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Online conversation with Tyler Hanley, Palo Alto Online editor

Original post made by Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 13, 2008

Tyler

Thank you for your comments which I have noticed dotted around various threads. As I don't read threads which don't interest me, I thought it would be useful to try and put all these comments in one place.

I appreciate that you are now able to track addresses and are watching out for multiple users.

I can understand that you want to prevent multiple users making a topic look as if there are more posters than there really are, but sometimes a thread starts out one way and gets off on an interesting tangent which means that although someone may post multiple times with the same name when the discussion is on the same initial subject, as the subject develops and evolves another name may seem appropriate. I would imagine that as long as the posts are thoughtful and pertinent to the way the discussion is going that multiple names would be in order. For example, a discussion that starts off about housing may turn into a discussion about school overcrowding, and someone who is a "neighbor" at the beginning of the discussion may wish to be a "parent" when the discussion turns.

Thank you for your time on this.

Comments (34)

Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Nov 13, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

"Resident" is referring to deletions we have made in topics relating to crime and racial profiling due to a single individual making multiple postings on a topic. In the most extreme cases, a person actually carries on a conversation with himself/herself but uses different names in order to deceive the other users of Town Square.

We are now able to detect these cases because of an IP tracking system that our programmers have recently set up. It's not a perfect system, and a person intent on "gaming" the community can still get away with it with enough trouble, but we are hopeful that it will largely put an end to the deception that occurs in some discussions, especially those with a lot of heated emotions.

There will be some other changes to Town Square soon, including features enabling any user to "flag" a comment as violating our Terms of Use and, we hope, a feature that will allow a poster of a new topic to restrict comments to registered users if they wish. We also will clearly "tag" those posters who are registered users so the community knows those people have provided Palo Alto Online with their e-mail address and we are able to contact them about their post if necessary.

In response to your specific question, we are not planning on intervening with deletions on threads unless we believe the intent is to deceive others and manipulate the discussion. We hope people will stick with one name, and reserve the right to remove posts that don't, but our focus is on those who use multiple names in a dishonest way that harms the integrity of Town Square. As many of you have surely noticed, we don't have the resources to thoroughly monitor every post and must focus on those threads that create a lot of emotion.

We believe that the community will value and use Town Square more if we are at least somewhat successful in preventing users from carrying on under multiple identities. Thanks for your help in this effort.


Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Tyler,

I'm delighted to hear that you've found a way with at least part of the sock-puppet problem. It's been distracting.


Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2008 at 9:51 pm

A very welcome feature, thanks Tyler and crew


Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 14, 2008 at 11:30 pm

Absolutely right. The more vitriol I see the less interest I have in participating. The old Palo Alto Daily News had a board that turned into an ugly free for all and I stopped posting and reading. I took a hiatus here, too, for similar reasons. For all those who would cry "censorship" I would recommend going somewhere else. It's not censorship when a private publication selects its letters-to-the-editor, and this is simply a much larger and faster version. If users feel that the controls are too tight or unfair to one side or another, there's no shortage of outlets for one's views online.


Posted by Suggestion
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2008 at 12:48 pm

How about implementing the restriction that only registered users can start a new topic? There were a lot of SPAM topics in the last month and this doesn't even include the nonsensical ones.



Posted by Too Late
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2008 at 2:46 pm

Funny that you are starting to monitor the sock puppets AFTER the library bond passed.
There was an obvious supporter who lied repeatedly and under many names about the libraries. He said the libraries would close if the bond didn't pass. You allowed him to repeat this disinformation dozens of times and did nothing about it.
For that matter, the Better Libraries committee didn't disown him either.


Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Nov 15, 2008 at 6:07 pm

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

Too Late,

Agreed. Our programmers just gave us this ability this week. We did delete lots of posts that appeared duplicative and/or false on the library threads, from both sides, but we could have been much more precise if we had the IP tracking available.


Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Tyler,

Is it possible to put the poster's IP, in their post?

You're not the only one who would like to know who the sock puppets are.


Posted by Bill Marcy fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2008 at 7:28 pm

fwiw, [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Many city-business-related threads in these forums have repeatedly been filled with negative, life-and-energy-sucking sock puppets, who repeatedly and obsessively wrote the most vile things about city operations, policy makers, educational proponents, and others, with *no* countervailing interference by the Weekly, even though the Weekly *knows* that policy makers read the forum threads. The Weekly simply would not monitor the negative sock-puppets, so a few more positive-thinking and measured posters formed a secret alliance to change that.

But in spite of all the negative spewing, the Weekly's online, revenue-generating page views continued, anyway, didn't they. To be clear, this was not Tyler Hanley's fault; the blame goes higher up than Tyler.

This move is really more about the WEEKLY learning to fulfill its editorial responsibility, and *growing up* in the online age, instead if just putting an online forum in place to create a platform for revenue generating page views. The onus should not be put on posters who have been doing what the Weekly's rules *always permitted*. (again, read the rules). The Weekly has been asked change its rules, many times - at times by some of the very posters that Tyler unfortunately paints with a somewhat negative brush. That's ironic. Again, it's important to note that the Weekly has lagged in its own rules enforcement.

