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"Deleted by Palo Alto Online"

Original post made by pat, Midtown, on Mar 14, 2007

I was curious why some seemingly innocuous (in my mind) comments have been deleted from these blogs. For example, the following two paragraphs were deleted by PAO:

- If you ask people to play straight with the facts, seems you have at least a little obligation to do so yourself.

- I wish posters would provide data to back up their claims, rather than stressing “substance” and “studies” without proof points. We can all learn from these online discussions if only people will play it straight. We would all benefit.

I sent an email to a PAO official and received the following guidelines:

- “If posters can't manage to focus on substance, and instead insist on characterizing other posters, we're inclined to remove them.”

- No posts that are “just silly and brings down the value of the site to people who are really interested in having a discussion or in reading what others are saying.”

- “Sarcasm is not a productive or respectful form of communication, even when sprinkled with humor.”

Yet the following posts were NOT deleted:

- “ . . . instead of living in their imaginations, it results in a sad lack of public knowledge, with the further continuance of ignorance spread to others. If you don't do these things, then you will continue to argue from ignorance, . . . “ (Apparently OK to say someone is ignorant.)

- . . . “if we give in to a few vocal naysayers (who consistently provide skewed fiscal critiques on these projects), . . . ” (No proof that critiques are “skewed.”)

- “It must be a bitter pill to swallow, especially when someone points it out . . . It must be even more bitter when all the naysaying crowd has left is a desperate mocking tone directed at those who have passed them by, or toting out a poverty stricken bag of old ideas that barely flew the first time.”

- “Many of these naysayers are . . . mostly good people, but very misguided.” (I guess it’s OK to call people misguided, as long as you also say they’re good.)

- “. . . all you have is your "silly" rationale. Pease produce your own studies (23 of them) refuting the 'silliness' yuo claim to be truth. Until you do that, your refutation has no substance, and is itself living in the "Land of Silliness". (Also OK to call people silly.)

- “Please do attempt to answer the challenge . . . instead of coming up with arguments like ‘they're silly’. Otherwise, you're just whistling Dixie.” (But not OK to be called silly.)

- “Next, we see . . . an "expansus ad absurdium" argument that any high school kid would see through.” (I would say this is sarcastic and insulting.)

Enough! There are many more examples. But I’m not in favor of deleting ANY posts unless they’re threats, curses, racist comments or otherwise obviously offensive.

My point is that the PAO deletions are subjective. Who decides what’s insulting or sarcastic or silly or humorous or substantive? Does PAO think we’re not able to sift through nonsense and respond to insulting comments ourselves?

IMHO, the ones who “bring down the value of the site to people who are really interested in having a discussion” by repeating the same arguments over and over without every responding to questions or comments from others. Should their posts be deleted? NO. Vox populi. But let’s hear the voices without subjective censorship.

Comments (20)

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Posted by Draw the Line
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 14, 2007 at 11:20 am

Completely agree. Keep profanity out, of course...keep threats of bodily harm out..of course....

But, let us decide whether or not somebody is too sarcastic or brings down the discussion too much. We are capable of ignoring or responding to the muck.

In the interest of disclosure, I have to say I have had posts deleted, and been completely flummoxed over why, especially when they are in response to others' posts. And I have never used anything resembling bad language, never called names, nor ever been demeaning or threatening. I HAVE matched tones of the people I am responding to, though.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2007 at 11:35 am

I just took a copy and paste of your entire post because I'm betting someone at PAO won't like it and will delete it.

“Sarcasm is not a productive or respectful form of communication, even when sprinkled with humor.”

I think their censorship statements they made to you (which you thankfully quoted above) are amazing, insulting, arrogant, and outrageously undemocratic.

You might expect this kind of censorship from a biased website dedicated to a particular position, political bent, or issue, but Palo Alto Online is a community conversation sponsored by a NEWSPAPER. So much for freedom of speech! A Newspaper!!! In the US! In California! In Palo Alto!!! It's Unbelievable.

