posted by Frank Bravo, webmaster of Palo Alto Online
on Jul 11, 2007 at 8:23 pm

Frank Bravo is a registered user.

Palo Alto Online does not store the IP address of the user making a post or comment to Town Square. The only information we collect is what you you are asked for when making a post or comment and what you see displayed.

Our privacy policy does allow for the collection of such data (Web Link), and our stat programs do collect IP data. The IP data is not tied directly to comments made on the site, however.


Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Jul 11, 2007 at 9:25 pm

I can see the case for allowing people to speak anonymously if signing would jeopardize their job or child.

But I don't see why calling someone a moron or greedy or stupid or corrupt should be allowed if you are not willing to sign your name.

I like the idea that "you own your words" and I like that as a model for our kids as well. Why should calling people names anonymously deserve any protection when the same ideas and sentiments can be expressed forcefully but respectfully?


Posted by Me, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 11, 2007 at 9:35 pm

Steve, you make a good point. It is one thing to post anonymously, it is another to lay into someone and get personal. Frankly I am not sure if that is ever a good tactic ("Jane, you ignorant slut" comes to mind). But I think signing when you flame is a good norm to establish and try to hold people to.


Posted by Bill Johnson, publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jul 11, 2007 at 9:54 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

Thank you for the good discussion. I wanted to explain that the viewpoints expressed on this topic and on others relating to possible improvements to Town Square are being actively considered by our online team. As this conversation reflects, there are no easy answers, although we are exploring some ideas that would allow Town Square participants to play a greater role in deciding which posts should be removed, edited or simply "collapsed" within the thread. As we get a little further along in this process, we will invite your further participation and feedback.


Posted by joe, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 12, 2007 at 6:41 am

IP addresses not only vary for one user at different times, but multiple totally unrelated users can have the same IP address at different times, depending on how they connect to the net.


Posted by joe, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 12, 2007 at 6:48 am

The fact is, anyone posting anywhere in the U.S. in defense of Palestinians or exposing Israeli tactics has a high probablity of having their posts deleted or censored. Most of this is due to the brainwashing of the U.S. public (for example, see Exodus, the movie) so that most of the editors haven't the slightest idea of what the truth is over there, and so think the truth when it's presented to them is slander.


Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Jul 12, 2007 at 8:13 am

Bill,

Thanks for the effort to sort this out. At some point could you help me with the following dilemma (at least to me).

If I come to you alleging the councilmember x is a lying, corrupt public official who, by the way, is cheating on his spouse, my understanding is that you would not print that without extensive additional research and verification and would use journalistic judgment in addition.

If I make that allegation on my own in public (say on the Town Square) I can be sued.

So how is it right that Town Sqaure particiapnts can allege or imply that developers are greedy or lying about the specifics of a deal and how is it right that participants can call others all sorts of names without signing and you print it unless the language uses "bad words"? At least I am guessing that the "portions deleted" have to do with your judgement about profanity.

So I or others can be called dishonest or stupid or greedy or on the take by annonymous bloggers as long as no swearing (itself a cultural decision) is involved.


Posted by PA Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2007 at 8:19 am

Bill, Use the Slashdot method, one that employs the participants to rate relevance to topic.

Note that (at Slashdot) participant moderators are regularly reviewed for ability to spot relevance; that would be an interesting exercise in this forum when discussing municipal government issues.

I wonder if the regular mob of those who seem to despise city staffers - and government in general - would be able to hold themselves in check, and operate as rather impartal moderators. A good example would be recent threads on publc infrastucture spending and housing development, where most of the hobby-horse politcos in this town flock to whine about how inefficient our government is - from police, to library, etc. etc., or how we're being overrun with "outsiders". There is a mob mentality to this group, with a kind ofo unquestioning allegiance to the idea that all government is bad, unless it's government that they agree with (certainly not what Jefferson was talking about).

Frankly, I would leave content alone unless there is a full-frontal insult - calling crude names. Clever use of language - a la the style of an H.L Mencken - should be left alone.

The entire question of what is civil - in general - needs to continue to be judged by the Weekly and its staff, or else you'll end up with a small naysaying crowd owning everything, with less popular points drowned out.

Maintain diversity _at all costs_. Otherwise, the forums will turn too onesided and people will walk.

So far, I think the forum is mostly well-run - be careful not to let a small, vocal group who have not been able to impose their point of view take the lead in changing forum rules.

You have done a good job of maintaining diversity of style, thought, and tone.

here's the Slashdot FAQ - scroll to "comments and moderaton"
Web Link

I would be careful with phrases like "civil tone". Some contributors have a very measured style, that is dead-level in terms of presentation. I've seen some of those types go on forever - often repeatng the same erroneous (in terms of factual representation) arguments - beating the dead horse just as much as someone with a more aggressive style. THier style of question and query is so thick with the maeasured back-and-forth of perfect "civility' that it's an immediate turn off for some. It makes one want to gag; like havng too much white bread. Pasty tones can be as offensive as aggressive tones.

Don't confuse "civility" wth measured presentation; the latter can be quuite effectve as a passive-aggressive way to make a point. Passive aggression is still aggression, no?

One poster above talks about "all the reasonable people leaving" (to paraphrase) - as he has (thereby claimiing himself as the one of the "reasonable" ones - note the passive agressive assumption, and insuult by implication.

