Town Square

Steve Levy: blogger rights or thin-skinned censor?

Original post made by a reader, another community, on Jan 5, 2014

This comment is not really directed toward Mr. Steve Levy, PA online blogger, but rather to the editors and administrators of this forum. I have been around as a reader for some time now and have come to have great respect for the delicate and difficult job that forum editors have in encouraging and allowing spirited debate while at the same time keeping in check name calling and ad hominem attacks.

I really appreciate and am grateful for the fact that this organization goes the extra mile to facilitate discussion by allowing unregistered users to post their opinions conveniently, anonymously and easily. The reason that I value this is that in my humble opinion this allows posters and ongoing discussion to focus on the issues at hand and not a preconceived notion of where I might imagine the poster is going to be coming from. I'd go so far as to say I'd prefer not to know the "name" of the poster at least until after I have read the article and formulated my opinion about the issue for myself. It bothers me not in the least when different "names" are used to mask a user's identity across multiple discussions provided that within the context of a single discussion the user consistently uses the same identity rather than having a discussion with oneself under the guise of multiple names. I thoroughly enjoy reading and understanding a wide range of opinions on the issues of the day.

I return to this soap box to both consistently read and from time to time post a comment with my perspective specifically because of the openness of this forum.

All that said, I turn now to discussing Mr. Levy's approach to editting the responses to his blog. I find his approach to expunging any reply comment with which he takes issue to be unnecessarily and unreasonably heavy handed. His goal does not appear to be to limit directly offensive comments but rather to stifle open debate on topical subject matter with which he disagrees. Take for example, his current methodology of asking a question in his blog which is a question which anticipates an answer. Really his question is not a question at all but rather a statement. If, however, the reader attempts to reply with salient points which attempt to go towards providing a contrasting view point but do not fall into the rhetorial trap of literally answering his stated "questions" in the narrowest sense, he will squelch them from the discussion.

If you challenge his sterilizing of the comments, he argues that it is his blog and therefore his prerogative as to when comments may be blotted out.

So I pose the question and challenge to the editors to clarify their policies and intentions in sponsoring these blogs. Mr. Levy's approach reminds me rather of talk radio or a Rush Limbaugh type show where pretend questions are set up but when a valid, reasonable response which counters the original contentions is presented, the volume speaker's volume is turned down. This approach stands in rather stark contrast to my experience with the thoughtful editing from those at PA/Almanac online with which I have come to respect. Is it true that the blog is Mr. Levy's with which he may do as he wishes or rather is his blog a privelege from the forum ownders which carries a cost of entitling opposing (perhaps vigorously) points of view?

Is it a lecture or is it a discussion?


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Posted by another reader
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 5, 2014 at 8:48 am

I can see censoring off-topic comments on news articles. However, many blogs are politically editorials and readers should be able to respond with similar political commentary without fear of censorship. Yes, certain language should be censored, but not political content in response to a political blog post.

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Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jan 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

Thank you for the question and the opportunity to explain how we are handling the moderating and editing of blogs on Palo Alto Online.

As an experiment, we have asked our bloggers to take responsibility for the moderating of their own blogs and have provided them with guidance, including the value of allowing criticism of their blogs. Some have been more active than others in establishing their own approach, including imposing ground rules for commenting. The bloggers and the three staff members who moderate our user comments receive email notifications whenever a reader reports an "objectionable comment," but we leave it to the blogger to decide how to handle it except in extreme circumstances, such as if a comment is defamatory and the blogger doesn't quickly take action.

In essence, we are trying out the concept that the blogs are the responsibility of the blogger. This is partially due to our limited resources and partly because we figure the public can always elect not to participate by not commenting on a blog if they don't like the way the blogger is moderating.

That said, some bloggers tend to be less tolerant of criticism or of the occasional off-topic or less-than-civil comment. We encourage them not to remove these posts unless they are truly disruptive or disrespectful.

In reviewing the comments you reference that Steve Levy removed (we can see the edits made on our admin view), it appears he was trying to exercise tight control over the discussion and not have it veer off to criticism of his ground rules (limiting comments to answers to two questions he posed) and to slightly un-related topics. My view is that this is best kept to an absolute minimum or it will turn people off and frustrate, not help, the discussion. These kinds of discussions are inherently messy, and there is only so much to be done to control it, in my opinion.

