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Why is Town Square So Out of Sync With Dominant Free Speech Norms of the Internet; or, is this Forum Not a Forum Anymore Due to Heavy-Handed Editing of Posts

Original post made by village idiot, Adobe-Meadow, on Sep 9, 2013

I have noticed a trend which seems to have accelerated recently in which the publisher of Paloaltoonline has edited not only for violations of terms of service but for viewpoint and content. Some of the edits are completely inscrutable. Others are clearly viewpoint-driven. Others say that they are for "multiple names" but the posters have posted back that it was incorrect.

My priors: paloaltoonline is providing what many in the community believe is a valuable resource. Others believe that the anonymity of the forum is a problem. The publisher believes that the anonymity is essential to participation in a small town on sensitive topics, particularly the schools where the fear of retaliation against one's children is palpable. He attempts to mediate between these views by editing comments for the worst excesses of anonymous internet postings.

I think most people would abide by the terms of use if it was clear what they are. It is, however, increasingly difficult to discern how the publisher is interpreting them. Many, if not most, deletions appear to be arbitrary or related to content and viewpoint -- an odd position for the press to take. Others seem to be aimed at directing the public conversation toward certain topics (process failures of the City Council or school board) and away from others (the relative merits of PiE, or whether the opponents of Maybell exhibit a PA trend toward NIMBYism).

The rise of excessive editing has made many debates impossible to engage in or follow.

This thread will hopefully be a discussion that will engage the publisher in a public debate with the community about clarifying his interpretation of the "terms of use" for the forum. It is my hope that the Weekly will be more transparent about its editing practices and terms of use and will be consistent in their application and that the public, thus informed, will adhere to them voluntarily.

Comments (25)

Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 9, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Pretty clear what is going on with the editing( censorship) on this forum. Let's just say the weekly is protecting their own interests .
The editor has usually dismissed your type of claims with comments like:
- this is my forum and I will edit it as I want
- we are trying to maintain " civility"
- if you do not like it, take your business elsewhere

Yesterday, someone else brought up similar concerns and was told to contact Eric, Jocelyn or bill for clarification of their practices.

As for anonymity, if the weekly required registration for posting, traffic would be reduced by 75-80%, IMHO, making the advertisers unhappy .

Posted by PalyDad
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 9, 2013 at 6:43 pm

PalyDad is a registered user.


Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Sep 9, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

I'd be pleased to discuss our approach to editing Town Square posts. I can't promise immediate responses to comments, but I'll do my best. Except for obvious deletions of profanity, potentially defamatory statements and possible instances of copyright infringements, the overwhelming reason for deleting comments is rude or disrespectful comments toward other people, or groups of people. This is completely independent of what viewpoints are being expressed, although we understand that people who feel strongly about an issue may think otherwise. Whenever that is pointed out, we review the editing and in some cases will make further changes. Our moderators (several people share this responsibility, including myself) don't have the time nor the interest in trying to delete certain points of view, which is why we generally have both sides of a "hot" issue complaining about our editing decisions.

We also have a number of posters who are "gaming" the system by posting under multiple names, making comments on their own posts to create the false appearance of more people agreeing with their viewpoints. These are particularly difficult to deal with, because they use multiple IP addresses. Over time, however, we are able to determine which IP addresses are associated with the same poster and can delete them as appropriate.

Ideally, we would explain every deletion or edit, but that is simply not feasible given the number of comments and our limited staffing. I don't know of any moderated forum that explains its editing. If anyone does, please point us to it so we can see how they do it.

So that's a start. Let me know your questions and I'll be happy to respond as I have time.

Posted by PalyDad
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:52 pm

PalyDad is a registered user.

Why have you deleted the term "NIMBY" or the phrase "not in my backyard" from posts regarding opposition to Maybell Avenue? NIMBYism is a well-known form of political activity. It is not profane, nor is it particularly insulting. It describes succinctly what the proponents of the project believe is the politics animating the opponents. A similar situation can be found in any political disagreement, such as that over Prop 32, when the proponents resisted the characterization of their proposition as intended to break public employee unions but labor thought (and said otherwise). It is a perfectly civil, legitimate piece of the political discourse for the proponents of the project to state that they cannot agree with the opponents because of the NIMBYism inherent in their view.

