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Freedom of Speech and the Cost of Participation

Original post made by Stacey on Apr 16, 2012

I thought this post was well-written and deserved its own topic. It came from the thread about the house fire in Chico.

Posted by Lou, a resident of the Another Pleasanton neighborhood neighborhood, 4 hours ago

Here is another take on the above comments and the Pleasanton Weekly Town Square forum in general. First I do agree that this story should be reported whether or not it occurred in Ptown. Stories from around the world are reported, many of which are sad, uncomfortable and include Pleasantonians. I do not believe in media censorship. What I do question is having it on the Weekly Forum and here is why...

In the olden days before blogging and the Pleasanton Weekly Town Square forum, this (and many other stories) would have found their way into the printed paper and been read by the populace at large. DJ and Steve and others would have read the paper while drinking coffee and made their comments about bad parenting, lack of parenting, whatever to their spouses and that would have been that. Oh, perhaps they might have had enough attention span to then also gossip maliciously with a friend or two over drinks or at a coffee house. Maybe, just maybe they would have felt strongly enough to write a letter to the editor. But probably not, because they wouldn't be able to do that anonymously and it takes time to craft a response, email it in and wait for the call giving permission to print. So in the end, the story is properly reported, read, tsk-tsked to friends about and everyone moves on - including the family the story is written about.

Fast forward to the Pleasanton Weekly Town Square forum. Same story, same reporting, but now DJ and Steve can share their ignorance immediately and publically without the filter of even a few seconds and without regard to how this may affect others. Where it was once contained griping within the household or simple malicious gossip between friends of a feather, now it is broadcast to all and to what purpose? These writers do not know anything about the parenting of these people...why? because they aren't them, they aren't part of their parenting process and therefore...ignorant. They really don't know anything about what happened in Chico...why? because they weren't there, they aren't these young adults and therefore, they are writing from... ignorance. And "ignorance is bliss" only if the rest of us are blissfully unaware of their ignorance.

We caution our children about cyber-bullying, yet the Pleasanton Weekly Town Square Forum is simply permitted cyber-bullying in a semi-civilized skin. We attempt to help our children deal with bullies, then we allow cyber-bullies like DJ and Steve and the like to bully at will via the forum. I have yet to read comments on the forum that are universally positive...even if the article itself is positive in nature. Forum comments are almost always negative and, yes, bullying in nature. What a sad commentary on a wonderful community like Pleasanton. I only take solace in the thought that only a small segment of our community write in and cyber-bully via the forum. Perhaps my mom's rule of "if you can't say something nice, perhaps you should say nothing at all" is old fashioned, but I will continue to teach that to my children and perhaps Pleasanton will once again be...well, pleasant.

I locked this topic to registered users to illustrate a point which will soon become clear. Lou writes many things that I agree with and I'd like to extend what was written. As Lou points out, before "blogging", most comments on stories would have been restricted to one's own living room or over coffee while others would be sent as a letter to the editor. An editor would (hopefully) have a vetting process and editorial discretion before publication of those letters. Letters would have to meet the newspaper's standards of decorum and verification of the sender would be required. In essence, a cost is exacted from a letter writer and no one's freedom of speech is abridged when an editor decides not to publish a letter. The author of the letter is still free to disseminate their speech in other venues. Moreover, a newspaper publisher is still able to receive anonymous whistle-blowing information even if they are not published.

Fast forward, as Lou puts it, to the Internet and "blogging". The Wild West days of the Internet have accustomed most people to mistakenly believe that the freedom of speech is something that is without cost, even though that has not historically been the case and even in instances of anonymous publications. There has always been a cost associated with the wide distribution of speech, both monetary and intangible. The Internet has only reduced or somewhat hidden those costs.

A printed newspaper is not much different from a website. They are both self-contained objects and what goes into them is determined by the owner/publisher, who bears all the costs of wide distribution. So what is it about the Internet that leads a publisher to charge a cost to be published in the printed newspaper yet charge practically nothing to be published on the website? I can't answer that question (although I suspect that publishers with non-technical backgrounds are fooled by technology's ability to hide or reduce costs). All I can point out is that when the cost to disseminate speech is hidden or reduced to almost zero, it enables the kind of abusive writing that Lou describes because it doesn't require writers to consider any consequences.

What gets published is wholly the responsibility of the publisher. The publisher sets the rules for publication, assigns costs to participants, and game theory dictates that whatever the publisher allows will and should be performed by the participants in an effort to advance their ideas if they don't want to be marginalized. If a publisher allows bullying to occur in the letters to the editor, there will be writers who take advantage of that to the detriment of others. But what publisher allows targeted bullying occur in printed letters to the editor? Why is that ok on a website? There is really nothing so different about the Internet from a printed publication that prevents a publisher from sharing some of the costs of publication with a writer other than the mistaken idea that the freedom of speech is something without cost when it's on the Internet. Or let me put it this way. If you're giving me a platform and I'm giving you content, we should share the costs. Otherwise you are paying all the costs and I'm able to abuse our relationship as far as you let me.

