Changes planned for Town Square, the Palo Alto Online forum | January 29, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 29, 2021

Changes planned for Town Square, the Palo Alto Online forum

New policies will 'pre-moderate' new users, limit length of comments and make other changes to improve quality of reader forum

by Palo Alto Weekly staff

Several changes to Palo Alto Online's popular reader forum, Town Square, will be implemented over the next few weeks in an effort to reduce disrespectful commentary and encourage broader, more diverse community participation.

This story contains 1080 words.

Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.

If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.

Log in     Subscribe

Comments

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Downtown North

on Jan 26, 2021 at 9:22 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2021 at 10:34 am

eileen is a registered user.

Personally, I am happy about these changes. Community debate is healthy until it turns snarky and name-calling. We can learn from all sides of an issue.


Posted by KOhlson
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2021 at 11:08 am

KOhlson is a registered user.

I agree with these changes, and appreciate the PAW taking the time and resources to consider what works and what doesn't work to encourage healthy and respectful dialog about our community.


Posted by vmshadle
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jan 26, 2021 at 11:12 am

vmshadle is a registered user.

I am also glad to hear of these changes. After having participated off and on for a few years I found myself avoiding Town Square because of the generally negative tone of most comments. If these rules rid us of all (or at least most) of the sniping, I for one will welcome it.

That said, I'm no angel either: I've had parts of posts censored too for angry, provocative statements along the lines of "How would YOU like it if someone treated YOU that way?" and one or two sarcastic digs which I found hard to resist at the time.

Nonetheless, after a four-year clinic in incivility emanating from D. C., let's reinstitute civility here at home as well.


Posted by merry
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 26, 2021 at 11:32 am

merry is a registered user.

I will miss the “like” voting on a topic. It was an easy way to give my 2 cents. Also a way which way wind was blowing. Hope that come back.


Posted by JB
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 26, 2021 at 11:35 am

JB is a registered user.

This seems like a good idea. I also don't appreciate snarky comments on these forums. And the number of likes just seemed distracting to me. In general, the people with the most aggressive comments received the most likes. Thank you for trying to return civility to our common discourse!


Posted by No heat
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 27, 2021 at 3:10 pm

No heat is a registered user.

The "like" voting was trivial to abuse, and regularly was. There was no barrier to using it to run up huge numbers of "likes" for yourself, and some posters did exactly that in order to create the false impression of support for racism and hatred.


Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Jan 27, 2021 at 6:19 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Bill.

I would also stop back and forth where two posters monopolize the threads.

Good to stop repetitive posts by the same poster.

Work to invite more voices that are often put off by the repetitive bickering.


Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2021 at 9:54 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

I hope these changes will make Town Square more inviting to a broader range of posters. I like it that contributors who want to remain anonymous may do so but will have to use the same screen name for all comments. That way everyone takes accountability for what they say, whether they use their own or a fictitious name. Thank you, Weekly, for your willingness to take risks to improve the Town Square experience.


Posted by iSez
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 27, 2021 at 11:03 pm

iSez is a registered user.

I hope that political comments are immediately deleted. PAO allows anti-Trump comments but not anti-liberal comments. Any political postings should not be allowed, they are divisive.


Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 28, 2021 at 5:14 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

So far, the only thing I miss is the inability to upvote comments. Sometimes I just want a lightweight way to participate; I don't always have the time or inclination to put together a well-crafted comment, particularly when someone else has already done a good job of expressing what I might have said. And I liked to scan for comments that received a lot of attention.

Yes, this mechanism was routinely abused. But as I've mentioned before, there are other rating systems that are more resistant to abuse.

I like Slashdot's, which has held up surprisingly well over the years. The site gives upvoting privileges to an ever-changing random subset of users, so it's hard to flood the system with bogus upvotes. The reviewers themselves are occasionally evaluated by a different random selection of users (meta-reviews -- e.g., do you think this example review was appropriate?), so that over time you develop a set of trustworthy reviewers that you can weight more heavily if you choose.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2021 at 10:50 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Without the "like" button and the minimum number of characters, the ability to agree with a comment briefly, is not possible.

"Agree with X" is probably too short for the system.


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 1, 2021 at 12:21 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

When a person uses their own name those comments can be tracked on google search for the person but they are out of context. So you should think through what you are saying and hope that you are presenting a whole line of thought. That information will appear later on with no lead-in data and overall context.