On the other side, the opponents want to characterize the proponents as being animated by pro-developer biases. Leaving aside the accusations of fraud against Klein and Gonzales (which you have surprisingly allowed to be published repeatedly and which seem much more incivil than "NIMBY") they should be allowed to say what they want about the way they view the political motives of the Yes on D folks as long as it does not cross into "profanity, potentially defamatory statements and possible instances of copyright infringements." I think you are mistaking (or at least are claiming to be mistaking) political disagreement for "rude and disrespectful" comments.

I could go on but I will leave it there for now.

Posted by bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 10, 2013 at 11:26 am

bru is a registered user.

> Paloaltoonline has edited not only for violations of terms of service but for viewpoint and content.

Not only this, but I think I perceive justification in censoring other posts that are not rude, insulting or a problem by saying they are responses to a post already deleted ... this is really overstepping the line and a justification for almost anything.


Another common "excuse" given for deletions is that the poster is using multiple names. I'd like to know where they come up with that? If they are comparing Internet IP addresses it is well known that most people's IP addresses are dynamic, meaning they change over time. I might have a certain IP address one day, and then the next day someone else might have that address. Also, with NAT, Network Address Translation, there can be multiple people posting from the same IP connection/household that is connected through a router serving all of them - they could appear to the uninitiated to be the same person.

JUST looking at IP address is no guarantee that you are seeing posters using multiple names ... but in the text around "add a comment" doesn't it say that you can use any name your choose? A lot of people, including me, have changed by handle on occasion to make a point, brand my comment, or attempt to be humorous.

It seems quite clear to me that at least sometime, on some issues, some editors are acting in a biased ways. Currently there is no way to discuss it or follow up on it. Until facts can be examined and discussed when the editors say they are happy to communicate with people about this, we can read into it, they will listen and say sorry,

I would not argue against any editing, because I see what other Internet discussion forums devolve into, and PAO is comparatively polite, but there are also oblique and snide ways of saying things that pick a fight or insult people. I cannot count the number of times I have seen posts or comments starting out drawing political distinctions, the left, the loonie left, the bleeding heart liberals, liberal commies, etc. I would really like to see posts deleted right away. Unless a comment can generically at least try to respect the opposing side and stick to the point it should be suspect.

Posted by bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 10, 2013 at 11:38 am

bru is a registered user.

> overwhelming reason for deleting comments is rude or disrespectful comments toward other people, or groups of people.

First I would leave out "overwhelming" ... I don't see that.

Just the other day I was reading an article and discussion thread, and all the way down through it were comments that had been up for days where almost every one of them contained mean, rude, disrespectful ... a whole slew of problematics rhetoric that was not touched until I began to report them.

There is the game for example of saying someone's comment was "ignorant" which actually takes some care to unpack. There are cases where someone's comment is actually ignorant, by the definition, that is they did not know or did not know better, or it can just be code for calling someone ignorant, i.e. stupid and insulting them. Variants are it is ignorant to assume ... <something> - where the construction of the sentence itself can be very insulting ... unless it is correct ... like "it would be ignorant to assume all posts from a given IP address always are from the same person" ... though a sensitive or dispassionate person might shy away from using the word altogether.

There are times when someone uses a fallacious argument, and that is rebutted or disproven and yet they continue to say the same thing all they way through the comment section as if it is perfectly valid. In obvious cases I don't see why those should not be deleted. The last example I can recall of that was during the car camping debate where propostions of the form "you are not really a caring individual if you do not solve the problem yourself or have homeless living in your home" or the reverse, "if you are for car camping you are mean or immoral" ... this kind of stuff should be removed in my opinion.

I always think that with the correct regulation people can learn how to have productive exchanges that go something instead of always flaming up into explosive confrontations that have to be locked down and editorially decimated. It would be great if there was an automated way to do that, but for now we have to rely on human editors.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 10, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

>Why have you deleted the term "NIMBY" or the phrase "not in my backyard"

I agree. However, you have implied that there is something wrong with NIMBY. It is as American as apple pie. It is dripping in First Amendment. It should be honored, not disparaged. If I don't want some project or program or condition in my back yard, for example HSR or welfare housing or car camping, then I have every right to take a stand against it. So do you.

