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A call for a redesigned town square

Original post made by Sandy Piderit, Mohr Park, on Nov 30, 2010

The New York Times published an interesting op-ed, titled "Online, Anonymity Breeds Contempt":

Web Link

Here's an exerpt:

"Content providers, social networking platforms and community sites must also do their part by rethinking the systems they have in place for user commentary so as to discourage — or disallow — anonymity. Reuters, for example, announced that it would start to block anonymous comments and require users to register with their names and e-mail addresses in an effort to curb "uncivil behavior."

Some may argue that denying Internet users the ability to post anonymously is a breach of their privacy and freedom of expression. But until the age of the Internet, anonymity was a rare thing. When someone spoke in public, his audience would naturally be able to see who was talking.

Others point out that there's no way to truly rid the Internet of anonymity. After all, names and e-mail addresses can be faked. And in any case many commenters write things that are rude or inflammatory under their real names.

But raising barriers to posting bad comments is still a smart first step. Well-designed commenting systems should also aim to highlight thoughtful and valuable opinions while letting trollish ones sink into oblivion."

I'm all for a vigorous discussion of the issues, and I think that a Town Square that provided a forum for that kind of discussion, while also discouraging trolling, would be a big draw for the PW website.

What is being done to explore alternative software platforms to the current, clunky one?

Comments (22)

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Requiring a user id and email address would not necessarily get rid of anonimous postings.

You can always create an "anonymous@yahoo.com" email address, call yourself Jane or Joe Smith and post. Just go to the mercury news and read the postings. People got around the requirement by using alternate user ids and emails.

I do not see anything to gain by requiring people to use their real names. If anything, there can be more hostility that way.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by free market
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Nov 30, 2010 at 5:25 pm

A lecture from the NY Times Op-Ed on anonymity from someone from Facebook? Really?

Is there anything stopping Sandy Pideret, or anyone else, from starting their own local online forum? PW has done their best with this forum, like it or not. If not, create your own "town square" with whatever rules you want and compete for goodness sake!


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Posted by David Cannon
a resident of Birdland
on Nov 30, 2010 at 5:26 pm

David Cannon is a registered user.

Sandy,
I agree 100%. If you have an opinion, and you choose to express it publicly, then man/woman up and put your name next to it. I strongly believe that anonymity facilitates people saying things that they would never say in polite society. Say what you mean, mean what you say and have the fortitude to stand up for yourself. IMHO.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Arroyo
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2010 at 6:12 pm

How could Samuel Clemens have ever been content with deceiving the public as to his true identity? Shame on him. And, making the bad guy out as an Indian in his novel was racism, pure and simple. We definitely do not have a place for Mark, er uh Sam, on this forum. No sireee..!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not So Sure
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Many people have valid and thoughtful opinions but are reluctant to put themselves "out there" for ridicule or conflict. The ideas of people who are shy about being public are still valuable and should not be ignored. A lack of courage to be public does not equal a lack of valid opinion.

Otherwise, all we will be left with are those, who like many politicians, have big egos and(often)dumb ideas.

Trolls basically do sink to oblivion. Most viewers can discern a hot-headed, rude poster from a thoughtful poster. We should give viewers credit instead of fearing that they are being unduly influenced by rude comments.

Truth accompanies anonymity. Ask anyone in AA.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by a reader
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Another approach is to keep it anonymous, but charge a small membership fee.

Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by SteveP
a resident of Parkside
on Nov 30, 2010 at 8:37 pm

SteveP is a registered user.

Sandy, I'm sure you lost many folks with the reference to the NY Times---hardly the most objective or insightful rag (unless you are a NY liberal or West Coast elitist).
"raising barriers to posting bad comments"? According to whom? Who will be the arbiter of 'bad' comments?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by frank
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Nov 30, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Yup, Mark Twain tried to be anonymous, but soon everyone knew who Sam Clemens was. It did not hurt him, did it? He didn't use his short-term anonymity to engage in "uncivil behavior", that's why.