In fact, I've seen that poster come out and make full frontal attacks as hard-hitting as any. To him I would sat: "If one can't stand the heat; stay out of the forum". It's not easy to balance passion, emotional committment, and productive debate, but if a person is of a constitution that prevents him or her from dealing with passionate diagreement on stated points - with a good dose of rhetorical joustng thrown in - then perhaps s/he _should_ go elsewhere, or not post in online forums. Just like the stock market, they're not for everyone.

"Human progress is furthered, not by conformity, but by aberration." H. L. Mencken

Dversity permits abberation, to a point. So far, yuo've done a great job. Refine as you must, but don't kill diversity in these forums, or they will ossify.






Posted by Fool, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2007 at 8:41 am

Ok, I'll "rush in". Just want to note that anyone who's spent time in the British Parliament, or on the East Coast of the U.S. for that matter, understands that arguments can get very heated but we're still friends at the end of the day.

Being a transplanted Southerner, I find something odd about the California ethic, in which the slightest whiff of conflict sends folks scurrying for cover. Saying something even mildly conflictful seems to be about on a par with farting in public. The common stereotype is that the South is like that (smile in your face, stab you in the back) but I'm surprised to see the extent to which it also seems true out here as well. Everyone walks around with unnaturally cheery faces. It's enough to make a person gag sometimes, and I don't think it's good for democracy.

Now, the post I just wrote is mildly insulting to a bunch of people (Californians and Southerners, in particular). Do folks think it merits being struck? I'm curious...


Posted by underemployed, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2007 at 9:31 am

Most of this is due to the brainwashing of the U.S. public (for example, see Exodus, the movie) so that most of the editors haven't the slightest idea of what the truth is over there, and so think the truth when it's presented to them is slander.

Or not. This is an example of an opinion presented as fact and this is also an example of where the forums actually work.

No-one has the claim to be right or be the only one who knows the truth. The forums are all about points of view. If you come to these forums expecting to tell people how it is, you're not going to get the result you expect.

In the end, PAWeekly controls what happens on these forums. If you want to participate in these forums, you have to accept their terms. If you want the forums to follow your rules, you will be disappointed.


Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2007 at 9:34 am

Fool, of course you are right that there are different norms in different places. No reason to believe that one set is much better than another (British parliament vs. California cool). It is a matter of taste in large part.

If the goal here is to foster discussion (vs. "get to the right answer"), civility seems important to me. Because, just as you say, a lot of people don't seem to like the overt conflict and in-your-face rhetoric (have to admit - I am one who doesn't like it much).

Of course, the online forum exacerbates the issue - it is hard to tell how menacing a poster is when all you have is their words to stare at.

I'm not sure how to deal with lies, repetition, bad facts, long posts, etc. (maybe community ranking, don't know) but trying to achieve a civil tone seems like a good thing to me.

Fred


Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Jul 12, 2007 at 9:49 am

I agree with what fool and fred just said.

I think the examples given by fool emphasize the difference between emphatic disagreement which is signed (you know who just called you an idiot in Parliament) versus anonymous postings.


Posted by PA Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2007 at 10:24 am

Fred, What's wrong with a long post, if that post contains a well-made argument?

In a number of threads, I have watched you decry the "tone" that PA Online is taking because it doesn't conform to your carefully measured style.

I've seen you use the word "civilty" as a hammer in an attempt to control discussion by instilling a sense of verbal guilt, as you repeat your own argument in ever-more-measured language that is so devoid of colorful language that it reads like a Puritan sermon.

Frankly, I agree with you some of the time, but I find your style tedious. Nevertheless, I'll hang in there with you on a discussion. That's the price I'm willing to pay to maintan diversity. If I don't want to engage your argument _because_ of your style, I move on - rather than complaining about how "sad" I am at the level of debate. This is the kind of passive-aggressiveness I've spoken of in another post.

The fact is that a good forum _takes all kinds of people_, with varying styles and points of view.

The FIRST requirement of a successful forum is DIVERSITY. The accompaniment to that quality shuold be that everyone gets a chance to weigh in. Ideally, we'd have moderators that were up to snuff in doing intuitive content analysis. We don't have that, unfortunately, because many of the posters sho come in here - especially on municipal policy and housing issues - will badger with short posts that are full of generalizations that can't be qualifed. If someone uses length and persistence of argument to get to the bottom of those wrong-headed explanations, THAT is often seen as badgering by the moderators. So who's right? Let it ALL stay, and let the forum thrive. If there are some few who can't hang in with others, move on. The forum will evolve to include those who CAN hang in there. The QUALITY of the forum will INCREASE. Good grief! Since when does a long, well-made argument become too much to bear in a debate?

Also, the idea that a member of Parliament who has just been called an idiot by another member - the latter known by default (because s/he uttered the insulting word publicly - does not guarantee that those two members will continue to be chums.

Some of the worst personal baiting and infighting happens in open public arenas, which are far more amenable to insults because you can _see_ the person delivering the insult. That ability to _watch_ the offender - with hundreds of visual and audio cues present - is far more tolerable than the same insult delivered online.