Perhaps the editors have fallen into the trap of accepting a pejorative connotation of the word NIMBY, but they should try to reeducate themselves about the political freedom that such a term implies. So should you.

Posted by bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 10, 2013 at 2:07 pm

bru is a registered user.

I did a search for NIMBY at PAO ... here is the results on the first page of the search where text was returned:

- your stupid little town is not going to do anything is stop HSR..pound your little nimbys chests
- NIMBYs out in full force! Palo Alto did not become a tech mecca and the epicenter of growth because NIMBYs got the last word.
- Good job College Terrace NIMBYs for kicking the anti-social company out
- What a joke these NIMBY's have been.
- Are there any NIMBY whiner groups yet?

Virtually every occurrence of the word, phrase of reference to NIMBY is used rudely or harshly and connotes a pejorative context. NIMBY is not used simply to denote "not in my back yard" it is used as a pejorative name to dehumanize an individual with a certain point of view. I think one of the problems is that quite a few people do not even understand that their comments are provocative, or they do but think it it is done in certain ways they can get away with it.

These are the kind of loaded comments that pass for discussion and debate these days ... apparently people have lost the understanding of what debate and discussion really mean.

This is the kind of thing I was referring to earlier where it is very hard for an editor to look at the nuances of what is being said and how it is being said, and then either do their jobs professionally or leverage the covert meaning in comments to push their own agenda. I think it's almost impossible not to.

The finding and exploitation of words and phrases that hurt people is big mojo with some people ... when where we ought to be focusing is on how to express our ideas articulately and respect other people's feelings.

Those who use these tactics provocatively if allowed to do it, or have to pay the same prices as those who are polite and to the point just continue to do the same thing, year after year ... so an editor might just want to consider that and put repeat offenders on notice in some of their notes.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 10, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

>Those who use these tactics provocatively if allowed to do it, or have to pay the same prices as those who are polite and to the point just continue to do the same thing, year after year

If you don't want to be castigated by the use of a very legitimate term, e.g. NIMBY, then stand up proudly for your freedom to use the term. The editor should not get involved, IMO.

Carpe diem!

Posted by PalyDad
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 10, 2013 at 2:53 pm

PalyDad is a registered user.

First, those comments in that context is not what was deleted that animated my question. I used the term not as perjorative but in much the same way described above -- as description of a political position. But hose comments you quoted above are interesting for two reasons: (a) they aren't deleted but were there for you find, further supporting my contention that the deletions and edits are extremely inconsistent from one thread and one day to the next; and (b) there is plenty to delete about those comments quite apart from the word NIMBY which at least in some cases seems to be the least offensive word in the sentence.

Second, Mr. Johnson is plenty smart and understands context. So he knows the difference between political or social analysis and a broadside insult.

Posted by PalyDad
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 10, 2013 at 2:57 pm

PalyDad is a registered user.

And Craig, I did not indicate that I think "NIMBY" is perjorative. I think it is essentially descriptive. I agree with you that it has a long tradition as a political position. I don't agree with it because I think we should make distributional decisions in a mostly Rawslian manner. But it appears we agree that the word itself is descriptive without a positive or negative valence.

Posted by bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 10, 2013 at 3:54 pm

bru is a registered user.

> If you don't want to be castigated by the use of a very legitimate term, e.g. NIMBY, then stand up proudly for your freedom to use the term.

if <other people>
meet <my defined criterion of legitimacy>
then <these other people should just behave as I suggest>
- along with this prescription pepper some insincere positive term to disguise arrogance.
- and then maybe? at some point i will be less confrontative and nasty

if <some racial group>
< doesn't want to be insulted by racial epithets >
then < they should not be ashamed of themselves and be proud whatever people call them>
- and i will be happy and nice to not to hear them complain about their unhappiness.

This is not logic, it's a kind of 'dishonesty disguised as logic' to scramble reason and simultaneously intimidate and shut down the other side. In short, it is really an attack that should violate the terms of a forum in its obvious background intent.

Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Sep 11, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

Thanks for the additional comments. Sorry for the delay in replying. I'll try to address as many points as I can.

Use of the term "NIMBY," in my opinion, is a label that is pejorative and intended to be dismissive of the arguments otherwise being put forth by a person. While there are some who might proudly describe themselves as "NIMBY," a more common view is that this is a derogatory statement. Even Paly Dad, in arguing that using the term is OK, says the expression is not "particularly insulting."