Posted by R. Cavendish
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2021 at 8:44 am

R. Cavendish is a registered user.

all things considered, the posts have been more 'on point' and less abrasive since the changes.

though abused at times, the 'likes' tally will be missed as it provided a consensus of sorts.


Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2021 at 10:12 am

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

I've found over the years that self-editing reduces wordiness, clarifies messages and can help one appear intelligent and thoughtful. I believe the 200-word limit will motivate people to do just that. (30 words. Whew!)


Posted by citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2021 at 11:35 am

citizen is a registered user.

First, I'm concerned to hear that as a member I haven't seen any communications asking for my input on changes.

I think any changes the Weekly wants to make are fine as long as the guidelines are clear up front, such as a specific word limit. It's gutsmackingly discouraging to be moderated after the fact based on unclear guidelines. Just as they have set a clear marker for length, they should set a more clear marker for "frequent" posting or "dominating" a discussion.

Also, is good discussion really served when we edit or drown out lone/ independent/rare voices that counter the bandwagon? Isn't that a stifling of good discussion, too? We just saw what happened on January 6 in DC in large part because of a false narrative that was built Fox-bit by rightwing-media-lies bit over the past weeks-and in truth, the last 50 years-and that narrative gets reinforced as confirmation bias every time someone says something like "corrupt Hilary" or even that "government" can't do anything right. For every negative lie, it takes 5 positive truths to overcome the lie, and a political-dogwhistle post that wouldn't be moderated because of 50 years' confirmation bias might need more than one or two posts in reply to equal balance or even glimpse truth.


Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2021 at 1:16 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

I will miss the "like" button but if it was being abused, time to go. Glad to see a "word limit." Longer than 75 words is usually too long. One screen name per person - fantastic. Hope the new changes work out well. I disagree that "30 words or less" is an emotional outburst. Some people learned the art of brevity, and know how to get to the point.


Posted by merry
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 1, 2021 at 1:50 pm

merry is a registered user.

So can the “like” button come back? Maybe this is too short.
Now I have to count words. I’m into brevity. Thirty words is a lot.
Points can be made without going on and on.


Posted by Leslie York
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 2, 2021 at 12:31 am

Leslie York is a registered user.

Apparently management is unfamiliar with the phrase "chilling effect", a common journalistic term.

My posts are always civil, never bellicose or combative, yet I've had many posts about non-controversial subjects deleted (censored) for no apparent reason. Now there is no reason to compose a well-thought-out post only to have it deleted because it ran for 201 words. The new rules (more like handcuffs) are a definite disincentive to post.

I'll be posting here a lot less, that's for gall darn sure.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2021 at 7:38 am

Bystander is a registered user.

It seems that the new rules are not preventing overnight trolls on the Blogs.


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 3, 2021 at 8:23 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Based on comments above this is not TWITTER. A lead in article has a point of view that may have many opinions that do not line up with other know "truths" produced in the larger press. Is the point to provide cover for the original article or to introduce a topic which may have numerous points of view? If people take the time to read the original article and form an opinion then is that not the whole point of this format? That is the whole point of journalism which may not be the point of TWITTER. I looked into the background and bio of Jack Dorsey - if that is a leader then check it out. Very bright but strange person.


Posted by The Voice of Palo Alto
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2021 at 5:21 pm

The Voice of Palo Alto is a registered user.

“I hope that political comments are immediately deleted. PAO allows anti-Trump comments but not anti-liberal comments. Any political postings should not be allowed, they are divisive.“

Not only is this statement false, this comment demonstrates the slippery slope of PAonline for editing comments. Bill Johnson literally states in the article:

“Johnson said that the substantive content and political views expressed by commenters have never been a factor in moderation decisions and won't be in the future.”

So accusing PAonline of basically only allowing “anti-Trump” comments and deleting “anti-liberal” comments is false. Those “anti-liberal” comments that either got edited or deleted probably did not meet the other prerequisites that Bill also described here such as “not being sarcastic or snarky.” There was a poster on paonline blabbering about “the Dominion voting machines,” and their other pro-Republican/pro-Trump beliefs just about two weeks ago. Political comments should not be deleted because you think they should be or because you feel they are divisive. Embarcadero Media is not here to service everyone’s individualized sensitivities and that’s why Bill Johnson is trying to set some comment section protocols. But this demonstrates the slippery slope. Once you edit, users take it to the next level and think whole lines of commentary should be eliminated because it doesn’t meet their individualized needs.