Frankly, I don't think there's any place online that should tolerate calling someone an "idiot" (btw many do, and worse), but there's also no reason why making a long post to make a point, or using innovative phraseology to repeatedly ask a respondent to one's post (who is evading a question) to "ante up", should be frowned on.

If someone doesn't want to take the time to read a long post, fine - but posting at length is more a matter of "style".

The fact is that being "nice", in the way that some people argue for it here, is a holdover from the "fair-fighting" days of the New Age movement, where it was assumed someone must have perfect information about the "other's" argument, before responding with "I hear you", and repeating back every word to make sure that everyone understands.

That may be fine in an intimate relationship, but I come to this forum to get _away_ from my intimate relationships and "get it on" with some hot debate. What's everyone afraid of, anyway? It's only an anonymous forum for debate; the world will not come crashing down if someone loses an argument, or has sher feathers ruffled.

Hope this post wasn't too long for you, Fred.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2007 at 10:25 am

Thanks, Fool, for pointing out differences in locations. I'm from the east coast, where a normal friendly discussion can get very emotional, but that's just the way everyone talks. No one takes offense because none is intended. A

t one of my former jobs, a colleague and I were in a conference room discussing a work issue. An admin, who sat just outside the conference room, came in and asked what the problem was and why we were arguing. We were bewildered. We weren't arguing. We were simply discussing our ideas on how to solve a problem. We're both from the east coast. The admin is a native Californian.

I don't see the difference between signed or anonymous "emphatic disagreement." I don't care whether it's John Jones or "resident" who's posting. I probably don't know who John Jones is anyway.

I've already mentioned this somewhere, but I have received emails from people who assumed they knew who I was just from my first name. These were further rants over and above their disagreements with me on this forum. This is another reason for keeping the posts anonymous.


Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Jul 12, 2007 at 10:36 am

Pat,

On the anonymity issue I don't think there is any disagreement about the right to post anonymously. We are talking about when the posts become personal. I understand your work story but if you were calling each other names I am sympathetic to the admin as well--loud is different from personal.

What difference do you see between this forum and, say, testimony in court? I assume you would not want to be convicted of a crime on the basis of anonymous testimony.

Why should anyone be allowed to air personal insults anonymously?


Posted by anonymous parent, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 12, 2007 at 11:08 am

Controversial issues pop up frequently in our PAUSD school system -- I don't think anyone will deny that! -- and it is laughable to think that parents, even those stating "reasonable" positions, should always use this forum signing their own names. That is because there certainly is the chance of their child(ren) suffering repercussions in some fashion. If you don't realize and believe this, then you have never had a child in any school. The school administrators, teachers, staff have power over your child(ren). I remember going to a principal many years ago (in another city)and politely expressing concerns about a new teacher who was yelling in a horrifying manner at 4th graders and who was not following the stated philosophy of the (private) school. The principal blew me right off, and this was a learning experience for me. My child suffered terribly through the rest of the school year. It was very sad and wrong. I would have welcomed the opportunity to voice my concerns anonymously on a forum like this one! It might have led to more powerful parents taking an interest and looking into the situation, observing, whatever.

Some issues are major (school board, curriculum, school funding equity issues, etc.) and some are very, very minor but still interesting. I usually learn something from these discussions! There was a discussion awhile back about, of all things, the handling of mission projects in elementary school and it was quite informative. However, that discussion would not have happened without the choice to sign an anonymous name. At least one parent wrote about recent experience with this at her child's elementary school.


Posted by PA Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2007 at 12:00 pm

Steve, is there a difference between calling someone whose facts are in question an "elaborately elegant evader of truth", or a "liar"? I think there is, even though they mean the same thing.

Should they both be assumed as personal insults? Probably.

Should they both be stricken from publication? I would not stke the former, and woulod think hard about striking the latter.

How about calling someone an 'SOB', vs. saying that "Sir, I suspect that you have been been mothered by a dog"? (gee, I kinda like that one! :)

How about "get your facts straight", as an 'in your face' challenge to someone who persists in making general assumptons on flimsy data vs. "you don't know what you're talking about"?

How about "Thou spleeny pottle-deep flap-dragon!"?

How about "You are not worth another word, else I'd call you knave." (All's Well That Ends Well).

How about "'Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat's tongue, you bull's pizzle, you stock-fish! O for breath to utter what is like thee! you tailor's-yard, you sheath, you bowcase; you vile standing-tuck! " (1 Henry IV)

Tough, isn't it,

Now, some in this forum would have ALL of the above striken. Those are the persons who put language is at risk, and implod the nascent wonder and possibility that language, set free, can provide as fertile ground for thoughgt, ideas, and expression.

Look around! Read Shakespeare, for heaven's sake!

Apologies to my knavish puritan neighbor Fred, in advance, for the length of this post.




Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2007 at 12:28 pm

In London, there is a corner of Hyde Park known as Speakers' Corner where, usually on Sunday mornings, anyone can get up on his/her soapbox and start speaking to anyone who chooses to listen on any subject. These rants are often insulting, often fabricated, often contraversial and nearly always entertaining. The police are there, but only as a reminder that this is free speech. Yes, they do get hecklers and sometimes things can be offensive. It is a tourist attraction and also a symbol of freedom. There is one piece of advice given to all - if you don't like it don't listen.