Labeling someone "NIMBY" is similar to labeling someone a "greenie," "right-winger," "trouble-maker" or "outside agitator" rather than responding to the views the person is expressing. If someone says they are against having a gas station built next to his house because the zoning doesn't allow for a gas station or because it was going to have severe traffic or environmental impacts, dismissing the validity of that person's opinion by labeling him a "NIMBY" does nothing to advance discussion or show an understanding of why the person might have an objection. While "NIMBY" is mild as labels go, it is exactly the type of comment that leads to a downward spiral of increasingly hostile and emotional comments as others take offense and counter with their own labels or indignation. This can all be easily avoided by simply debating the issues rather than characterizing the person expressing their opinion.

Thanks to "bru's" searching, we learn that there are "NIMBY" references in old Town Square topics that were either not caught or were left up by our moderators. This is indicative of one of our challenges in trying to monitor Town Square. We will always respond quickly, almost always within a couple of hours and usually within a half-hour (during normal hours) to any user-submitted notice of "objectionable content." We greatly appreciate these notices, which come to multiple staff members via email notices containing links to the comment so we can quickly review them.

Separate from responding to the notices sent by readers, we make every effort to review all comments posted on Town Square, but this often gets sidetracked by other priorities, breaking news developments, or, to be honest, the sheer volume of comments that can sometimes occur when a hot topic erupts. We have also become pretty good at knowing when a topic is likely to attract a lot of emotional debate and need to be monitored more closely. But as "bru" discovered, there are plenty of cases where something slips past, doesn't get complained about by any reader, and therefore never gets edited. This is the same reason you may feel that there is inconsistent editing; sometimes we just don't catch stuff that we would have edited if we had.

To "Bru's" objection to our deleting comments that are responding to comments we previously deleted, we do that because generally a response to a deleted comment makes little or no sense to a reader if they can't read the original offending comment. We try to always make clear why we are deleting it so that readers don't think the response post also contained objectionable content.

On the subject of multiple posts made by the same poster, we try to keep track of the names used by frequent posters across different topics and their IP addresses. When we are reasonably confident that the same person is posting under multiple identities using different IP addresses, we'll delete comments. Even when a user refreshes his or her IP address, it generally only refreshes the last few digits. We consider this behavior a serious violation because it is attempting to deceive the community into believing there are more voices sharing a certain point of view than there really are. I'm sure we occasionally make a mistake, but that is the price that posters pay for having no other accountability for their identity. We'd rather error on the side of deleting a comment than allowing active and intentional deception. (By the way, this applies regardless of what "side" or position the poster is taking.) We recognize that more than one person in a household might use the same device (with the same IP address) and make comments, but generally the writing style is then quite different and if there is not objectionable content we will allow it to stay.

So much of one's reactions to our editing decisions depend on the tolerance of an individual for degrees of disagreement. Some of our active posters are very comfortable with a more free-for-all environment where basically anything goes. But others are intimidated by the atmosphere this creates and are afraid to participate.

We're not trying to condemn those in the first category, but that is not our vision for Town Square. We're trying to be consistent, or consistent enough, to make clear to posters where the "safe" zone is for their comments and where they risk being deleted or edited when they go too far. For the most part, it's as simple as just not engaging in name-calling or labeling of other people, and remaining focused on the issue. It's fine to sharply criticize a vote or position of a particular elected official, but it's not OK (with us) to throw out personal attacks or make disrespectful comments. It's likely that some of the people who are regularly edited on Town Square know full well they will be edited or deleted, but post anyway so their comment will have visibility until we notice it.

Perhaps the answer is to have all posts be held in a queue to be reviewed by our staff prior to being released to the site. But that would make the editing even less transparent, create a difficult burden on our staff and create frustration for those who want a real-time dialogue.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 11, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

>Use of the term "NIMBY," in my opinion, is a label that is pejorative

Why? If you drink the koolaid that makes it seems so, you only promote that false notion.

NIMBY is a proud, and historical tradition that made this country. Just ask Vermont how it became a state.

Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Sep 11, 2013 at 10:57 pm

village fool is a registered user.

