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Anonymity allows open and diverse dialogue

Original post made by Gina Channell-Allen, president of the Pleasanton Weekly, on Nov 15, 2007

The Weekly's online Town Square forum within the past week or two has been filled with supportive, informative and cathartic dialog. Some of the posts, however, have been more than a little snarky, to the point of being accusatory and inflammatory. In one forum with a somewhat controversial topic, one frustrated poster asked what many editors and publishers have also questioned: Why allow anonymous posts?

Our policy for Letters to the Editor in our print edition requires the authors to give their name and telephone number, although we only print the names and sometimes their communities. We also call to verify the authorship. Old-school journalists (myself included) have been taught that opinions, facts and quotes must be attributed. Shouldn't people posting in our Town Square forum also be required to put their name on their statements and opinions? And doesn't anonymity open up the possibility for abuse without consequences?

On the other hand, how many opinions, questions and comments have been squelched because of the writer's fear of mockery, hostility or even retribution?

New media means new rules and a new way of thinking. To open up the lines of communication, journalists have been forced to embrace anonymity. Or at least endure it. It goes against every fiber of our journalistic beings because we equate anonymous forum posts to unnamed sources, which are taboo.

Alas, anonymous posts do have some merit as they can bring to light issues that otherwise would have remained in the dark. (Remember "Deep Throat?")

However, just as with unnamed sources, one must question the authenticity of the statements. Moreover, anonymity should be viewed as a privilege and shouldn't be a means to abuse or inflame simply because it's available.

So we will continue to allow anonymous posts to allow an open line of communication and enhance the diversity of the conversation. But we will also continue to monitor carefully based on the site's terms of use and our own journalistic guidelines.

Forum users are encouraged to assist us by alerting us to posts with which they are uncomfortable and by modeling good behavior with constructive, compassionate comments and questions.
If the Weekly staff feels a forum is becoming hostile or destructive, we will intervene and even close the thread (not allow further posts) if necessary.

Because our goal is to provide a forum to allow community members to engage in enlightening and educational discourse, we would prefer it not come to that.

Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Company, president of the Pleasanton Weekly and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to gallen@pleasantonweekly.com.

Comments (11)

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Posted by Chris C.
a resident of another community
on Nov 17, 2007 at 11:03 am


Gina, you bring an interesting perspective on anonymity from the media's point of view. I agree wholeheartedly and can only hope participants recognize it as the privilege you so accurately describe it to be. I suppose graffiti, too, can be an artistic expression - analogous to opinions - so long as it doesn't incite hatred, violence or venture into the realm of vandalism... I sometimes sense anonymous forum posts are simply an extension of this notion. Maintain your vigilence and keep up the good work!


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Posted by JQ Public Employee
a resident of Downtown
on Jan 5, 2008 at 4:46 pm

As much as I agree with the time-tested value of signed opinions, I can suggest at least one other reason for allowing anonymous contributions. These allow citizens who are also public employees a means of sharing their insights and concerns -- often better informed than those not on the "inside" -- with the community they serve.
It can be very frustrating to have to work in silence while caring greatly about, and wanting to contribute to, consideration of matters that significantly affect the City and its agencies. In this regard anonymity provides a voice to the otherwise voiceless.


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Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Feb 3, 2008 at 10:07 pm

It's fun to snipe!


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Posted by Dominic Di Blasio
a resident of Del Prado
on Nov 10, 2008 at 9:10 am

Dominic Di Blasio is a registered user.

I feel it is ok to allow anonymous posts, readers need to be savvy enough to realize that in most cases, these are chicken oriented posts where emotion and demeaning is used...If there is not content that shows some good sense rational why the poster is anonymous it is probably not worth reading...


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Posted by Rae
a resident of Mohr Park
on Dec 4, 2008 at 10:25 am

Ms. Channell-Allen,
It looks like you are implementing a registered user only requirement for posting on the PW blogs. Would you mind giving us information on the timeline for implementation? Will registering restrict the use of an online name to the registered user with that name? Did you realize that the section for address information in the registration process references the Palo Alto Weekly?
Thanks


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Posted by Rae
a resident of Mohr Park
on Dec 4, 2008 at 10:29 am

Oh, and one more question, is a registered user restricted to one online name?


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Posted by Interesting...
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2008 at 9:34 pm

Yes, interesting, don't you think that neither the question about "topics being locked except to registered voters" and this topic have not been addressed and answered by the editor and publisher of the newspaper?


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Posted by janice
a resident of Birdland
on Jul 9, 2009 at 1:14 pm

I think anonymous is the most helpful all the way around. 'Names' sometimes USE the forum for a 'personal' platform. Smiping & sarcasm is fine & most resembles our real conversations with family & friends....we survive. Sometimes the discussion is about VERY serious consequential matters that ARE worth fighting over. Sometimes gov't 'messes' continue forever because everyone must 'smile & 'get along' AND MOTHING EVER CHANGES !! Talk REAL !
BE HONEST. Anonymity allows honesty !!! On really important issues honesty is vital to fixing really important fixes. Sometimes truth hurts. That's life.


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Posted by m
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2009 at 2:43 pm

The Pleasanton Weekly should be proud of its blog. The contemporary effort at maintaining a cutting edge perspective is a precious gift. Although I myself contribute my sometimes arcane thoughts that provoke, I will respect the thoughts of others and will attempt (hopefully) to maintain a decorum respectful of others ... Again, thank you Pleasanton Weekly.


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Posted by m
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Ohhhhh ... by the way Cholo ... you should thank the Pleasonton Weekly to allow you to snipe (just say "thank you" ... It's a privilege not a right ... anyway it's always fun to hear all sides of the story


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Posted by Opague
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Honesty ... in this context to me only means your honest feelings. Not as the dictionary defines honesty. Those feelings could be completely wrong, hurtful, harmful, destructive and discriminatory in nature. Honest might not mean anything more than a particular twisted view. Even insane people are honestly insane. I do feel anonymity does away with accountability. It's what you do when you think nobody will ever know what you did that defines your character. How honest are you with yourself? After all we are not finding a cure for cancer here in these forums. Is it what it is. A place to share ideas and views with others. No matter how right or wrong those views and opinions are. Just people saying whats on their minds. Some of it is good and some of it is just plain ignorant. But then I would never say anything in here that I would not say face to face. I wonder why places like this have "Terms of Use" when they almost always lake the ability or refuse to enforce them. They should change the title of those terms to "Claims of Non-Responsibility." If we have learned anything from the media, it's that dramatic reality is money. It doesn't matter if its true. As long as it gets people to watch. Readers and Viewers = $$$. So the more lacking in censorship, the more fanatic viewers you get and the more money you make. I don't feel it has anything to do with anonymity, honesty or transparency. It certainly has nothing to do with responsible journalism. It's all about finding a way to use that college degree and pay the bills. And in exchange people get to come here and say just about whatever they want to. Regardless of how it effects anything or anyone. And that's ... my honest opinion. If it negatively effected you I apologize, that was not my intention.


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