I mention this because although there have been a few subjects and a few times where free speech has gone out of the window, where name calling and lack of courtesy are rampant and there are times when one poster tries to take over an otherwise civilised discussion by inserting irrelevant and insulting remarks. But, on the whole, the discourse here is what it is, free speech. The same advice can be given, if you don't like it don't listen. For those who choose to make a mockery of others' posts, go away and find a forum where you can find others of similar mindset and leave this to those of us who enjoy what we have.


Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2007 at 12:38 pm

PA Cit - Nothing "wrong" with longer posts, it is just a matter of value value per time spent by the reader. I forget who wrote "I wrote you a long letter today because I didn't have time to write you a shorter one." Pithiness is a virtue in these forums.

I skip through a lot of longer posts unless I find the first couple sentences compelling; and I skip some posts based on length + author. I'm sure others do the same (probably to my posts!).

And, yes, PA Cit, yours was a little too long for me ;-)

Fred


Posted by Cleo, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 12, 2007 at 12:39 pm

Resident, I'm curious. Is there a post in this thread that you consider to be in the class of "mockery", that you mentioned, above?


Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Jul 12, 2007 at 12:42 pm

PA Citizen and Resident,

Those are all good points and restricting speech on these forums IS a difficult issue. And long posts are fine with me.

I am trying to focus on the anonymity issue. The Hyde Park heckler is out in the open. Yes, I think there is a difference between calling someone a liar (which involves intent) versus saying "my understanding of the facts is different".

I haven't seen a good explanation of why it is ok to call me a liar on a public post anonymously. What do you think should be the editor's protocol in that case?


Posted by Winston, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 12, 2007 at 12:42 pm

"value value per time spent "????????

Anna Karenina? War and Peace? Dante's Inferno? Rilke's Letters? Montaigne?


Posted by PA Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2007 at 12:50 pm

If the context of the thread presents itself as one in which you are called a liar by someone who thinks - based on the facts as she sees them - thinks you are simply lying to win the debate.

Sure, it's more inflammatory to say "my understanding of the facts is different", but what if you really are lying?

If someone can build a case of evidence and facts that are undeniable, in refutation of a position - and then someone comes along with fabricated 'facts' to refutre that position, and there is an opportunity to show that those facts were fabricated, and the person who said "liar" knew that, why not call a spade a spade - in that instance?

Do you "see the facts differently" than Bush (or Putin, or Idi Amin), or are they liars?

Gven, use of the word "liar" is pretty strong, and would be used sparingly, only when such proofs (as stated above) were made obvious. One could say that "I believe you are lying in this case". Would that be banned?

What about the other phrases, the Shakespearean stuff?


Posted by James, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 12, 2007 at 12:54 pm

If someone posts on this thread, and is challenged to come clean, then why not just come clean? The truth will eliminate any accusations of dissemblance.

For instance, if anyone accused me of being a socialist, I could easily disabuse them of that idea with simple facts and beliefs. If someone accused me of breaking the law, I would ask, "which law?". Assuming that I got an answer, I would address it head on, with the truth, and not try to hide behind obfuscations.

I don't consider personal challenges to be attacks. All I need to do is answer right back, with the unvarnished truth.

I would suggest that this forum be MORE open, not less. Adults need a fairly thick skin to be classified as such.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2007 at 1:17 pm

Editors

I have a suggestion which I have not seen posted here.

Why can't we have a system whereby we write our posts, then hit submit, but instead of seeing it automatically entered on the post, we see a version of how it will be entered, but we can edit and amend if we find it doesn't come across the way we inteneded. Then after a period of wait time, say 30 seconds minimum, we can hit a final submit button and only then will it appear on the thread.

This would do two things. Firstly, it would prevent us from submitting too soon possibly missing something we would see in the 30 seconds edit time. Secondly, it would make it more difficult for a one sentence rude comment being thoughtlessly submitted.

Many times I have missed something on my post even though I have edited it first because the look and fonts make the post look different. Secondly, it is much too easy for a sarcastic comment to be thoughtlessly applied. A 30 seconds wait time may be too long for a glib commenter to wait.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2007 at 1:48 pm

I like very much these suggestions I have read over the last few months

1) One unique name per person, real or fake, don't care.

2) A Rating system for that unique name, where either our community "rates" the worthiness or reliability etc of the poster, or each of individually can rate each poster so that each of us can decide on our own who to spend my time on.

3) putting the poster's name first so we know whether or not to spend time on it

4) except for non-public people being personally attacked or accused, or "outing" any personal info ( addresses, kids names etc), or crude suggestions on what to do or crude names calling, ( let's keep it no worse than PG, ok?)... no deletions. Let us sort out who we pay attention to. Some of us like pithy comments, mockery or sarcasm, some of us like long and measured posts..

5) Maybe a Topic Section for "Researched" or "Footnoted" thread conversations.

Thanks PA Online for working so hard to try to make this work.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2007 at 1:49 pm

Hitting the submit button reminded me..please bring back the extra step ( like the "code" we used to input) to submit just to help us have a "pause" before we submit.

And, the icons sound good to show when we are joking or not etc.

thanks


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2007 at 2:45 pm

1. In considering what various contributors say, remember that the groups of people on different threads can have very different dynamics. Some have attracted major league miscreants, other have not, and some have minor abuses.

