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PA Online heavily censored?

Original post made by Who's afraid?, Old Palo Alto, on Oct 31, 2006

The "staff" at PA Online are heavily censoring comments on some of these boards, and are now deleting any posting critical of their sensitivites. How long will this posting last? If it's gets deleted, PA Online is really over-reacting and inviting this issue to be raised in print media elsewhere in town. Watch and see...

Comments (13)

Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Nov 1, 2006 at 7:29 am

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

The only recent removal of inappropriate posts have been made in the threads relating to the teen party incident over the weekend. As anyone reading those threads can observe, posts reflecting all points of view are well represented. We have only removed those posts that were over the top in their disrespect to either other posters or to other people. For those that have trouble engaging in a respectful discussion while they anonymously post, feel free to find another venue. By the way, none of the posts removed were critical of Palo Alto Online or the Palo Alto Weekly. Such posts remain on the site as posted.

Posted by Sober mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2006 at 9:24 am

Bill Johnson, I beg to differ. I made a series of posts to the discussion about the PA party - first about the incident, then about the censorship. The first was edited, the following ones which commented on the heavy censorship were deleted. I do not feel any of my posts crossed the line, and I was amazed at the sensitivity of the editing staff, particularly removal of any thing critical of the censorship.

In the first, the part that was edited out contained my opinion that the teacher should be fired, fast. I should think that is non-inflammatory? I also said that she should be fired so fast it made her barf. That might go close to the line but I don't think it's inappropriately disrespectful if considered in light of the fact that teens had been allowed to drink so much they were barfing inside and outside the house, according to media reports. That's what I was refering to - letting her have the unpleasant consequences that some of the teens experienced.

A second post broke down and examined the deleted statement; it was removed. A third post commented on the heavy degree of editing; it was removed. That's when I decided to try a comment in a different thread, and I am glad that you have allowed it to stand and have responded to it. If you truly think that no posts were removed that were critical of PA Online, I think you could look a bit more closely. I haved pursued the issue because I have long been a fan of the Weekly and generally have great respect for the integrity of the paper. The heaving editing on the teacher party thread seemed very out of character.

If the teacher party thread has gotten too uncivil and needs the kind of editing it has received, perhaps an editorial posting in the thread explaining the choices the editors are making could help bring things back in line.

Again, thank you for your response and for letting this thread stand.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 1, 2006 at 9:52 am

I think that we have a couple of things happening here. In the thread about the teen party, as one of the parents posting mentioned, this is something that children may want to read, partic ularly those in Palo Verde school as they would see it as something that they were involved in. For that reason alone, the censorship to me seems appropriate. In this particular thread, the likelihood of 3rd graders reading or even understanding what this thread is about is very unlikely, although older children may gain some understanding of debate from the less heated comments here. The other point is that when we see comments censored out, it makes us wonder exactly what has been edited out and we can only surmise that it is ten times worse than it probably was. If we can be told that it is edited out because of strong language, or derogatory comments, or inappropriate subject matter, then it takes away the mystery.

I noticed a thread starting last week about UFOs which disappeared. As a subsequent thread started about a house decorated for Halloween in alien motif, I imagine the Weekly staff had no problems with Halloween just UFOs. I didn't see anything offensive in the former, but of course can't check back on the details.

Consequently the censorship can't always be consistent and may not seem fair. However, I do appreciate that we should always be considerate of exactly who may read these posts and if a thread does have the remotest possibility of attracting young readers, we should be prepared to tone down our views or have them toned down for us.

Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Nov 1, 2006 at 10:13 am

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

All of these decisions are obviously subjective, and we do the best we can. Our strong preference is not to step in and remove posts, and our experience is that the "community" of participants in the forums is finding the appropriate limits to posts. In the case of Sober Mom's deleted posts, we felt that wishing for the elementary school teacher to be physically ill and describing that in detail was not contributing to an intelligent conversation. Advocating that she be fired is fine, which remains on the thread in several other posts. Then her post protesting the removal was removed because it restated all the stuff that was offensive in the first post.

As "Parent" points out, we do have to consider the fact that these forums are open to all, including children. Admittedly, it is a tough balancing act, and I'm sure we will make mistakes as we go.

Thanks for the feedback.

Posted by Sci Fi Fan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 1, 2006 at 10:33 am

So what about the UFO thread?

Posted by another Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 1, 2006 at 10:40 am

Sober Mom has a point. She is making strong statements, but nothing too extreme.

This teacher-hosted teen drinking party is of great concern to some of us Palo Alto parents and there are strong feelings all around, including those posted by friends rushing to support the teacher, and one man, possibly a fellow teacher(?), has denounced some of us who wish to discuss this party. Some post that we should not express our opinions based on multiple media reports, police reports, etc., because one is innocent until proven guilty. Really??? True, one IS innocent until proven guilty, but citations of school teachers are newsworthy when they involve youth, AND worthy of strong comment from the community. I thought we all cared so much about our youth in Palo Alto.

Some of us were not involved in the party, (apparently) don't know the people involved, but we were annoyed/angry that a teacher in our educated community would participate *in any way* in such an activity and we certainly wish to express our views about this. Don't we have valid concerns? Or is there a strong desire by some individuals (particularly, parents of the teens involved) to hush it up.

Posted by ks
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2006 at 3:33 pm

[commnent deleted by PA online]

Posted by lol
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 2, 2006 at 8:44 am

instead of commenting out people's words and thus making them your own statements, why don't you just lock threads like that one that get out of hand?

Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 3, 2006 at 9:51 am

"[commnent deleted by PA online]
Posted by ks, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 1, 2006 at 3:33 pm"

Does this mean that comments about censorship are being censored? The Palo Alto Weekly offered this online forum to attract more readers. When they discover that the users are an independent lot with lots of independent things to say they clamp down on posts. Looks like the genie is out of the bottle.

Sober Mom, don't feel like the Lone Ranger. My deleted post was the sarcastic opposite of yours.

Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 9, 2006 at 9:08 am

Please get rid of all the ads that have appeared today. I know it isn't your fault, but posting here may alert you before the topics page.

Thank you.

Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 9, 2006 at 9:50 am

Thank you

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 10, 2006 at 11:41 pm

Anyone who has sent a letter to the Weekly that expresses criticism of that newspaper knows they won't print it. You keep the letter short, including your name, address and phone number -- follow all of their rules -- and the letter won't be printed. So why would they run this forum any differently?

Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 21, 2007 at 6:08 pm

I think it is time to bring up the censorship issue again. While it may have been infrequent in the past, the rate seems to increase. The editors feel free to remove comments that are quite mild, but don't meet the censor's approval. This happened a lot on the various MI threads, and now on the spanking thread. Possibly on others, but I don't read all of them.

Bill Johnson's argument that "these forums are open to all, including children" sounds reasonable until one realizes that he is censoring to maintain the genteel appearance of the forum rather than truly hard hitting personal attacks or pornography.

Yes, this is his place and he can run it any way he wants, like his newspaper. But no pretense should be given to having an "open exchange" here.

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