It should also be noted that the Weekly itself - and the Weekly is a *business* that wants to generate page views, and sell print advertising pages, let's not forget that to a nanosecond - has many times gotten the facts *wrong* in some of its print and online reporting on municipal issues - and has at times, in an effort to fill its pages, unnecessarily inflamed this community around sensitive issues by throwing reportage at the wall in the hope that some of it will stick long enough to generate readership. Let's keep responsibility for keeping a "clean" forum in the hands of those who claim ownership of that forum (the Weekly's senior staff), and not those who use the forum.

At present, the best daily reporting newspaper in this city is - ironically, given its past reputation - the Palo Alto Daily, which reports on local issues in a far more dispassionate and objective (if that's possible) way than either of the other two. The Weekly does the best job reporting weekly, on local culture; it's municipal print reporting is dismal, and usually late for the train. Maybe some new reporting blood will change that, or things will change as online readership increases to see the real-time postings put into the Weekly "Online".

With that, it is refreshing that the multiple identity problem has finally (purportedly) been solved, so that the 10-15 most effusive naysayer posters who've consistently used multiple identities to trash this city, it's policy makers, and truly progressive policy innovations won't have to be counteracted by just a few more measured citizens who gave their time to counterbalance the outrageous distortions put up by those sock-puppet naysayers. It was essentially fighting fire, with fire, with both sides playing by the Weekly's rules. Now, it's a new game. Let's see if it works out.

Finally, We should take this time to thank those who gave so generously of their time to keep the record straight - even throwing into the fir an occasional, incendiary, outrageous "counter-fib" to dilute even more outrageous outrageous naysayer distortions about our city, it's operational crew, its policy makers, its educators, it's well-meaning citizens - to make sure that anyone who read the online forums received a balanced view, instead of the outright lop-sided negative distortions published by a few, made to look like the many. All is/was fair in love, war, and unmonitored online forums. Se la vie! "To the victor belong the spoils" - said in 1831 by a New York senator, William L. Marcy, who was not a sock puppet.


Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2008 at 8:31 pm

Bill Marcy,

And your IP is?......


Posted by Too late
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2008 at 10:00 pm

Good grief, he's back, accusing others of his own misdeeds.
The Weekly didn't need IP addresses to know who Save the Libraries was, he was identified several times by a number of writers. And he made the same arguments in public meetings and in letters to the editor.
He is a public official and known by anyone who wants to know. He glories in publicity. No mysteries there.
Well, maybe one mystery: why didn't the Better Libraries committee disown his dishonest and disreputable postings.


Posted by Bill Marcy fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2008 at 10:32 pm

"why didn't the...Libraries committee disown **his**...postings."

With respect - - Pot, meet Kettle.

and, "**his** postings"??? - you're not quite correct on that one...maybe someday, in the memoirs, more will be revealed...

Be well, all...and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!



Posted by T
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2008 at 12:52 am

"The Weekly simply would not monitor the negative sock-puppets, so a few more positive-thinking and measured posters formed a secret alliance to change that."

Bill Marcy fan, there is nothing admirable in doing that, despite your attempt to justify it as a public service. Ugh!


Posted by Too late
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2008 at 11:09 am

Like an experienced bully who attacks someone then looks around with an innocent face as though looking for the perpetrator, "Bill Marcy fan" exemplifies his well-honed bullying skills.
"All is/was fair in love, war, and unmonitored online forums." I don't think so.
How long is the city going to allow this dishonest official to manipulate the public sphere.
And yes, I wonder why the Better Libraries people didn't attempt to silence him. Maybe they thought his lies about library closures would help them win.


Posted by T
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2008 at 11:40 am

It'll be good to see the new system implemented. A smaller number of repetitive posts -- on either side of an issue -- sounds wonderful. Thank you to the Weekly for instituting it.


Posted by Too late
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2008 at 9:58 pm

Bill Marcy fan wrote:
>Finally, We should take this time to thank those who gave so generously of their time to keep the record straight - even throwing into the fir an occasional, incendiary, outrageous "counter-fib" to dilute even more outrageous outrageous naysayer distortions about our city,<
If this is true, Better Libraries has some explaining to do. 'Save the Libraries' lied repeatedly about the financial benefits of libraries and he said the libraries would close if we do not pass the bond.
How long is the city going to allow this dishonest man to remain a city official?


Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 19, 2008 at 6:55 pm

"<poster> is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online"

This is new, lets see if it picks me up or if I have to be logged in


Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 19, 2008 at 6:56 pm

RS is a registered user.

well maybe I do have to be logged in


Posted by Residents
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2008 at 7:07 pm

The improvements are improvements, and do raise a smile.


Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2008 at 8:28 pm

Tyler,

Nice to see the new IP protocols in place, but I see almost zero posters like "RS" who show up in bold as a registered user. Can I offer an opinion why?:

Web Link

PAPD has a history of going after newspapers, and I for one don't want my personal info in the hands of the PAPD.

I won't register to read the "daily" for this very reason, and I'm sure you and the Weekly have seen that on-line Daily readership has gone in the toilet since they changed their format requiring registration......