2. In a response to my posting discussing the problem of lying being protected, "Fred" stated "The problem is that no one has a monopoly on the truth, so it is tricky to say that my posting is true (so should stand) while yours is false (so should be stricken). But we can say (at least more easily) that yours is respectful will mine is an ad hominem (sp?) attack."

Clarifying: When I talked about lies being tolerated, even protected, I wasn't talking about situations where reasonable people could disagree about the facts.
I was talking about situation where people twist and fabricated facts to support their arguments/beliefs when the evidence was all against that and they cannot offer any evidence to support their claims.

Example: In a thread on my recent Guest Op on Alma Plaza, that document had a paragraph that roughly argued that A+B+C+...>X. A poster ("Not so fast") claimed I said that "C>Sum" and consequently was wrong.

Example: In that same thread, another poster ("JL") make a false statement about my activities on the subject matter. The moderators allowed my refutation to be posted, but deleted my note about the multiple previous instances where that poster had made similar (provably) false statements about my actions.

3. In a similar vein, the moderators routinely allow unsupported claims about people's intentions and motivation, but then heavily suppress the attacked person's ability to respond.

A minor example from this thread: From a posting by "PA Citizen": "One poster above talks about 'all the reasonable people leaving' (to paraphrase) - as he has (thereby claimiing himself as the one of the 'reasonable' ones - note the passive agressive assumption, and insuult by implication."

Now look at the original: "I originally had high hope for these TSForums, but the policies of the moderators has gone against the experience from a wide range of similar sites and made these forums a waste of time - when you not only let the bullies run free but protect them from attempts at self-policing by the other participants, all the reasonable people leave." Background: I have been involved in online forums since the early 1980s and have been through "meltdowns" of multiple forums, including the big "USENet meltdown" in the early 1990s.

I venture no opinion on the fairness of the characterization (since experience is that the moderator would delete it), but ask the readers to consider it.

The pattern I have seen is that it is perfectly acceptable to cast aspersions on other participants as long as it is presented in a matter-of-fact manner - without evidence and often contrary to the available evidence. However, should you cite evidence showing a definite pattern of abuse of the discussion, that statement is impermissible and will be deleted.

In talking to people about their (former) participation, I was surprised at how little anonymity added for them. When they were attacked by the bullies (and prevented from defending themselves), it didn't matter that others might not be able to match their alias to their real person, *they* still knew that they had been unfairly trashed.


Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2007 at 2:50 pm

Winston - I did not mean to imply that everything long is not worth reading. But I value my time and prefer if people get to the point. That's all.

Fred


Posted by James, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 12, 2007 at 3:02 pm

Douglas Moran,

May Is uggest that you defend your facts, and not try to attack a "pattern"?. Demand evidence, or at least references, for EACH item you think is wrong. Make a rational argument, then let it go at that. I think most of us can differentiate a simple truth, well defended, from a bunch of accusations.

Make your points, then be willing to defend them. The kitchen is hot...if you can't stand it, then get out.


Posted by underemployed, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2007 at 3:15 pm

Douglas,

3. In a similar vein, the moderators routinely allow unsupported claims about people's intentions and motivation, but then heavily suppress the attacked person's ability to respond.

A minor example from this thread: From a posting by "PA Citizen":...


I find myself in the awkward position of agreeing with "PA Citizen" on this one. In your attempts to refute his accusation you failed to reference all relevant information in your post (and added additional information that wasn't there):

In the first part of your post:
So the only real (strategic) choice is to not participate in these forums. I don't participate anymore unless someone sends me a pointer saying that I should/need to respond. And that is what I also hear from many, many others.

In the last part of your post:
I originally had high hope for these TSForums, but the policies of the moderators has gone against the experience from a wide range of similar sites and made these forums a waste of time - when you not only let the bullies run free but protect them from attempts at self-policing by the other participants, all the reasonable people leave.

Combining these comments can obviously lead to the conclusion that you, classifying yourself as a reasonable person, have left long ago along with all the other reasonable people leaving the forums only to the bullies/unreasonable people. Isn't that how PA Citizen describes it?

Your follow up shows this was not the intention of your post but "PA Citizen's" interpretation is well within the bounds of your original post.

This just demonstrates the general problem of communication within the forum. It is how civilly we can resolve these mis-communications.


Posted by PA Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2007 at 3:31 pm

Doug Moran: "I originally had high hope for these TSForums, but the policies of the moderators has gone against the experience from a wide range of similar sites and made these forums a waste of time - when you not only let the bullies run free but protect them from attempts at self-policing by the other participants, all the reasonable people leave."
--------------
Mr. Moran's assumptions:

1) "That the policies of PA Online forums have gone against the experience from a wide range of similar sights". Really, which ones? In fact, the PA Online forum is pretty tame by comparison wih most online forums.

2) From the unproven assumption in # 1 (really, just a subjective opinion, like most others), we get this follow-up assumpton from Mr. Moran: "when you not only let the bullies run free but protect them from attempts at self-policing by the other participants"

Here's a perfect example of someone - in this case Mr. Moran - who has made public statements in print, and otherwise - casting aspersions at the Weekly forum because they disagreed with him.

