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Why comment anonymously in Town Square?

Original post made by stephanie enos, Barron Park, on Sep 17, 2009

I do not understand why most people post comments anonymously. Don't they stand behind the remarks they make?
By designing Town Square in this way anyone can 'have a go' at any individual or group knowing that they have that cloak of anonymity. To my mind this encourages mean spiritedness and rancour and diminishes any meaningful public discussion.

It would make a big difference in the quality of debate of any subject, were it a requirement for people's comments to be attributed. After all, people might think more carefully about what they will post if their names are attached and be more considerate of the online climate that they help create.

Comments (17)

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2009 at 6:14 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Anonymous poster
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 17, 2009 at 6:57 pm

The forum has editors that remove over the top content . Many forums allow anonymous postings. If that is a problem for you, find a forum that requires you to use your real name. Anyway there are plenty of reason people chose to post anonymously.

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Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2009 at 9:41 pm

There are many posters here who work for the City.

They only reveal their names when they toe the City line. Outside of that, the memory of the Pat Briggs witch hunt is fresh in their minds, and they don't want to avail themselves to politically motivated harassment that your tax money is paying for.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2009 at 9:50 pm

Many reasons.

Some people don't want their kids harrassed or embarrassed at school. Some people don't want to be harrassed while at soccer games, etc. Some people are too shy. Some people are afraid that their opinions are not valid. Some people just want to be anonymous.

For the same reason our votes in an election are secret and should be, it is also good to be able to debate anonymously.

Unfortunately, some people think that by being anonymous they can be rude. Fortunately, many of us just like to keep our names to ourselves and still be civil.

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Posted by Anonymousity
a resident of another community
on Sep 18, 2009 at 1:41 am

Anonymous does not mean dishonest. At least not for me. I think I would be less likely to post here if I had to give my identity. It may seem like small town news, but there is a "www" which opens it up to everyone, everywhere. I think this forum is a great way to discuss and debate community issues, though at times I wish there was a way to filter out trolls and snarkey comments. Nothing is perfect. I think it would be a shame to shut out the voices of people just because they want to protect their identity. The moderators are doing a good job keeping the forums on topic.

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Posted by Stephanie Enos
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 18, 2009 at 6:57 am

Thanks for the clarification!

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Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Sep 18, 2009 at 7:04 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

I agree that there are times when posting anonymously offers protection to people whose jobs or children might be put at risk.

And I agree that most anonymous posters are also respectful.

A while back I suggested that posters who make personal comments about other posters have no right to anonymity. There was strong pushback from from some on on Town Square to this very limited restriction on anonymity.

I do think that the editors do a good job of deleting inappropriate comments so it may be under control.

Thanks for your post Stephanie.

There is a big difference between anonymity and rude personal behavior and I hope that posters and Town Square editors continue to work toward a civil tone becasue some of the issues we discuss are pretty serious for the town and country and I fail to see anger and personal attack provides the foundation to solve diffucult challenges like health care reform or a long-term policy toward public employee pay and retirement benefits.

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Posted by pa mom
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 18, 2009 at 9:15 am

Stephanie, you make a good point. But you can do that already here by limiting postings to registered users on any given topic.

Yes there are trolls here but you can recognize them (no matter what anonymous name they might use) and ignore them!

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Posted by Erin Mershon
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 18, 2009 at 9:33 am

I don't understand it either Stephanie. I believe that if you really stand behind your statements made in this forum then you should have the guts to put your name behind them.

I frankly don't believe students get harrassed at school because of what their parents are saying on a forum unless their parents are being unbelievably rude or disrespectful to another. My brother was in high school at Gunn when our father was on the school board and he was never harrassed.

Maybe it's because of the fact that my father was on the school board and our home phone number was published so I overheard many angry calls (and also many nice calls), but I've always believed that if you put your views out there you'd better be ready for people to disagree with you. I don't know why anonymity helps in a debate. To me it discredits quite a bit of the argument if someone isn't willing to stand behind their statement.

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Posted by Keep anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2009 at 9:44 am

People will not comment if they have to post their real names. This is not India, where they debate and no hard feelings. This is America, where there are more social politics.

And Erin, this is the first time I have seen your last name posted.