"I do not see anything to gain by requiring people to use their real names. If anything, there can be more hostility that way." Other forums require registration. Show us where there resulted more hostility.

"The ideas of people who are shy about being public are still valuable and should not be ignored. A lack of courage to be public does not equal a lack of valid opinion." Shy people expressing opinions do not outweigh the proliferate uncivil postings by those who are not shy but enjoy anonymity which fuels there ongoing behavior..... Including the ideologue shills.... Who use the forum to promote propaganda, usually of the extreme right. Which leads to the following.....

SteveP... faux news is your source of truth???? They do Goebbels proud...





 +   Like this comment
Posted by a reader
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2010 at 9:21 pm

To "SteveP",

It was an op-ed piece. It was the opinion of Julie Zhuo, "a product design manager at Facebook". It wan't an news article. It was opinion. Is her opinion suspect because it was published in the New York Times? What newspaper is "objective or insightful" and therefore a legitimate source of editorial content? Please let us know.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dying
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Wake up, PW Town Square will be the one to sink ' into oblivion " and the 'free' paper will be no more, 'cuz as this current SO boring Town Square shrinks out of sight, the will be no ad money. PW can't lie about the lack of 'hits'. ....be very careful what you ask for, you might get it and, thus kill the golden goose...that's usually what well meaning blunderers do. I only came on tonight , to see WHERE I could comment on the death of Town Square, and here was the appropriate thread.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Factual
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2010 at 11:39 pm

frank, the idealogue shills are the union 'activists'...talk about propaganda !! blab, blab, about all the rich workers, who are loaded with money, gifts, and stocks...on and on spinning tales of lies....like everybody is a CEO.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not So Sure
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2010 at 12:40 am

I think there is actually only a roomful of people on this site anyway and if everyone has to publish their identity, at least half of us will shy away from it.

Lots of luck with the Town Square after registration is required....


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Posted by SteveP
a resident of Parkside
on Dec 1, 2010 at 8:59 am

SteveP is a registered user.

frank-who said anything about faux news (other than one narrow minded NY Times reader?)
reader-did I ever say the NY Times piece was news? Would I go there for objective news or opinion? No.
But since you asked, I'd tend to read the Wall Street Journal if I wanted something more insightful. If I wanted satire, I'd look to the times


 +   Like this comment
Posted by a reader
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2010 at 9:35 am

SteveP,

I read them both (WSJ and NYT), as well as the Financial Times and The Economist. I think some of the editorials in the NY Times (like Paul Krugman's) frequently miss the mark. Krugman has been wrong so many times I think his credibility is low and he is too consistently anti-business. I think others articles, like the one cited here, are perceptive and informative.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page really lost me when it came out in favor of TARP, but against regulation of investment banking and over-the-counter derivatives trading. Did that bother you? How does it may any sense to claim to be for free and unfettered markets, but then support US Treasury and Federal Reserve bailouts for failed companies that are politically well connected? But the Wall Street Journal also prints some very intriguing and well reasoned pieces, and I enjoy those.

I think a well informed person needs to read a variety if news sources and opinion, and read them critically. Do you get all your news and information from sources that slant they same way?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fred Norman
a resident of Highland Oaks
on Dec 1, 2010 at 10:41 am

I agree with Sandy Piderit that Town Square Forum writers should identify themselves with their real names. I would add that they should use their full names. In this kind of a public forum, anybody who doesn't have the guts to associate his or her words with his or her name doesn't deserve to make use of the forum. I believe it would cut down on the stupidity in some of the comments and it would increase the intellectual quality of the discussions. Of course, some people will use fake names, but names can be checked. "Fred Norman" is in the phone book, for instance. There's a good chance that I am he. Not all real names are in the phone book, of course, and some real names apply to more than one person, but there are other ways to check if one wants to do so. Now, some of you will think that this is a stupid or poorly written comment, but at least you know who I am.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sandy Piderit
a resident of Mohr Park
on Dec 1, 2010 at 10:55 am

Thanks to David Cannon for his support for having people identify themselves when posting.