Who is a bully, Mr. Moran? Someone who disagrees with you vehemently, and/or calls into question the broad assumptions you make to lead off an argument/debate, thus leading those assumptons to be challenged? Never mind if someone just plain disagrees, based on their own assumptions.

Most of your public postings in print are highly - even severely - critical of local policy makers. Your last public statement in print claimed that local policy makers were essentially ignorant dupes, easily led around by developers interests, etc.

Here's the lead sentence from your past GO in the Weekly:
"With our City Council's scheduled confirmation of its decision on Alma Plaza, it speaks volumes about Palo Alto politics that there haven't been headlines screaming, "Council gives away $12 million." Web Link

followed up by this sentence, later in your GO:
"Notice that this giveaway is almost 10 percent of the city's annual budget, and that it is but one of a long string of such giveaways. Ever wonder why the city can't afford to maintain its basic infrastructure, such as streets and storm drains? Or to update its police station to meet current standards? Or to update its libraries? In San Jose, a developer proposed a similar zoning change, but with the gains going into a public facility (soccer stadium) rather than into his own pocket."

Mr. Moran, those are pretty strong words - one might say they are damning, very hard-hitting words that generalize about the entire subset of policy-makers we know as our City Council. Why shouldn't vehement assumptions like that receive just as vehement, just as passionate, just as assumed truthful, responses from those who disagree with you?

In reviewing all this, those who see my handle here- and agree with Doug Moran - will disregard my comments as wrong-headed. Certainly Mr. Moran will, as I would, if were making the same passionate assumptions.

But that's what debate is all about, Mr. Moran. It's about a messy process that involves things we *think* are objective facts - like numbers and measurements - that are ALWAYS accompanied by the unique perspective that each one of us brings to debate from personal experience.

Debate is NOT always about finding a middle ground. Sometimes debate is about pounding your oppoenent's argument into dust. And why not, if the latter appears to be worthy of same by those who disagree. As long as you're not being called a bad name, a gloves-off retort should be expected if you deliver the same in the other direction.

You go on to say that "all the reasonable people leave". Really? I'm still here, and so are hundreds of others. By default, your final words ("all the reasonable people leave") validate your earlier assumptions, which like your last GO oin the Weekly, don't hold water.

The people who leave these forums are mostly those who think that their every word is sacred, and find out very soon that their are other opinions around; or those who get re-employed after a long hiatus from work; or those who just get tired of this forum and move on to others - "nicer", or "more rude" ones - depending on personal preference.

I still think these forums are mostly OK, except that (in my opinion) there shuold be more "color". Maybe the Weekly staff who monitor these forums can find a way to lessez le bon ton roulles








Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Jul 12, 2007 at 4:11 pm

PA Citizen,

I enjoyed the Shakepearean humor and thought it supported one of your points.

If we agree that calling someone a liar requires proof, that is a good start. I still like to know who my accuser is but we can continue to work on that one.

Actually I think I have a disagreement about facts with Bush but I understand your point. You might have me with AG Gonzales, though. It sure looks like he said he didn't know stuff that sworn witnesses said they told him. Forgetful sounds a little wussy in this case but actually "forgetful" in quotes might be more effective.


Posted by Mike, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 12, 2007 at 6:17 pm

PA Citizen: Great post.

There are so many that want to be validated by their own statements. Statements are one thing, but facts, provable by evidence/common sense/refutation, are another.

I think the truth 'plays' pretty well. If we hear someone saying something that seems ridiculous, upon reflection, we can ignore it, and assume that it was a lie.

When I hear someone say: "If we agree that calling someone a liar requires proof, that is a good start.", I would only say, provide evidence that you are not a liar. We will get it, if it rings true. It is not about proving a negative, it about proving your own veracity. By doing that, the accuser is left high and dry, with his/her own lies.

If someone doubted my veracity, I would just defend the facts, then everyone on this forum (or others) could decide for themselves. I would not whine about it.

Let freedom ring!





Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Jul 12, 2007 at 6:47 pm

Mike,

So are you reversing the American freedom that the burden of proof is on the accuser. That is a strange position for saying "let freedom ring".

I thought the standard was innocent until proven guilty not guilty until you prove you are innocent (or in this case, not a liar).

Would you carry you theory into the court system or is it just ok to print unsubstantiated personal accusations on blogs but not in court?


Posted by Mike, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 12, 2007 at 7:05 pm

steve,

This public forum is not a court of law. That is a good thing, because we do not need lawyers to argue our own case. We are obliged to do it ourselves. If someone called me liar on this, or any other blog, I would simply tell the truth, the complete truth. I have nothing to hide, because I do not tell lies (learned that lesson a long time ago).

Steve, if you tell the truth, I would bet that most of us would get it. I have no idea what specific case you are talking about, but you should be confident that you are telling the truth. The jury is all of us who are listening. I would call that freedom of speech.


Posted by Forum reader, a resident of Stanford
on Jul 12, 2007 at 7:49 pm

Seems a little hopeless. This thread is an example in itself of the problems on the forum.
One man writes under several names and even congratulates himself for a good post. As long as the Weekly allows this obsessive poster to continue, it is impossible to have a decent discussion.

Who is a bully, asks PA citizen.
The answer is You. You are a bully, no matter which of your names you use.You are recognizable.


Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Jul 12, 2007 at 9:13 pm

Mike,

I think I understand your response. And I understand that this is not "in court" although I think innocent until proven guilty has applicability as a guide outside of court. I also agree that readers can mostly sort through what they read and make their own decisions.

But the question I asked a few posts up was "do you think it is ok to call someone a liar (or greedy or corrupt) anonymously"? If you answer yes, the next question is do they need any proof or are you ok with just assertion?


Posted by Mike, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 12, 2007 at 9:33 pm

steve,

If someone calls me names, without context, then it is gratuitous. However, if I made a statement which might bring on such a charge, then it is open ground for the debate. I don't know your particular complaint, but I think one should not have hurt feelings, if one enters the debate with a strong position.

If you feel confident that you are telling the truth, then what is the real problem? If you call me a liar, then I will ask you to be specific. If you are specific, in your answer, then it is up to me to defend the truth. What more can I say?


Posted by Bill Johnson, publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jul 12, 2007 at 10:15 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

There are some misconceptions about what it takes to get a post removed from Town Square that I'd like to clear up. While we would (and do) certainly remove vulgarity from any post, that is not a serious problem and occurs very rarely. Most comments are removed because of attacks made on another poster. We will generally not touch a comment that sticks to the issue being discussed, regardless of how strongly the opinion is expressed. But when a comment calls another poster a liar or attributes motives to his or her opinion, our experience is that it results in a rapid disintegration of the thread. When someone says that another poster is ignorant, stupid or must be a kid because they are so misinformed, it typically draws a similar response from the original poster and completely derails the original topic.

So we will generally delete any derogatory comment about a person, unless the other participants on the thread "organically" shut that person down by simply ignoring him or her. This is actually my hope and goal...to empower the Town Square "community" to isolate disrespectful participants and urge them to either conform to the culture we are seeking to establish or go somewhere else.

This doesn't mean posts need to be plain vanilla. There are plenty of very intense debates that have flourished on Town Square and generated some really provocative and creative ideas without attacking other posters or people.

What I am hoping for in the next version of Town Square is integrating some kind of rating system that enables users to rate whether any poster is participating in a respectful manner or not, and then a method for users to filter out or hide the comments of those posters voted disrespectful. We're also considering placing any comments we remove in a separate area of Town Square, perhaps accessible only through logging in, where everyone can see, if they want, what we removed from the live thread. This would eliminate the problem of a poster completely mis-characterizing the content of a post that we removed, which happens quite frequently.

One final comment about registration. The biggest problem with requiring registration from my standpoint is that it only gives an illusion of accountability. I could register on a forum under any name and with any valid e-mail address (easily obtained from Yahoo, Google, etc.) and then begin posting under a completely false name.

I think the answer isn't to put people through an ineffective registration process, but to develop strategies that enable participants in the forum to marginalize the problem-posters so they either reform or go away.

It's comforting to know that the issues we are discussing here are being debated all over the Web on forums like this. If any place can figure this out and come up with a model for an outstanding community forum, it seems like we should be able to do it here in Palo Alto.

Thanks for your continuing ideas as we work to develop refinements to Town Square.




Posted by PA Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2007 at 10:35 pm

Forum reader, Why is it that you assume that I have congratulated myself on this thread by posting a self-congratultory note? In fact, I haven't.

What amuses and astounds me is the few - about 10 posters - here who always assume that when a post they disagree with is agreed to by another, that the latter must be an imposter.

My sense is that the people who feel this way really shouldn't be in ANY online forum, because they don't tolerate essential disagreement very well.

If the moderators of this forum begin to tamp down the quality of conversation to please the most timid souls, or those who are mightily offended by disagreement, that would be a real shame.

For instance, what has "Forum Reader" contributed to this discussion, other than making a wild, unfounded accusation? Virtually nothing. In fact, FR has essentially insulted me - called me a bully (boo-hoo). I've noted FR on other threads, popping in and accusing those who agree with each other as being the same person with different handles.

There's a quality of niggling pettiness, and self prepossession that comes to mind when I see unfounded accusations like the one FR just raised, especially when those accusations are deployed to cover weakness in their own positions - indeed, if they even hold a position. btw, FR, what position DO you hold on anything said above, by anyone?


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2007 at 11:27 pm

PA Citizen,
I love your post! Debate IS a messy process. I don't see that as a problem. What bothers me is when people tiptoe around issues, fearing to offend anyone. Problems can't be solved until all the messy issues and opinions are out on the table – hopefully along with facts!

Mike, I agree with you about gratuitous name-calling. What difference does it make if the caller is named or anonymous? Remember "sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me"?

It's certainly not a good debate tactic to call people names (vs. sticking to the issues and proving your points of disagreement), and I believe forum readers can sift through the name-callers and figure out whose posts are worthwhile.

Also remember not to feed the trolls. When I see a lot of rants and flames, I just ignore them.

From Wikipedia: In Internet terminology, a troll is someone who intentionally posts derogatory or otherwise inflammatory messages about sensitive topics in an established online community such as an online discussion forum to bait users into responding. . . . Experienced participants in online forums know that the most effective way to discourage a troll is usually to ignore him or her, because responding encourages a true troll to continue disruptive posts — hence the often-seen warning "Please do not feed the troll".