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Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 18, 2009 at 9:55 am

It's not the first time I've posted it. I normally only post in the school category and most posters know me there. I've spoken at board meetings and have been quoted in the Daily and Weekly so I have no problem having my name out there. It got to the point where I didn't feel the need to post my last name.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2009 at 10:38 am


Your kids are too young to be able to be influenced by this.

As the kids get older, particularly in Middle and High Schools, the teachers often get the kids involved in local issues and often use the Weekly on line in class. Anyone reading the newspaper online can see the comments and the kids start reading them. If any of them happened to see their parents' name or their friends' parents' name then they can get embarrassed just by seeing the name there. Then they can quote each other's parents and often get it wrong. I used the word harrassed rather than bullied because it only takes a child to hear a class say, "hey look, that's your parent" for them to feel embarrassed when they see the name. Just ask the child of any PTA president how they feel each time they hear their parent's name at school.

Harrassing is not necessarily the same as bullying. I once got tapped on the shoulder in a store by someone who had identified me from when I used my first name here. It was not a big topic, but this individual thought that it was quite alright to give me their long drawn out opinion when I was busy running errands. I tried to get away politely, but they had all the time in the world to give me their opinion and I did not. This was an individual I knew slightly and not someone with whom I would normally chat to socially. I decided there and then that I am happy to debate issues online when I have the time to spend, but not when I have a list of things to do and a deadline to make. I have been anonymous ever since.

By the way, I have met you and spoken to you at Board meetings. I also know that I am not the only person who uses Resident of Another PA neighborhood and I am completely fine with that too.

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Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 18, 2009 at 11:18 am

I totally respect your opinion and you have the right to your privacy but as I said before, I don't think my father being on the school board effected my brother much at all on his four years at Gunn. And my father was one of the more vocal school board members we've had, if you know what I mean. I'm not really worried too much about my kids with my postings or quotes in the paper.

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Posted by Anonymousity
a resident of another community
on Sep 18, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Resident: I completely sympathize with your "tapping on the shoulder" incident. I posted my name on another forum only to have some pesty ex-acquaintance from back East "google" my name/phone number, discover where I moved to years and years ago, and then have the nerve to contact me and ask if they could use my house as a free hotel during their Bay Area business trips. I love my community and I care about the issues, but I NEED to keep my name/location to myself for entirely personal reasons.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 19, 2009 at 10:44 am

Well, if you put your full name down on an opinion which supports any Democrat/Socialist position or candidate, then you fear nothing from those who disagree with you. Those who disagree with that position tend to say little, and do less. They just keep voting, and are non-violent. So, there is no problem being open about who you are.

But, if you put your name down on any conservative/Republican side, you live in fear of violence, or at the very least social ostracizing.

Three of us learned this in my family, from being viciously name called, to physically threatened, hit, and spit on to having our property from cars to backpacks damaged.

Thus we have gone undergound. This is not a safe place for diversity of opinion from the groupthink.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 19, 2009 at 10:50 am

Just was reading a book by David Sedaris which supports what I said above to some extent, and in fact had to put it down in disgust. It is his latest, and I used to enjoy him so much, but now, of course, like all writers, he felt it incumbent on him to bring in politics, of course.

And he basically said he felt better having a convicted child molester living next to him and chatting with him, than he did shaking the hand of a "well-known politician" he shared the stage with at some college graduation ceremony, the kind of politician that causes "spittle" to fly when one's mouth when saying his name.

So, of course, since this is what passes as "humor" now on the left, and since we have many, many examples of this kind of "humor" at the expense of anyone not a leftist, this lends yet more credence to our fears here..this seems to be an acceptable, left wing, response to anything NOT left wing at this point in our history. Which is too bad. When I moved here, I CAME here from a State as intolerant to political diversity as this one has become.. and now it is now far more tolerant to diversity than this one.

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Posted by anonymousaswell
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2009 at 6:45 pm

I think that remarks should speak for themselves, and be judged on their own merits, not by who's posting or the neighborhood in which they live, unless directly relevant to the topic at hand. Why not evaluate a post on the basis of content? Anonymous and non-anonymous posters alike who understand what proper debate is, and enjoy discussion for its own sake (for illumination and insight and a closer approximation to the truth of a matter) will likely not be mean-spirited. I do, however, think it's unfortunate when a preoccupation with blase kindness, or personal sentiment and matters of taste, take priority over intelligent discussion and respectful dissent.

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