Although I personally think there should be more freedom for users in the comments, and I don’t agree with all of the edits and/or deletions, Embarcadero Media is a business and they can implement whatever rules they like to and edit the way they choose to. If you don’t like the comments you can skip them. If you don’t like the rules, you don’t have to post.


Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2021 at 7:09 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

I agree that any news site can implement any rules they want, but I also agree that right leaning comments are more likely to get deleted. This is a left leaning site, and going against the grain politically is an uphill battle. The left used to be the party of "free speech" but it hasn't been that way in a long time. Since comments post immediately, and then subject to moderation - we all see what gets deleted. Anti-BLM comments are a perfect example. Play by the rules or play elsewhere.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2021 at 7:20 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2021 at 10:28 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Please explain why I cannot post that I agree with "name of earlier poster". I am brief and polite.


Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2021 at 1:12 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Bystander: The explanation of the changes included that posts could not be more than 200 words or less than 30. So, if one posts: I agree with John Smith's comment, that is too few words, according to the new guidelines.


Posted by Leslie York
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2021 at 11:10 pm

Leslie York is a registered user.

I have run an Internet discussion board for the past 19 years. It's the top board in its field. One of the first things you learn is that the people who post determine the content and set the tenor of the board. Without them you don't have a board. If you edit/censor posts with a heavy hand, as PAO does, or try to "shape" the content, you wind up stifling discussion and people will be discouraged from posting for fear their posts will be deleted. This is the chilling effect I mentioned earlier.

If there is a clearly-defined set of rules for this board, I can't find it. My board very clearly spells out the rules. Users know exactly what is not allowed. If I have to moderate a post I can cite the specific rule involved. I've had many inoffensive posts on non-controversial topics here deleted for no apparent reason. The moderation criteria for this board seem arbitrary and capricious and dependent on the whim of the moderator.

The 200-word limit is ridiculous. If a post is too long, all the reader has to do is scroll past it. Simple.

A little humor or gentle sarcasm sometimes helps to make a point. They're not grounds for censorship IMO.

I fail to see how eliminating the "likes" makes for a better board. If people were voting more than once, it's not the end of the world and can probably be remedied. Now people are clamoring to bring back the "likes".

Board management should keep in mind that the posts here are not the editorial voice of PAO, Bill Johnson or Embarcadero media. They're the collective voice of the people.

I haven't counted the words in this post, but I hope I'm under the 200-word limit. I know I have 329 characters remaining.

--------------------

Moderator comment:

The recent changes we have made are designed to reduce, not increase, the need to remove or edit comments by discouraging long-winded, repetitive or excessive numbers of comments by the same few people who seek to dominate the discussion. The terms of service describe the reasons why comments may be edited, and the vast majority of comments abide by these guidelines.

By the way, in looking at the history of your comments, you have posted 25 times on Town Square and one short comment was removed; none have been edited.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2021 at 11:47 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Leslie York makes some excellent points. Discussion often means hearing other opinions and these should give us another perspective and cause for thought. The like button is missed because it is like a cheer or a handclap of agreement and eliminates the need for another comment (such as this one).

My comment was deleted above because I attempted to keep my comment brief and then forced to add unnecessary characters. At first the comment was not accepted by the system I suppose because it was brief and supportive. I therefore had to amend it. Brevity should be lauded.

I do hope that we are not being censored for our agreement with a previous poster.

-------------------------------------------
Moderator comment:
Your deleted comment was: "I agree with Jennifer. aaaaaaaaaaa"
I think most will understand why such a comment adds nothing to the conversation.



Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2021 at 12:29 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Is it possible that someone who complains of being deleted several times only to be contradicted, could in fact have had many posts deleted but under several screen names? It would take a good memory or meticulous record keeping to recall which of several screen names had lost messages to deletion. That shouldn't be a problem going forward with the single screen name rule.
----------------------------------

Moderator comment:
FYI, the screen name isn't used in our identification of repeat posters. We use both the registered email address and the IP address, neither of which readers can see but which our system monitors.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Mountain View

on Feb 6, 2021 at 12:11 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Posted by Leslie York
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 6, 2021 at 11:32 pm

Leslie York is a registered user.