Did we all just get caught in a wrinkle in the time-space continuum? I feel like I must have woken up this morning on the other side of the globe.

Wow, shameful. This is prime time news worthy if you ask me.

(Although I bet the next news agency you tried to send it to would hit the censorship button as well.)

Like this comment
Posted by Chris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 14, 2007 at 11:44 am

I am pretty much in agreement with Pat. I do think the post deletion tool has been used unevenly - although I have some sympathy for the huge job it must be for the Weekly 'censor' to wade through the posts and pick out the objectionable ones.

I also agree with Pat that the standards are stricter than they might be no matter how carefully and objectively they're enforced. Sarcasm and humor often are the best ways of making substantive points. True, sometimes it's hard to draw the line between sarcasm that makes a legitimate point adding to the debate and pure ad hominem argumentation. But some of the examples cited above clearly show that sometimes the standards are enforced with comic puritanical rigidness, and the debate is impoverished thereby.

Like this comment
Posted by Interesting
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Mar 14, 2007 at 11:47 am

On another thread, I noticed a number of posts were completely deleted (without any mention that they were removed by staff) and the posting on t he thread ws back dtaed to make it appear that those posts were never made.
I posted a query about that policy and recieved the following reposnse from Editor Johnson:

"We generally note deletions when doing so is either helpful in understanding the flow of the thread or if the person whose comment was deleted had been participating earlier in the thread.

We will simply delete the entire post when it is either mindless, contributes nothing but sarcasm or is completely off-point. We are not interested in a series of inane comments, and don't think our readers are either. If you find that bothersome, there are lots of forums available that have no standards or policies."

Well as I respond back to him, this forum is his toy and he can do with what ever he wants, though I feel that their methods leave a little to be desired especially by a newspaper run forum.

But, I guess, this goes along with the whole "palo alto way" of handling things---any criticism is a personal attack, sarcasm is not "respectful", avoid any conflict at all costs.

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Posted by Seeing the light
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2007 at 12:24 pm

I'm beginning to wonder if this whole forum is suspect in the way some posts, indeed even some whole threads, seem to be removed for no apparent reason. Is the ownership or editorial staff biased towards some sort of outcome or interested in seeing one agenda prevail in the discussion? It's beginning to smell fishy.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2007 at 1:38 pm

Wow, fabulous how Johnson can read his readers' minds and figure out what they're interested in reading even before they get a chance to read it themselves. "We are not interested in a series of inane comments, and don't think our readers are either."

How efficient that quality is for a newspaper editor! You can see how it would save tons of time in writing and publishing a newspaper. They can just go out and write up the 'news' in advance, maybe a week or two in advance, and save everyone alot of time in filtering through all this complicated reality and public input.

Makes you wonder what else they've been kind enough to filter out for us.

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Posted by Silver Bullet
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2007 at 3:13 pm

I've managed to avoid any deletions, and for that, I am thankful. I do have sympathy for the editors because new posts pop up all the time, and I'm sure its difficult to police the forum and keep up with their regular news gathering duties.
Also, at the risk of sounding pedantic, I think its important to remember that the phrase "freedom of speech" in its most common use has no relevance here. PA Online is totally private - they can censor whoever they want whenever they want.
I have noticed some inconsitencies in deletions. It seems like they tolerate more in "Issues Beyond Palo Alto" and less when it relates to local issues. I'm not even sure I have a problem with that.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2007 at 11:34 pm

I'd like to see the Town Square adopt the "Digg" model where posters must register and registered users vote up or down on individual posts. I'd also like to be able to have customized blocks so I don't see the posts from some posters as I view them as little better than SPAM.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 15, 2007 at 7:53 am

Why does TownSquare not have the same criteria as its Letters to the Editor, which requires name and address? That accountability is as important for TS as for the Weekly's letters, isn't it?

Yes, I agree that spam-blocking certain posters should be available to us readers. Some of the posts are little better than graffiti.

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Posted by Andrea
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 16, 2007 at 2:37 pm

Editor: You have restricted comment on another thread. The subject matter on that thread concerns individual candidates for a public office. Perhaps you can enlighten us as to why a discussion of the merits of lack there-of should be censored. The comments I have read are not personal attacks. They relate to the public behavior of individuals who have chosen to become public figures and have chosen to enter the arena for a public office. Why are we not allowed to discuss this on this forum?

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Posted by John L.
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 16, 2007 at 2:44 pm

It looks to me like they are just requiring that posters register first on that thread. They aren't keeping us from commenting. Given all the nastiness going on with the MI debate, I wish they would do this more often...or for all threads.

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Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Mar 16, 2007 at 2:53 pm

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.


You are free to discuss the merits of the candidates as long as you conform to our terms of use. We've simply decided to require registration for this thread, given the intensity of the feelings that have already been shown on this topic in other threads, in hopes that it will encourage a constructive discussion.

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Posted by Andrea
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 16, 2007 at 3:36 pm

Can you give me some guidelines for how the discussion about candidates for public office can be discussed constructively. Which posts would you consider as not constructive. Given the nature of a discussion of whether or not a candidate is the most qualified, wouldn't it be necessary to discuss the pros and cons of their qualifications?

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Posted by Not a Fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2007 at 3:58 pm

Editor - so lets get this straight.

If we want to talk about something that actually matters - like an election or a pending (one week away) political appointment...

Or someone who actually will have some power and authority over the things that get done and not done in our county government - perhaps someone who will have the political position in the future to extract 'pay back' for people that have opposed them or their views....

Then we HAVE TO GIVE OUR REAL NAMES in order to engage in that conversation.

So lets make sure that if people in this community want to have an open political debate on REAL CANDIDATES for REAL POLITICAL POSITIONS, lets make sure people have to use their real names.

(that ought to do wonders for the democratic process).


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Posted by PU
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2007 at 4:14 pm

On the registration process - not clear on what that provides...

If I understand the registratino screen, I give a 'name' but that name is sort of meaningless I could say "PU" is my name, and that would be attached to all my posts. But my private 'real' information is visible only to PAO editors, but never disclosed to anyone else....

And how does the paper use my private information to control the situation? And how do we know that Mr. Editor isn't So and So's buddy, handing him a list of everyone who posted sour grapes against Mr. So and So?

Or is just the deterent factor of the ~possibility~ that someone can break in to the PAO security system to find me out, or the possibility that the PAO censor can find my name and secretly hand it over to my arch enemy?

Exactly how is 'registering' helping improve the quality of the conversation?

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Posted by Forum Reader
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 16, 2007 at 7:02 pm

Registration is not necessary until someone abuses the system.
That is happening now.
If the bully (he called himself that, said he wasn't one :-) were registered, the Weekly would know who the person is and how many times he posts under many different names. He dominates several threads. I expect he'll join this thread too.
Those of us who just want to express an opinion once in a while without giving our names are not a problem. But one person is spoiling the system big time.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2007 at 5:17 pm

I don't mind the fact that there are a lot of Bush bashers and anti war posters that post on relating threads, but I don't think they should be able to take on any and every thread to their own ends. There are times when I would like to see posts removed from one thread and put back into the political arena in which they belong.

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Posted by Danny
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 30, 2007 at 7:20 pm

No offense pat, but you might have a tad too much time on your hands.

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Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on May 30, 2007 at 10:00 pm

their website, their rules. This is not a "free speech" issue- if I don't like what you say in my home, I can kick you out. If you don't like the message board rules, buy server space, maintain it, and create your own rules.

Like this comment
Posted by wheres the thread
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 31, 2007 at 3:29 pm

Comparing a community newspaper to your own home is preposterous.
eric's solution to everything is do it yourself. For him the market is god.
Do you sell advertisements at your own home? Do you distribute thousands of copies? Having opinions about what goes on is a sign of a healthy community. You sure have opinions. Hard to read anything at all without seeing yours.
Where is the sign-in thread?

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

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