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Should Town Square permit anonymous posters?

Original post made by Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood, on Nov 6, 2009

Having participated in a lot of discussion threads I am concerned about the negative impact of anonymous posters on the stated purpose of the Town Square - "to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion."


In my opinion the vast majority of anonymous postings do not bring new facts to the thread in question nor do they even attempt to intelligently refute posting by others, including myself, which may be factually incorrect. Instead a majority of the anonymous posting are simply ad hominem attacks against posters who have chosen to both speak out on an issue and to identify themselves so that others can calibrate them as a reliable, or not, source of facts and a valid source of personal opinion. Such posting and the response to them take up a lot of space and quickly detract from the subject matter of the discussuion which is in progress. Often these anonymous postings are, quite appropriately, removed by the Editor and that then leads to anonymous attacks on the Editor and the Almanac claiming censorship.

The Almanac will not publish anonymous letters, why should they permit anonymous postings?

Would not the discussions be more productive if we all identified ourselves and were publicly accountable and responsible for our statements?

Your thoughts??

By the way - I will not respond to any personal attacks by anonymous posters in this discussion thread.

Comments (45)

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 6, 2009 at 2:19 pm

I'm not Peter Carpenter, but neither you nor the Almanac has any way of knowing that. Unless the Almanac starts requiring social security numbers and hires a private investigator to do background checks, there's no way to enforce a ban on anonymous or psuedonym-using posters.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 6, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Come on Peter--you loved Candel lighter's comments --do you rally think you are incouraging imput or participation by becoming the decider--way too controlling.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Candle Lighter
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 6, 2009 at 3:49 pm

My thoughts:

People who respond anonymously do so for one of three general reasons: (1) they wish to make inappropriate attacks against someone under the veil of anonymity, (2) they are simply private persons who value their privacy but wish to opine, or (3) they wish to make comments but fear some type of retaliation for making them.

I fully understand and appreciate that anyone who has not been put in a position of feeling they may be subject to retaliation may raise an eyebrow at reason (3).

I also truly believe that no one who is coming to these forums to express a legitimate view can garner any better endorsement of their viewpoint than their opponents resorting to making ad hominem attacks as an alternative to providing reasoned counterpoints. I witnessed this on the fire district postings, Peter, and no one with any intelligence could take any of those attacks against you seriously. Most people tend to believe that if someone has to resort to underhanded comments, it is because they cannot come up with the reasoned counterpoints.

Thus, eliminating anonymity would definitely curtail category (1) posters (at least for the most part, as Peter's alter ego above pointed out), but also category (2) and (3) posters. To me, that is unacceptable collateral damage.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by I'm Not Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 6, 2009 at 5:01 pm

To quote the great intellectual of our day, Donald Rumsfeld:
"Democracy Is Messy"

And to quote Truman
"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen"


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Nov 6, 2009 at 5:14 pm

I always post anonymously for reasons that have already been stated. If I had to post under my name, I probably wouldn't.

And, as Candle Lighter noted, people who are sufficiently intelligent to read these postings are able to discern between content and transparent attack.

What may be helpful, however, is for anonymous posters to consistently use the same pseudonym so people can easily see what we are saying. I should take my own advice!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by I'm not Peter Carpenter either
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 6, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Peter,
I truly apprecitate the passion you have for your community, but sometimes it's too much. It's Friday. Pour yourself a glass of wine and don't read these posts 'til next week. Have a great weekend!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Petered Out
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 6, 2009 at 5:38 pm

At least we might agree that any and all posters on this forum are motivated enough to express some viewpoint or reaction to one-any oppinion at all has got to be a hopefull sign that dialog is possible. Peter please dont turn yourself into the star of every thread--its getting old and I was counting on some quality leadership from you--don't stop but care better please.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 6, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Good advice
I am on my second glass of wine
Thanks


 +   Like this comment
Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2009 at 2:42 pm

R.GORDON is a registered user.

Peter Carpenter is the smarter and funnier person on these boards.
I think those old foggies should have to prove senility hasn't got them by their wheelchairs.