Please keep the IP's, but don't collect personal information for registration.... Or, if in some way you can, put the personal info beyond the reach of the City of Palo Alto.




Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 19, 2008 at 8:37 pm

RS is a registered user.

Outside Observer,

With your IP, even if its served via dhcp, you can be found. You are not as anonymous on the net as you might think.


Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2008 at 9:18 pm

RS,

Yes correct, but I know how to spoof mine. Most Papd could do is trace it to the last router, and that would make me one of many.... Wouldn't stand up in court, but an email address taken from the weekly would.


Posted by T
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 19, 2008 at 9:19 pm

I have a different opinion as to why so few people have registered. Basically, there seemed no reasoon to do so before. Now that it might be worthwhile to register, it is next to impossible to find the place to do so. (It's the tiny blue text to the right of the 'search' option at the very top of the screen.) Now that I've found the place to do so, I may go ahead and register also.


Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 19, 2008 at 9:53 pm

RS is a registered user.

Well do something egregious enough and I think you will see how easy it is to even find someone that spoofs ip addresses. ;^) That said ip spoofing is beyond most users of this forum.


Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2008 at 10:04 pm

IP geniuses, do those online sites which require payment narrow down the name of the actual person who sent an email?


Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 20, 2008 at 7:24 am

So what we have been discussing is common knowledge in the industry, it does not require an advanced IQ. So the genius label is a bit over the top.

So your question I am not sure I get, so if I answer it wrong, just reask and I'll try again. "Online sites that require payment" is like an AOL, or ATT, or someone else that provides mail services?

Lets assume for the moment that no one is trying to cover their tracks. In terms of forensics like what we have been discussing, generally an email can be narrowed down to the computer that sent the email and the account that is being used and the person that owns that account.
Did that answer your question?


Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2008 at 9:03 am

How many registered users do we have? I have seen two; Walter Wallis and RS who sometimes is listed as a registered user and sometimes not.


Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 20, 2008 at 10:16 am

One has to login to get the "registered user" mark. I dont login much because I have not seen the value in it as of yet. A "bulk" poster does get their Name and Neighborhood automagically filled in, so that might be of value to some.


Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Nov 20, 2008 at 11:32 am

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

Just to jump in here with a comment. I think the best feature of being logged in as a user is that you can "track" any topic you're interested in. You then receive a notification e-mail whenever there is a new comment made on that topic. It's a great way to know when there is activity on a topic without having to keep returning to see. This "tracking" feature only shows up as an option if you are logged in. It appears as a link under the original post that started the topic.

I also wanted to make clear that our privacy policy is to not provide any information about a person's identity or IP address to anyone, including law enforcement, unless in response to a subpoena or if there was reason to believe that someone's life was in danger. Neither of those situations has occurred since we launched Town Square in 2006.


Posted by T, from Duveneck/St Francis
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 20, 2008 at 2:45 pm

T, from Duveneck/St Francis is a registered user.

Okay, when I went to register, I received an error message saying that the User Name I wanted was already taken. Fair enough, but all of the personal information I had typed in was cleared from the form at the same time. I retyped it, knowing that was unlikely to happen twice and I was correct. That said, if the time ever comes that people need to try a few different user names before hitting upon something unique, I think blanking the form each time will be problematic. Please consider making a change to your software. It should be a fairly simple upgrade. Thanks!


Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2008 at 3:26 pm

Tyler

I think the "go to message board" feature gives the same type of service you mention without the email. In fact, I think it would make a lot of sense to have this as the default alternative as it makes more sense than the alternative.


Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2008 at 8:44 am

RS,

I was wondering about those websites who claim they can find the owner of an email address for a price. So if I send a flaming email to someone, they can find out it was me by paying one of those companies? I would have to send the email from a public computer?


Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 21, 2008 at 11:22 am

Well thats a database thing, not a protocol thing, so you are outside my sphere a bit. If you gave your email address to an entity, the question is do they share their info with 3rd parties? The privacy statements like Tyler was quoting is your clue, but if their database is not secure, you run a risk independent of their privacy statement. If the keeper of your data can be social engineered or bribed, or just has friends they will do favors for, you run a risk. Once any flaming email crosses a line that interests law enforcement, the person will be easy to find. Not exactly an email example, but as evidence the Megan Meier tragedy. Nothing got in the way to discovering the people involved.

On the lower end of the scale, if a flamer feels the need to tell the flamee that the flamee's mother wears Army boots, I think the flamee won't be able to find the flamer and no one with the authority to associate the email with a real person will probably be movivated to help, although the flamer's ISP might terminate their service if they violate the ISP's terms of service regarding discussions of usage of military attire.

Much better strategy to just be civil, and not flame. Keeps your blood pressure lower. Just dont let the person rent space in your head and you wont have to worry about someone trying to find you.
Not sure that was my response is all that useful, but its worth what you paid for it. ;^)


Posted by Mom
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Nov 23, 2008 at 11:09 am

Tyler,

We have several computers in the house and both mom and dad who want to post. Aren't we under the same IP address? This means only one name can post in our household? Could be difficult...


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