As you point out, moderating comments on an open forum like this is very challenging. There are some who believe nothing should be removed except defamatory comments and obscenities. If we did that, the forum would quickly degenerate with rude and disrespectful posters ending up controlling it.

On the other hand, if we edit too aggressively, we stifle the very discussions we think a forum like this is uniquely able to host and which benefits the community.

So that puts us in the difficult position of needing to constantly make subjective judgments about how rude and disrespectful we will allow people to be toward others before we remove or edit their comments. While we don't always get it right, I think we have generally succeeded where most other public forums have failed.

If at any time you or anyone else wishes to object to how a blogger (or one of our staff moderators) is editing, please feel free to send an email to or to me directly at

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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 5, 2014 at 12:27 pm

I thought that response from Levy was way over the top. My solution, because I rarely ever complain about being edited, is to just ignore him and his blogs, going forward. I don't think he has the temperament for it.

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Posted by a reader
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm

> (limiting comments to answers to two questions he posed) and to slightly un-related topics

Thanks, Bill. You know I'm a fan of the job that you guys have done in balancing the competing desires for spirited discussion with constraining out and out attacks or name calling. That said, I very much doubt that if you guys were driving the comment editing that much if any of the deleted material would have been removed.

As to the point that he was limiting replies to his two "questions", that gets to the heart of the matter. His "questions" had little to do with seeking a reply but rather making a point. Imho, they were no more reasonable than a question like, "yes or no, is this the first time you've been pregnant?" except as specifically as a rhetorical question.

Steve's view seems to be if you want to express a contrary point, go get your own blog. I don't have time for that but would certainly reply with a thoughtful salient (in my mind) discussion if I did not anticipate that he was simply going to remove it as "off-topic".

I do think that "another reader"'s point that political blogs demand special sensitivity to allowing alternative positions to be expressed without having to go to you and express a willingness to air an ongoing blog is well stated and very relevant. If all political are local, in Mr. Levy's case his blog with its pro-development agenda might be considered the most political of all.

I know you guys are going down one path in moderation now, but an alternative suggestion might be that if you get a blog you don't get to moderate your own comments but have to be willing to moderate comments from another unrelated blog. Just a thought.

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Posted by a resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2014 at 2:51 pm

My observation is that a Steve Levy thread can very quickly turn into Steve Levy talking with Steve Levy.

When he brings up "growth", "progress", "change" - it's pretty much in a tone that accuses anti-development posters of being backward dummies.

The questions about zoning, growth, and change deserve a better forum for discussion, and it actually usually happens in regular PAO news threads.

These topics also deserve more data. Is Steve Levy the local authority on these matters? Adding a blogger who has a thorough command of city financial and governance matters would be interesting to have.

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Posted by another reader
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 5, 2014 at 4:59 pm

How about instead of deleting "offending" comments completely, leave them in place with the specific "offending" section blanked out and replaced with a detailed explanation of why that section was censored. That will give other readers a sense of what is happening without offending anyone. I think completely deleting comments without a trace is offensive.

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Posted by Another reader
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2014 at 7:23 pm

The original blog concerning skateboarders and now it would be best if their genes died out should have been censored for sure! It was grim and heartless, not at all funny or amusing, something one should keep to one's self!

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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 6, 2014 at 7:05 am

> Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace 18 hours ago
> ... My solution, ... is to just ignore him and his blogs, going forward. I don't think he has the temperament for it.

You don't seem to have the temperament for commenting either I might add, you seem to confuse expressing an opinion with insulting and provoking people. When someone gets as many censored comments as you do, Craig, you might want to take stock of your style, but it usually seems to be intentional expression of some problem. I appreciate your comments when they are expressed well, even often agreeing with you, but yours is one case where I like to see the editors at work doing something useful!

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Posted by Mac
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 6, 2014 at 10:37 am

"My observation is that a Steve Levy thread can very quickly turn into Steve Levy talking with Steve Levy."


Your "observation" is far from what I've observed.

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Posted by Thinker
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 6, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I agree with Mac. Get off Mr Levy's back--he is entitled to his opinion, and they are often good ones. No one says you have to agree with him, and if you do not, it still does not invalidate his opinions.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 6, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

What about him challenging/questioning people on other threads, as he's done w/Nora Charles? It's in the thread on ShopTalk.