Thank you village idiot.
I stopped posting because i could not understand the editing/censoring, including comments that vanished without a trace that they were ever posted.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Village Fool - I'm pretty much outta here. Tired of the snotty, elite, nasty NIMBYism that prevails & the editing which supports it.

I'm posting here specifically to let you know & to thank you for your thoughtful, wise posts. Take care! If you ever want to be in touch, my email is iamhmmm (at) yahoo DOT com.

Posted by PalyDad
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 27, 2013 at 11:35 am

PalyDad is a registered user.

Hi Bill:

Sorry for the long delay in responding. I have been very busy and this fell away. One issue is that I have been struggling with how to respond. On the one hand, I think you lack some self-reflectiveness about the editing you are doing. For example, just now on another thread (and what jogged my memory about this thread, in fact) you edited out a comment that speculated about the role of Mandy Lowell (wife of billionaire and right-wing activist Charlie Munger) in the Cubberley committee. The critique of Lowell's role was well within your terms of use -- it was not profane "hateful, libelous or obscene, or that is threatening, abusive or offensive to any individual, group or class of person" nor did it use multiple identities. It simply suggested that a subsidy of the district by the city is perfectly consistent with the Munger world-view because local government services tend to put money into the hands of city workers and provide programs for lower income residents, while money headed to the school district is essentially an investment in property values.

There is an entire political critique of local government that is very popular in the Munger/Lowell world and even a form of local government -- the Sandy Springs Model also in use in Damascus Oregon and other places that involves dramatically limited local government -- so called "bare bones" governance. To some extent this grew out of the Grover Norquist call to shrink the government until you can drown it in a bathtub. But it also grows out of the imperative to reduce public employee numbers in order to reduce the power of traditionally Democratic constituencies like public workers.

Usually this also involves hostility to public education, and the Mungers are in fact hostile to teachers and to public education statewide. But in Palo Alto, the excellence of the schools supports property values so you see an apparent paradox in the liberatarian Lowell supporting the bond measure. Why is a libertarian supporting taxes? because these taxes are really an investment in property values and, simultaneously, in keeping PA increasingly open only to the 1%. A city with $7M will provide jobs and services -- anathema to libertarians. But a school district with $7M is an investment in high property values.

This is all entirely legitimate and well-within both the topic of the thread -- what to do with Cubberley and whether or not the committee did a good job per the editorial -- and solid, fair political criticism.

It was deleted. This is an example of what I started the thread with, so I think this recounting is worth it. Obviously there is a reason for the deletion, unrelated to the stated Terms of Use. When you deviate from adhering to your own terms of service, you alienate people who will stop participating (not me, but village fool has entirely stopped participating in the school forums, a real loss of a different perspective).

I suspect what you will do now is defensively post some lengthy and contorted explanation of how it really did violate your terms of service, but it didn't (actually as I wrote this you replied on that thread that it was somehow in your view "off-topic" which also doesn't violate terms of use) Editing for content and viewpoint is a terrible idea.

The more serious flaw in TS, however, and the reason I couldn't really figure out how to write back initially isn't the editing to direct the argument the way you would like it to go (which is likely what is back of the Munger deletion), but the fact that it is anonymous.

Anonymity in commenting is not producing value. If you want evidence for that, look at the thread about the achievement gap. I have never seen on TS such vitriol as I have seen directed toward the VTP students and families (most of which by the way, you did not delete even though those students and families are not public figures like the Mungers). If you want comments offensive to a group, that's the place to look. You could burn that entire thread. And you probably should (side note: you should check out Google translate some time).

Many online publications are removing anonymous commenting for this reason. It lets people say things (particularly racially charged things in PA) that they would not say connected to their own names. I used to think there was a benefit in leaving the racism up there so that people could see that PA has racism as a problem but now I think it just encourages them. I think some things belong underground.

By setting up a situation where the threads always move steadily in a circle around the drain with the only question being how fast they will get there and have to be locked, you have set up a situation in which you have to expend a huge amount of time and energy in editing these threads. What is the social value being delivered through the expenditure of all that work? Here's a hypothesis: basically nothing.

You are spending a lot of time tending the weed patch and lovingly pulling this or that but at the end of the day you still have a plot full of weeds.