These discussions are so old and outdated because none of you address the realities of a crumbling country on top of this conservative base where old trees, houses, railway tunnels and the past are talked to death.
Move on....Peter you represent a progressive and youthful mentality.
I hope you have a great red to keep your arteries clean and thinking.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by The Real Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 9, 2009 at 10:16 am

I post both nonymously and anonymously. Both have benefits. Ultimately, one can post to vent, or one can post to persuade. Readers can usually tell the difference. Putting edge in posts or ad hominem rarely makes them more persuasive.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 9, 2009 at 10:21 am

The posting from "The Real Peter Carpenter" was not in fact from me and is a perfect example of the abuses which occur when anonymous postings are permitted.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by the Surreal Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 9, 2009 at 11:13 am

Though, come to think about it, it's kind of flattering to have so many fans who wannabe me!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Poster
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2009 at 12:29 pm

One thing you can do, when you start a new topic, is to restrict comments to registered users. There is a box at the top of the "Post a topic" page that you can click to activate that. Also, if you register, you can receive an email when anyone comments on your topics.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by kevyn
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Nov 9, 2009 at 12:33 pm

I totally agree that the majority of anonymous postings tend to be ad hominem attacks against other posters. Unfortunately, it defeats the purpose of having a Town Square since it doesn't further discussion. I've quit reading most of them.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by If I were a carpenter...
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 9, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Who cares what someone's real name is? In reality, Town Square Forum is perhaps the most entertaining, soap opera-like, online comic strip we have.
Face it, most readers and writers of the Town Square Forum seem to fall into three categories: Ones who have only one opinion and will never change their minds even if proven wrong; Ones who may be interested in a particular issue, but are subjected to the personal rants of those who have nothing better to do than to sit in front of their computer and post their 2ยข on a forum that reaches very few; and then their are ones like me, who are actually entertained by weekly jousting between its contributors.
Personally, I think the real reason so few Forum contributors submit their real names is because their 3rd or 4th grade teachers would be ashamed of the over abundance of spelling and punctuation errors. I know mine wood!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Rosy
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 9, 2009 at 1:38 pm

"A rose is still a rose...."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Robert Frost
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2009 at 3:39 pm

The rose is a rose
but the theory now goes
that the apple's a rose
and the pear is and so's
the plum, I suppose.
The dear only knows
what will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose
but were always a rose.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by James Madison
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 9, 2009 at 3:40 pm

An anonymous comment is the mark of a coward. The Almanac should not allow them.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Utter mcKinley
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Nov 9, 2009 at 4:11 pm

The poster is less important than the information that is posted. There are many, many positive and good reasons to retain anonmynity, particularly given the unique opportunity to the community you serve.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by surreal
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 9, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Oh please, Mr Madison. Don't stereotype us too hastily! I know that there are anons on here who are involved in local government and can only imagine how ugly local politics would become if identities were disclosed.

Some of those who have the most to offer are also those who have the most at stake. With a few exceptions (small-minded personal attacks that say more about the attacker than the attackee) the anon postings do what they're meant to do: express the true opinions of the populace. Whether or not they change any minds is a different issue.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Still Not Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 9, 2009 at 9:11 pm

"If I were a carpenter"

Now THAT'S a classic post if there ever was one. Bravo!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dolly Madison
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 9, 2009 at 11:36 pm

Posted by James Madison, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, 7 hours ago

An anonymous comment is the mark of a coward. The Almanac should not allow them.

You tell them Jimmy, freedom of speech for people who wish to remain anonymous is ridiculous.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 10, 2009 at 10:34 am

I think that there is much value and freedom in expressing an opinion without having to say who you are. In my experience in a variety of settings (academia, industry, family, religious, etc.), people can be very restricted by that setting. It may make for a comfortable get together, but may avoid getting at some real issues.
The SF CHronicle writer Jon Carrol had a line a while back about balancing truth and kindness. His wife asked him if a particular dress made her look fat. The truth would have been, "No, your fat makes you look fat.", but he didn't say that. Social niceties allow some preservation of order, but also sometimes allow us to avoid the truth (What ever that may be).
In discussing important issues like schools and health care, it may be there are ugly opinions out there, but I think it's better to get them out there and discuss them in a reasonable manner. I agree with previous writers that when a poster (independent of providing their true name) makes ad hominum attacks, it hardly furthers their case or convinces anyone of the strength of their ideas.
So in that anonymity enlarges the participation and scope of a debate I think it's a good thing, even though the price to be paid is enduring some noise.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2009 at 10:38 am

How are you defining anonymous?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2009 at 11:24 am

I would like to add a 4th reason some people (as in my case) post anonymously. That is, in their professional life, they are precluded from engaging in such dialog lest their personal opinions be attributed to their company affiliation. A very common corporate policy these days. I do agree with another poster who suggested that people who post anonymously, for whatever reason, should always use the same "handle" so that they can be better calibrated in a good debate. A good example of what I'm talking about just occurred in a dialog on another thread regarding Fire District consolidation. I made a statement of fact as I know it. Peter Carpenter, as a member of the District Board graciously and appropriately invited me to communicate some specifics about that statement to him personally and offered to look into the matter. While I appreciated Peter's offer, unfortunately I am not in a position to do so for reason #4 above, and thus should not have made the statement--Peter, I apologize and will try hard not to let it happen again.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joy Koso
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 10, 2009 at 1:38 pm

There are certainly good rationales for being able to remain anonymous. But it seems strange that you can't be anonymous when you write a letter to the editor, and yet you can post here anonymously. And it is so much eaiser to go on uncalled for personal attacks (of which there have been many) when one can remain anonymous. So, I lean towards no anonymous postings.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2009 at 3:05 pm

I post a lot - always anonymously for reaons #4 above - and I'm the person who suggested that anonymous posters at least use the same pseudonym.

The bottom line is this - eliminate anonymous postings and the number of comments will fall to near zero OR allow anonymous postings (or pseudonyms) and maintain a reasonable number of conversations... and accept the occasional idiotic message or personal attack.

I vote for the current policy.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by William Jefferson Clinton
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Please see "In praise of anonymity" at Web Link

A significant extract from that piece:
------------------------------------------

How do you know whether it's a pseudonym, anyway?

It's also worth noting that on much of the Internet (including most email systems), there aren't good authentication systems in place, so anyone can sign any name they want, including made-up ones. If someone using the name John Smith posts a comment in a forum or on a blog, it can be extremely difficult to tell whether that's their real name or not. Some Internet handles are more obviously not birth names than other handles, but the less obvious ones are just as much pseudonyms as the obvious ones.

------------------------------------------


 +   Like this comment
Posted by John Novitsky
a resident of Woodside School
on Nov 10, 2009 at 6:24 pm

I've followed a great deal of these threads, and am in favor of allowing the user to post their identities, or not.

The reader has to decide if the facts, as represented, are accurate. Caveat Emptor. No less a respected source than Gen. Colin Powell mis-represented Iraq's WMD program in front of the US General Assembly, asking the world for a declaration of war. The stakes don't get higher; the authority/respect doesn't get better. And yet, the facts as they were represented, turned out to be not facts at all.

Attributing comments will not necessarily improve the quality/accuracy of all posted comments; don't assume that a name listed with a "fact" increases it's accuracy. Conversely, requiring a name will necessarily lead to much less traffic/postings, for the reasons listed above.

I am mosted interested in the breadth of ideas, and the arguments supporting/refuting them, and will form my own opinion/decision. Please keep them coming, attibuted or not.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Kleegeen
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 10, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Check out SF Gate. Reader comments (anonymous) are great, for the most part cogent and reflect the sentiments of the general audience on any particular story, situation or nonsense from the politicians. And while we're at it, "what is Martinizing" and why does it only take one hour?"


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Still Not Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 10, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Kleegeen,

And a "baba-booey, baba-booey" to you, too!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Rabbit
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2009 at 11:09 pm

Look at the experience in Palo Alto, where the city tried to have their own online "civic engagement" forum with registered users. They are now shutting that down for lack of participation. The Palo Alto Online anonymous forum remains quite lievely.

In my opinion, based on what I have seen here and in Palo Alto, you have two choices:

1) Allow anonymous posting and accept that you will get a certain amount of flame-baiters, impostors and people who are just trying to cause trouble

2) Allow only registered users and get next to nothing

Which is worse: lots of posts with tons of junk mixed in or no posts at all?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by likes choice
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 11, 2009 at 8:57 am

It's great to have a forum in which we can speak out, share information, challenge thinking without the numerous risks mentioned above. It's the ideas that matter. We each also have the opportunity to say the same things with our names attached either on Town Square or in print in the Almanac. I like that.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2009 at 10:37 am

What a waste of time.

Donate to save children in Africa who die 25,000 a day....Use any name that makes you feel important. One dollar pays for four smallpox vaccines. Organization which start with "U" is best and is anonymous for you silly people.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 11, 2009 at 11:03 am

How are anonymous postings much different than a village "suggestion box"--maybe best to leave some venue for the whistle blowers and the shy to participate. We need to include as many voices as possible.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:03 pm

I have to say that I really enjoy the interaction here. My ability to engage with Peter Carpenter concerning a post he made regarding the Fire District elections could never have occurred had I been required to "Identify" myself. We did not agree, we probably still do not agree. That said, all of my posts were made in the name of "Interested". It was only fair that in an ongoing discussion or dispute Mr. Carpenter had the courtesy of knowing he was still engaging with the same person. Not an unreasonable expectation by any standard.

I agree with the prior posters that to limit postings to "named" posters is not viable. However, nothing annoys me more than an anonymous poster using a name such as [portion deleted] R Gordon. We all know who this [portion deleted] purports to be.

The real "R Gordon" would never use the kind of language this fool utilizes. I would ask that the Almanac contact Rich Gordon and ask him to register the name "Rich Gordon" so that in the future only Rich can use that name and all will be aware that any other is dullard seeking attention.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2009 at 2:11 pm

I really wish the old ladies at the Almanac would stop their censorship. I can certainly understand censoring foul language, but censoring opinions as to the posts of others is a disgrace.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2009 at 2:15 pm

What a waste of time.

Donate to save children in Africa who die 25,000 a day....Use any name that makes you feel important. One dollar pays for four smallpox vaccines. Organization which start with "U" is best and is anonymous for you silly people.


So let me see if I get it....R Gordon can call us "silly", but I cant call him a moron.....[portion removed]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Alan Miller
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 11, 2009 at 2:16 pm

I've got to say I support a registration function. Modern politics and social behavior have empirically proven that negative (false) statements are effective in swaying the public vote. Ad hominem attacks work. They backfire only against a minority of those that hear them.
Many companies require the registration of a valid credit card number before partaking in various "free" activities. Although you can never prove identity completely, you can eliminate a very high percentage of drive-by negativity.
However, I'm sure the cost of establishing a registration function would be too high for the Almanac to be able to afford to do it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 11, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Yes, allow the postings to remain anonymous.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Guest
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Since most of the posts on this thread are anonymous it is fair to reason that if registration was required most of the posts would not be here.

Also remember that registration doesn't stop ignorant or inappropriate postings. The determined posters just create another Hotmail account and start posting again.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Still Not Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 11, 2009 at 5:54 pm

"Also remember that registration doesn't stop ignorant or inappropriate postings."

Yes, I can certainly think of one person in particular that applies to (and no, it's not Peter C.).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 11, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Source credibility is a key factor in evaluating any particular posting.

Registration or the consistent use of the same anonymous name by the same person (and not including using another real person's name) would permit the readers to calibrate and validate the comments of that poster.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by New viewer
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 11, 2009 at 7:15 pm

YES, anonymous writers should definitely be allowed! Where writers are protected by anonymity, you'll receive novel and refreshingly candid comments. Where ID is demanded, you'll get the same-old, well-known contributors with carefully caged opinions designed to fit inside the box. Readers can quickly dismiss the invalid anonymous jerks who typically write only to attack some previous writer rather than to address a topic using constructive ideas and who thus have nothing of value to say.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Alan Miller
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 11, 2009 at 8:50 pm

It seems to me that most posters here have never had the experience of being made a fool of in public by unknown persons (in places other than the Almanac Town Square). It's happened to me before and caused me to leave the community in question.
I see the same situation here. Reviewing the utter chaos and casual use of character assassination on this list, I am loathe to get involved. Many have said "without anonymity I cannot post"... I can say the same - "with anonymity of other posters allowed, I do not feel safe and cannot post". Thus my voice is silenced - anonymous posters have more rights, freedoms and protections than those willing to stand up for their communities. It is far easier to tear down than it is to build.


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