Also see "How To Keep Hostile Jerks From Taking Over Your Online Community" at:Web Link


Posted by Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2007 at 11:41 pm

I have never seen an internet forum, open to the general public the way this one is, that is as civil as this one is. I'm not saying there isn't plenty of rancor and bile, but let's put it in perspective. In the most heated discussions I've participated in, people usually only started complaining about the discourse when their arguments were especially weak and they clearly couldn't defend their positions. This is a typical tactic not limited to the internet.

I think this is a good forum. If anything, sometimes the edits are heavy-handed bordering on censureship. It's not the place of journalistic staff to control debates by editing forceful arguments (as opposed to uncivil ones). If the Weekly is using newby staff members to do the monitoring, perhaps it should put a little contact link to allow the community to lodge a protest to alert Bill or other senior staff that the censureship is getting out of hand. And possibly a way to alert staff immediately of bad language or trolls.

The only other improvement I would make is allowing people a chance to preview their post before posting. I have more than once seen the mistakes or potential misinterpretations after the post went up.


Posted by Publicus, a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2007 at 7:24 am

Recipe for rancor in Palo Alto: A collection of large egos, each convinced that his/her position is self-evidently right,and each in disagreement with every other large ego.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2007 at 7:30 am

Bill:

Nice clarification on why deletions occur. However, questions:

More clarification: Agreed, calling someone a liar or young makes sense that it might inflame and result in a downward slide. But..

1)Is it acceptable to state certain opinions or supposed facts are false, and give corroborating data for the reasons of the assertion that it is false?

2) Is it acceptable to state certain opinions or lines of reasoning are naive, and give corroborating logic or data why?

The problem is that if we are not allowed to classify at all as an opening sentence, then a reader has to read the whole thing to find out the point of the post. I, personally, want to know what the thesis, or assertion, of the poster is to know if I want to wade through the post.

Please advise.

Thanks.




Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2007 at 7:31 am

Bill:

Thanks for telling us what you are working on.

I love the rating idea.

Can it be a rating not just for "respect", but for validity/reliability/relevance? Would be nice to be able to sort out over time if certain posters are simply not worth the time to read.

thanks


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 13, 2007 at 2:28 pm

Everybody stop whining and take what you can get. After a half century being round filed by liberal letter editors I'll take my chances.


Posted by Bill Johnson, publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jul 13, 2007 at 5:06 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

In response to Resident, two posts up:

We have no concerns about a poster offering "facts" that refute, contradict or correct what another poster has offered, but where it crosses the line is when it attacks the original poster. There is simply no reason to call a poster a liar even if they may have their facts wrong. Posts often include assertions of fact that aren't true or fail to place the information in context. Part of a healthy debate is attempting to clarify what facts can be agreed upon so that the dialogue can then focus on the conclusions one might draw from those facts.

As to calling another person naive, we will sometimes delete a comment like that depending on the tone of the post and the overall thread. I don't see what is gained by calling someone naive (who would like to be called naive?) and I think it is a calculated put-down off that poster. It's just as easy to say you disagree with the person and to then express your differing viewpoint.

These are often subtle distinctions, but such distinctions can often be the difference between a discussion that produces a very interesting and intelligent dialogue and one that quickly gets everyone defensive and agitated about the tone of the conversation.

On many of the most emotional threads on Town Square, there are some outstanding examples of posters who hold very strong views but who very effectively express those views without ever putting down or attacking a poster with a differing opinion. In the end, I think those posters are far more persuasive than those who criticize other posters and their motivations.



Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2007 at 9:19 pm

Ok, I am the one who asked the question about "naive" etc. I suspect it is a cultural difference between my family of origin where making a cumulative summary statement that is followed by why we make the statement was the norm and expected. It was considered obfuscation to make the person wait until the end of your comments to try to figure out what your conclusion was. BUT, I get what you are saying, and if that is the way it should be here, then that is what I will do.

I hear you saying that there should be no summary conclusion, only " I disagree with your statement and here is why". I have noticed that Fred, for example, is extremely good at this.

Frankly, I don't mind being called naive etc, but on the other hand, it is true that my emotions rise if there is any kind of a personal assessment that goes along with the comments, and we all know that once emotions rise, intellect often sinks!

Thanks for taking the time to explain.


Posted by Martin, a resident of University South
on Jul 14, 2007 at 10:14 pm

Lest this forum turn into something akin to a Puritan broadside on Sunday morning prayer, please let's remember that emotion and passion are the seat of intellect.


Posted by one more vote for slashdot.org, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 15, 2007 at 6:22 pm

The slashdot moderation system is good: Freedom of speech, unique names (real or fake) for logged-in posters, an "anonymous coward" posting option for the paranoid, community rated threads/moderated posts, individual filtering of rated threads, community involvement (my guess is that this also lowers legal liability), ...I'm sure there is more.

It has been used for a long time very successfully with more than one large, smart, outspoken, oft impolite, opinionated community.

Or we could reinvent the wheel,-- which seems to be a hobby of mine and is almost always fun.

I believe the code to implement it is free, and can be tailored to fit the Palo Alto Online Community. My suggestion: give it a whirl.