I believe that the Weekly publisher is a very smart very decent person who wants to contribute to a vibrant community conversation. TS is not the way to do it. If you want to do that, sponsor a series of brown bag lunches with public officials, or evening lectures and discussions. Sponsor webinars and live webchats with the Mayor or the school board president. There are many ways you could have a real TS -- either virtual or live or some combination. The time you are spending editing these comments is not worth it particularly when you consider the opportunity cost.

Anonymous commenting was an idea that was tried but does not work. Over time it only gets worse. I encourage you to look for other places to put your intelligence and effort.

Posted by bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2013 at 12:30 pm

bru is a registered user.

Well stated PalyDad ...

> Obviously there is a reason for the deletion, unrelated to the stated Terms of Use.

It's not in every deletion, and the evidence is gone with the post, but I agree, it is there. And, pretend concern that evaporates when a subject fades to far into the past is a tactic used quite a bit here as well.

I totally disagree on anonymous posting, postings in a way are like a vote, sometimes they can be an expression of opinion, sometimes just a devil's advocated or innocent questioning, but if they must be identified people can be retaliated against or attacked ... in fact, since we have to register anyway, they probably still can.

If you go back and look at what was going on with the US CoIntelPro program as far back as 1900 you can see there is an interest in knowing what is happening in America the government has not given up on, and has been active in. This is the danger here, although, technically, the information exists for any post to be ID'ed.

Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2013 at 1:25 pm

rick is a registered user.

Since I can register with any user name, how does anyone here ever know whether a comment is anonymous or not, even when log-in is required?

Of course given the resources and motivation, any comment can be traced (with varying degree of accuracy) to an individual through IP address or registered email address. I always think twice before hitting the Submit button on some issues like gun control.

Posted by bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2013 at 1:51 pm

bru is a registered user.

> how does anyone here ever know whether a comment is anonymous or not, even when log-in is required?

Nothing is anonymous to the operators of the board.

When a subject starts out anonymous, and then requires log in one must log in and then continue their conversation/thread, so anonymous names are not hard to pin down to a login. Still only the board operators know who is on the board. No one really knows or controls where that data goes, and when you look at how easy collection and consolidation of this kind of data is my earlier comment about CoIntelPro is a bit scary if you think about it.

Certain people saying certain things might be saved and passed on, and this would all happen behind the scenes in ways that could well damage people's careers and lives. Maybe far from happening today, maybe not happening today, but with the trajectory our leadership is on it's not going to be too long, particularly if there is social unrest.

Posted by NavelGazing
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 27, 2013 at 9:05 pm

NavelGazing is a registered user.

Half the fun in these threads is how far you can get to the line before they start to remove the posts. You can almost see them agonizing over their decisions.
Come on, be honest, you knew your comment was going to get trashed when you posted it.

Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Sep 28, 2013 at 5:15 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Perhaps the simplest answer to the original question is that the editors don't think the "dominant free speech norms of the Internet" produce what they hope for in Town Square.

The fact that the Internet offers options for anonymity and many editors allow little control over what is said neither confers a right or makes it good policy.

People are not offered anonymity or completely free speech in writing letters to the papers that sponsor blogs or are given anonymity when writing or speaking to the Palo Alto Council.

If you feel strongly about something I think your views carry more weight with a name and a civil tone. Our history is full of people who were not afraid of taking public positions. If you are afraid of repercussions, why does that give you the right to post unproven and often inflammatory accusations?

I agree the editing is not perfectly consistent. If there were fewer off point or unproven personal accusations thrown about, it might be easier for the editors.

I hear there will be changes acoming so we will see in a week.

Bill, I do think not in my backyard (NOT NUMBY) is a descriptive phrase and whether or not the posters have reasons is not relevant to the fact that they want (normally without offering any ideas) the activity not in their neighborhood or backyard.

My personal puzzlement is why you let posters accuse other persons or companies of being greedy. Not in my backyard is a political position but greedy and corrupt, which you also allow regularly, are accusations of bad ethics or criminal behavior--to me worse than wishing development would go elsewhere.

Posted by PalyDad
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 7, 2013 at 9:01 am

PalyDad is a registered user.