Not So Sure -- I understand the safety that anonymity provides for the expression of ideas, but I think there are other ways to create that sense of safety in an online community.

I know at least 10 people who read these forums, but never comment, because they don't want to take the risk that they will be ridiculed or attacked. For them, anonymity does not create enough of a comfort level to join in the discussions, because they know that in this community, almost anything goes.

So, in this forum, I see anonymity as benefitting people who are routinely uncivil much more than harming people who hold minority opinions but want to discuss the issues in a civil way.

SteveP -- your questions are important ones. What are bad comments, and who will be the arbiter?

In the op-ed, trollish comments are "inflammatory, derogatory or provocative". I agree, that's a pretty ambiguous standard. From my point of view, the comments that are the most damaging to community dialogue are the ones that are purely insulting to an individual poster or to a group. There the ones that say "Sandy is an idiot" or "all teachers are lazy" or "all tea party people are crazy".

As for who should be the arbiter -- I think we all should, collectively.

My preferred way of addressing the issue of trolls and bad comments is community moderation. Community moderation does not require having people identify themselves by name, but it does require restricting comments to people who will login and use a consistent username. The idea is that regular users of a website identify comments that are inappropriate in tone, and if sufficient users agree about a particular comment, it is "hidden". If a particular user posts too many comments in a set time period that end up being hidden, then that user's posting privileges are suspended.

The op-ed actually provides some examples of community moderation.

"The technology blog Gizmodo is trying an audition system for new commenters, under which their first few comments would be approved by a moderator or a trusted commenter to ensure quality before anybody else could see them. After a successful audition, commenters can freely post. If over time they impress other trusted commenters with their contributions, they'd be promoted to trusted commenters, too, and their comments would henceforth be featured.

"Disqus, a comments platform for bloggers, has experimented with allowing users to rate one another's comments and feed those ratings into a global reputation system called Clout. Moderators can use a commenter's Clout score to "help separate top commenters from trolls."

To move the current software system used here to the "registration required" mode without making other changes probably would kill traffic here, simply because users are logged out automatically after 10 or 15 minutes, and if they've been typing up a thoughtful comment during that time, it often gets lost.

What I would most like to see is a reduction in the derogatory comments that make people less willing to comment at all.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Yet Another Teacher
a resident of Hart Middle School
on Dec 1, 2010 at 11:08 am

Why is this rocket science? The model for moderation has existed for over a century in "letters to the editor" in traditional newspapers. When one wrote such letters, a member of the newspaper staff contacted the author to confirm identity. You had to disclose your full name and contact information to the newspaper, but could withhold your address and phone number from the general public, of course.

Honestly, I think Pleasanton Weekly is reluctant to adopt this model of moderation because it would stifle real-time "conversations" and because inflammatory comments boost pageviews. Anonymous "trolls" are most likely to make inflammatory comments, and so they are encouraged, not discouraged.




 +   Like this comment
Posted by a reader
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Sandy,

Why not a small registration fee?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Buffalo Patty
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Why would we want to pay any attention to and op-ed from the New York Times? It has been a long, long time since it engaged in responsible reporting. Their reporting and editorial policy is so left-wing loon they have lost all credibility. It is preposterous for the NY Times to even discuss "contempt" because they are an uproariously contemptible organization.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Reader wants to tax the forum. No such thing as a bad tax, eh Reader?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by a reader
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Tax? Who said I was for taxes? Maybe a different reader? At any rate, you would have the choice not to pay the registration fee, so it isn't a tax. It would be a one time fee, and could be very small, like $2. Anyone could read, but to post would require membership. It seems to work of metafilter.

Look at the link I posted above.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Factual
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2010 at 10:55 pm

PW will not like the idea of not getting the number of hits needed to bankroll the paper....SO boring, it will put you to sleep.


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