The PW gave us all the ability to require a vetting process to comment on a thread we start. By requiring registration before one can comment on this thread, I'm illustrating the similarity between the vetting process of "the olden days", as Lou puts it, and a vetting process on this website. I don't have editorial control over what gets posted after someone has passed the vetting process, and that's ok. I'm not paying the full costs to disseminate what you write so I don't have a need to set the rules. But by raising your cost to participate, I'm asking you to give a little more pause before writing and hopefully that means your content is much more thoughtful. And that makes the publisher's job of moderation easier, improves the tone of discussion on the site, and encourages more participation by those who have no wish to compete on a playing field that allows bullying.

Comments (12)

Posted by SteveP, a resident of Parkside
on Apr 16, 2012 at 8:39 am

SteveP is a registered user.

Stacey, thanks for the locked, vindictive, small minded post. I am a registered user, but don't always log in simply because it's faster to just post my first name, make an observation and move on. That's part of the reason I stopped sending letters to the Valley least with these blogs, you can carry on more of a conversation of near realt time dialogue.
You're all for freedom of your speech, but your condescending, snarky post towards myself and other posters is uncalled for. Be an adult and learn to disagree without calling posters malicious or cyber bullies.
I'm certainly not anonymous, as you can attest....I'm on this board almost daily......I know as much about you as you do about me--first names and not much more. The problem for you is, I'm not going away because of your attempts to defame or bully me in the Weekly.
And, since you brought up the example, I do know a lot more about the Chico fire than you--my daughter goes to school there and knew one of the participants in this illegal activity. I could have mentioned it in my previous posts on the subject, but unlike you, I don't feel the need to fill the page with a wordy, pompous missive of other posters. Maybe while you're arguing for changes in the Weekly blogs, you can advocate for a word limit.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Apr 16, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Stacey is a registered user.


I'm sorry you felt that I attempted to defame you by sharing someone else's post in which you were named. As can be seen by my commentary focusing on the vetting process, that was not my intent.

Posted by dublinmike, a resident of Dublin
on Apr 16, 2012 at 9:26 pm

dublinmike is a registered user.

where is the link? are you referring to the three Chico State students living off campus? i was up there with wife & daughter Saturday and the only thing I picked up was some meth lab blowing up.

Stacy, I would like to make a suggestion, please keep your opening a bit shorter. To be honest, I race through your lengthy writing.

Posted by SteveP, a resident of Parkside
on Apr 17, 2012 at 8:13 am

SteveP is a registered user.

Apology accepted. I'm all for a vetting process if it will get rid of (or provide accountabilty) for our local troll posting under multiple, assumed names. His/her self described parodies of any and all subjects is getting somewhat tiresome and serves to do nothing other that dillute the discussion of a topic.
Time to drain the swamp.......

Posted by Casanova_Frankenstein , a resident of Old Towne
on Apr 17, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Casanova_Frankenstein is a registered user.

Yeah, everyone should register to comment, because there's a VERY strict "vetting" that goes on before you're allowed to become one of the Pleasanton Weekly Town Forum Elite! Why, look at me, Casanova Frankenstein! If I was using an anonymous name, I wouldn't dare speak up against union thuggery or bullying Stacey, but now that the world knows that it is truly I, Casanova Frankenstein, my posts carry more weight and are certified 40% sane or better because now I have been thoroughly vetted and I am no longer anonymous! The system works!

Casanova Frankenstein, back from the dead to luv y'all up! YeeHAW! Let freedom of speech ring!

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Apr 17, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

See? Registering to post was no loss to your freedom of speech. The current vetting process was not too complex. You spent a little more of your time to sign up for your throw-away email address and took a little more effort to log into the site, but that's ok. That's the higher cost to participate on this thread. If all threads were locked to registered users, the cost to participate would be even higher. If the PW felt that your account violated the Terms of Use frequently enough, they could block it. You could then sign up for another throw-away email address, and another, and another, and another. The vetting process might even change, raising the cost higher (a reader once suggested charging one dollar). So very many accounts for you to remember. So much time and effort you'd need to spend beyond what you already spend now just to write the same way.

Not everyone is willing to spend like that. When the cost to participate is higher, more value is placed on it.

Posted by Casanova_Frankenstein , a resident of Old Towne
on Apr 17, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Casanova_Frankenstein is a registered user.

Yes. YES! I can feel the infallibility infusing my posts now that I have been vetted and I'm no longer anonymous. Amigos, I entreat you to register and JOIN ME! Together, there's nothing we can't comment on!

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Apr 17, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

I should add that by registering, you didn't lose your anonymity either. If the vetting process were to change in such a way as to remove your anonymity, I'd be against that with you. Registration is just another website editorial tool.

Posted by Casanova_Frankenstein , a resident of Old Towne
on Apr 17, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Casanova_Frankenstein is a registered user.

What are you talking about? I've been vetted. Vetted! Don't you know what that means?

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Apr 17, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Wow, who knew someone could get so excited over the "is a member (registered user)" tag?

Posted by Casanova_Frankenstein , a resident of Old Towne
on Apr 17, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Casanova_Frankenstein is a registered user.

Well, it's not like I began a new thread with a 9 paragraph thesis on it or anything. I don't have time for such irrelevant minutiae.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Apr 17, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Oh, phew. At least we're talking about the topic and not some irrelevant minutiae like Walmart.

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