Hi Bill:

I'm sure you are very busy; this is a gentle reminder that your reply is still anticipated to my post. In the interim, I have noticed that there is a thread about the homeless in which there are many posts that clearly violate the Terms of Use. They are quite offensive in regards to a group, i.e., the homeless, or to the poor generally.

One of the comments even used profanity, and I noticed that a poster had to prod you repeatedly before you eventually deleted a profane comment directed at the homeless (stating that the poster, kb, did not give a shit about the fact that some PA residents could no longer afford to live here and had taken up living in their cars. This individual compared the loss of a home to his own inability to eat at a fancy restaurant while his children were in college - also offensive to the poor.

Many other comments were similarly offensive. "David" wrote that "they are still there, growing in size, cluttering the hallways, more brazen and bolder than ever." To speak of people as "clutter" is offensive and likens humans to trash. "Jolene" contends that the homeless are poor by choice "Most of the local homeless have chosen not to be housed and not to work" and have elected not to be "productive members of our society." This is a claim of fact, but is without basis in fact, and is also offensive to a group. It violates 2 or more Terms of Use.

Half a dozen posters, including myself, commented on the highly offensive tone of many of the posters, yet nothing was done about it for several days. The comment that directed profanity at the homeless was allowed to remain on display until someone got mad enough to use profanity in return in order to push you into deleting it and locking the thread, hardly the "civil discourse" that you are seeking to foster, but a direct and foreseeable consequence of maintaining an anonymous forum with inconsistent application of rules.

In case you miss my point I am not arguing for a more consistent application of your rules. I am arguing that an anonymous forum creates such a lack of civility and social responsibility that it is impossible to edit it carefully and thoroughly enough to produce the social good you claim to desire.

One poster on that thread (not me) suggested that perhaps you don't mind allowing for homeless bashing since you are selling tickets to the show in the form of advertisements. I of course don't believe that of you, but I will point out that it is a reasonable speculation based on the facts at hand.

Perhaps you were busy over the past week and didn't have time to apply your standards and only got around to it when pressed. But that merely proves my point -- the time investment required to police the sludge that spews forth from the sewer pipe of TS is not worth it and in the end not even really achievable.

Requiring people to post under their real identities would lose some value, particularly as concerns the schools. People fear retaliation in some situations. So those conversations would die. However, that might not be a bad thing on balance. After all, what does it matter what the anonymous forums are saying? What appreciable impact on the schools or City does TS have? The forums were alight with hundreds of people who objected to MI (result: nil); everyday math (ditto); in favor of stronger suicide response (ditto); and the list goes on. Dozens reacted on these forums with disgust at the Paly Math letter but Mr. Toma is still in charge of that department. Hundreds reacted with disgust to the disability bullying crisis at Terman and Kathy Baker was promoted rather than dismissed or demoted. Meanwhile Phil Winston was sent to Siberia. I don't think you can reasonably claim that TS is doing much and it is doing that nothing at a very high cost in your time and in my time and in the erosion of civility.

Consider and respond please to the issue of whether anonymity on the TS forums is really in the public interest or accomplishing your aims.

Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2013 at 6:29 pm

village fool is a registered user.

@village idiot & Palydad - I responded to you here (Web Link PalyDad - My response was written before your last posting. Thank you for following up!

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 27, 2014 at 7:56 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I personally am tired of the word NIMBY. It means to me that the person saying it has no other intelligent reason for their position. Every situation where it would occur requires more layers of rationale. Usually the person saying it thinks that is all that is required to support their position.

Usually it is related to property rights and values. That is a very touchy subject if it relates to eminent domain - that is really in my opinion a form of wealth redistribution. There is the big picture and the small picture, tactical versus strategic issues which affect what the taxpayer is responsible for both up close and down the road, example HSR.

Clever marketing can get very intense when associated with property values and it becomes evident that there are some very "intense" people out there. That is a good reason for not using names.

Also a person can pose a position and possibly learn something from someone else out there who can poke holes in the position so everyone can see a different point of view.

We also have a number of people from other cities who feel compelled to comment on specifically Palo Alto issues. That is perplexing - why don't they take that same argument to their own city?

Then we have people who are paid to push an agenda who take a "no holds barred" position on that agenda. Usually their agenda directly affects the taxpayer.

This is a mixed bag of ideas and goals. Everyone can chose how to address the mixed bag.

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