"in looking at the history of your comments, you have posted 25 times on Town Square and one short comment was removed; none have been edited."

I believe you only looked at my posting history since we were required to register to post. I've posted many more than 25 times before that rule was enacted, and have had many non-objectionable posts deleted (not edited) for no apparent reason.


Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2021 at 8:50 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

I've had posts deleted occasionally for no apparent reason (to me), but it's no big deal. Moderation is at the discretion of the moderator. If he/she thinks a comment is inappropriate, they'll hit delete. We're all guests of this site, and they owe us no explanation. Don't sweat the small stuff.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2021 at 8:53 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Whereas I do acknowledge that I attempted to play the system, I disagree that a brief comment of agreement does nothing to add to the conversation. When someone makes a good point in an in person debate, a round of applause, or a cheer, can at least make the person feel that they have support. Otherwise a silence gives no feedback. It is good to know that there are other like minded people out there.

I do think a brief show of support is worthwhile and does not need to be lengthy.

P,S, I do like the edit feature.


Posted by Duveneck neighbor
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 9, 2021 at 3:03 pm

Duveneck neighbor is a registered user.

I am happy to hear of all of these changes. They seem well-considered, and based upon prior evidence and experience.

I would like the Publisher and staff to consider a further change, which to me would be a huge improvement.

Namely, there needs to be a mechanism to vet comments for veracity; to check statements for truthfulness. This nation began to suffer from information degradation, with consequent devastating results, beginning with the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine policy by the FCC in 1987. While done in the name of the First Amendment, the complete end of the policy has led to an epidemic of false, fake, misleading, and outright-lying information. There *must* be a mechanism to demand truth: to demand writers and commenters prove themselves able to distinguish between 1) a valid opinion based upon an individual's true, anecdotal experience; 2) a true fact, widely applicable or generalizable, based upon experimental or legal evidence, or the aggregation of anecdotal experiences from a large number of individuals; 3) a lie or falsehood.

I have recommended to Facebook, for instance, the formation of an independent third-party, which grants individuals and/or individual accounts, the right to use a trademarked symbol whenever they post. The right is granted, only after the individual or account holder proves, over time, they adhere to a set of specifications for discourse, centered upon the use of fact, and the application of verifiable evidence, and the use of valid rhetorical mechanisms, namely logic and reason, defined in quantifiable ways. Individuals granted the right to display the symbol (or icon), therefore communicate instantly to their interlocutors, a sense of trust, a message that this person or account engages in civil and reasonable discourse.

PA Online could do the same. The erosion of skills (to distinguish between fact and opinion, truth and speculation or falsehood) has eroded trust. We cannot move forward without it.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2021 at 10:10 am

Bystander is a registered user.

It is very evident that the new changes are not eliminating the overnight spam trolls.

I still miss the like button.

I do like the edit feature.

I would like to hear more about how things compare to The Voice and to the Alamanac in comparison to the Weekly. I feel that as a Weekly registered reader, Mountain View news is of interest to me and the requirement to register with them to enable me to comment seems pointless, although I am open to better understanding.


Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 2, 2021 at 3:07 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

Our Moderator explains (regarding a post by Bystander) that "Moderator comment:
Your deleted comment was: "I agree with Jennifer. aaaaaaaaaaa"
I think most will understand why such a comment adds nothing to the conversation."

I disagree with Moderator on tis and believe that short comment does contribute to the discussion.
Here's why -- It indicates the poster's opinion, and since it is tied to a screen name/account, it can't be easily manipulated like the old "like" system. Thus, I respectfully request that short like/dislike comments be allowed.


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 3, 2021 at 9:06 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Noting the difference between the MV Voice and the PA Online I can use a pseudo name on the PA on-line but when I posted on the MV Voice they reverted to my email address. When you see an email address it is probably because they are registered on a different system - I am assuming that some are on the Almanac because of their location and proximity to Menlo Park vs Palo Alto. If you are in the Hills then Menlo Park business is probably of more interest. Possibly some Menlo Park people are off-loading some issues onto Palo Alto? Of course - it is pin the tail on the donkey.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox.