News

In experiment, Town Square forum commenting will be limited to registered users

Three month trial aimed at improving tone and dialogue

Starting Aug. 1, The Almanac's Town Square public commenting forum will be limited to registered users. Graphic by Kristin Brown.

Starting Aug. 1, participation in The Almanac's popular Town Square reader forum will be limited to those who register on the site with their name and email address.

The change is an experiment to determine if requiring registration will lead to a more welcoming environment for those interested in respectful discussions of local issues, according to Publisher Bill Johnson.

"In spite of the large numbers of people who enjoy engaging in meaningful discussion on Town Square, we know that there are many others who stay away because they view it as an inhospitable place too often dominated by rude posters who belittle others and their motives," Johnson said. "Town Square wasn't intended as a place exclusively for the thick-skinned."

"The actions of these problematic posters have demanded increasing amounts of our staff's time to moderate, edit and sometimes delete disrespectful comments that seem intended to antagonize or manipulate public opinion with false or misleading information."

Johnson said that the volume of commenting has soared since the shelter-in-place orders were made in mid-March, fueled by deep divisions over the handling of the pandemic response and, more recently, on protests and advocacy relating to racial injustice and police reform.

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"We are constantly evaluating how to make Town Square a safer place for all posters and to keep out those who attack others, make repetitive comments and side-track discussions," Johnson said. "With an expected highly-charged election season ahead of us, it seemed like the right time to implement new requirements."

Becoming a registered user requires a person to register their name and email address with AlmanacNews.com. Although posters are encouraged to use their name when they post comments, they may choose to use a screen name instead. But the registration requirement will create some accountability and a way for Almanac moderators to contact the poster.

"There is no perfect way to weed out posters who are hell-bent on being snarky or disrespectful," Johnson said. "But at a time when emotions are high and so much polarization exists in politics, we hope this step will move Town Square closer to a place where constructive dialogue and debate can occur."

Almanac readers will be asked to help evaluate the registration requirement after the Nov. 3 election.

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Publisher Bill Johnson can be reached at (650) 223-6505 or at [email protected]

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In experiment, Town Square forum commenting will be limited to registered users

Three month trial aimed at improving tone and dialogue

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Jul 31, 2020, 9:28 am

Starting Aug. 1, participation in The Almanac's popular Town Square reader forum will be limited to those who register on the site with their name and email address.

The change is an experiment to determine if requiring registration will lead to a more welcoming environment for those interested in respectful discussions of local issues, according to Publisher Bill Johnson.

"In spite of the large numbers of people who enjoy engaging in meaningful discussion on Town Square, we know that there are many others who stay away because they view it as an inhospitable place too often dominated by rude posters who belittle others and their motives," Johnson said. "Town Square wasn't intended as a place exclusively for the thick-skinned."

"The actions of these problematic posters have demanded increasing amounts of our staff's time to moderate, edit and sometimes delete disrespectful comments that seem intended to antagonize or manipulate public opinion with false or misleading information."

Johnson said that the volume of commenting has soared since the shelter-in-place orders were made in mid-March, fueled by deep divisions over the handling of the pandemic response and, more recently, on protests and advocacy relating to racial injustice and police reform.

"We are constantly evaluating how to make Town Square a safer place for all posters and to keep out those who attack others, make repetitive comments and side-track discussions," Johnson said. "With an expected highly-charged election season ahead of us, it seemed like the right time to implement new requirements."

Becoming a registered user requires a person to register their name and email address with AlmanacNews.com. Although posters are encouraged to use their name when they post comments, they may choose to use a screen name instead. But the registration requirement will create some accountability and a way for Almanac moderators to contact the poster.

"There is no perfect way to weed out posters who are hell-bent on being snarky or disrespectful," Johnson said. "But at a time when emotions are high and so much polarization exists in politics, we hope this step will move Town Square closer to a place where constructive dialogue and debate can occur."

Almanac readers will be asked to help evaluate the registration requirement after the Nov. 3 election.

Publisher Bill Johnson can be reached at (650) 223-6505 or at [email protected]

Comments

new guy
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 31, 2020 at 9:54 am
new guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 31, 2020 at 9:54 am
15 people like this

sad day for residents.

great day for government, schools, politicians as there will be one less place people can anonymously post information and opinion without the fear of retribution.

hope you go out of business due to this decision.


another resident
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:26 am
another resident , Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:26 am
13 people like this

I think this is a worthwhile experiment. I personally prefer to use a screen name, as I am a little shy about having public comments be on the internet for eternity. But all of my comments are statements I would stand behind and say in person to other people. I think we should all have that standard for what we post in public forums, and I hope that having some (small amount of) accountability will help to achieve that goal.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:48 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:48 am
51 people like this

What is so onerous/dangerous about giving the Almanac your name and email and then being able to use whatever screen name you want?


Whatever
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 31, 2020 at 11:17 am
Whatever, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 31, 2020 at 11:17 am
5 people like this

Correct me if I'm wrong but this isn't the first time you've tried this experiment.


really?
Menlo Park: other
on Jul 31, 2020 at 11:37 am
really?, Menlo Park: other
on Jul 31, 2020 at 11:37 am
6 people like this

I suppose if I can't post without registering, I'll just have to go back to my day job as Attorney General.


Joan
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:16 pm
Joan, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:16 pm
6 people like this

Very poor decision. A way to silence us. How long do you think it will be before names are released or leaked?


pearl
another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:41 pm
pearl, another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:41 pm
4 people like this

Good idea. You can use a "screen" name, so no one can hunt you down and hurt you.


Sara T
Menlo Park: other
on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:52 pm
Sara T, Menlo Park: other
on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:52 pm
6 people like this

It frightens me that people want to be anonymous.


pearl
another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 3:04 pm
pearl, another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 3:04 pm
13 people like this

Sara T: As has happened in the past, people who have given their real name (usually first and last), have been hunted down by opponents of their views, and have had their lives threatened. I think a "screen" name is the safest way to participate.


meanwhile...
Las Lomitas School
on Jul 31, 2020 at 3:29 pm
meanwhile..., Las Lomitas School
on Jul 31, 2020 at 3:29 pm
2 people like this

So long as you NEVER require people to use their real name on the posts themselves.

Requiring real names failed badly on social media a decade ago. Again and again and again. It was a tone deaf response from big tech that failed to address their problem and marginalized the voices of billions.

Real name policies promote dominating viewpoints from those in positions of power with no fear and nothing to lose by restricting the ability to participate of those who cannot use their real name in public for VERY real fear of both physical and virtual reprisals. Usually women and minorities.

The same is true on Nextdoor today where their entire platform is based on their own fake concept of "real" which by definition excludes half the people around from ever participating.

Yes, you've got a problem. I applaud you at least requiring registration. But it in itself is nowhere near a fix.


meanwhile...
Las Lomitas School
on Jul 31, 2020 at 3:35 pm
meanwhile..., Las Lomitas School
on Jul 31, 2020 at 3:35 pm
Like this comment

For example: Hold your commenters up to fact checking. Post corrections on comments and ban those who repeatedly lie and seek to spread misinformation. Nobody is going to cry over the loss of Trump nazis meaningless screams.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 31, 2020 at 4:59 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 31, 2020 at 4:59 pm
6 people like this

I encourage everybody to see this as a reset and to carefully evaluate and monitor our own postings to see if we can make the Forum "a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion."


Bad Idea
another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:23 pm
Bad Idea, another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:23 pm
Like this comment

What the Almanac actually is concerned about is governed by what they call their Terms of Use. If a post is inappropriate (according to the Almanac's own rules, not the Constitution, since this is not a government service), whether anonymous or not, it may be deleted.

It is interesting the Almanac's own article on this refers to postings reflecting "deep divisions over the handling of the pandemic response and, more recently, on protests and advocacy relating to racial injustice and police reform."

It's simply a fact that many people are reluctant to criticize police and advocate for police reform using their own names or in a pseudonymous way that can be traced. The problem is, it's usually law enforcement doing the tracing.

This is a bad move for police reform. If a post is over the line, deal with it. I have not seen many posts over the line. Strong views have been expressed, for sure, and certain public officials have been criticized by name, but that all goes along with the territory of entering the public sector in leadership positions.

Examples of what I have definitely not seen (has anyone else?), some of which might have justified this response: threats to personal safety, publication of personal home addresses, random pejorative attacks that have nothing to do with the subject matter ("did anyone know that Mr. X is _______ [attracted to goats, fill in the blankā€¦]".

Seems like a solution in search of a problem.


Brian
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:26 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:26 pm
5 people like this

I have found moderation of this site to be very good and the elimination on non-relevant and unfriendly posts to be quick. I am in favor of allowing people to continue to post without registering, I think it actually improves the discussion by allowing people to post their opinion, no matter if it is popular or not, without feeling exposed.

Yes you can use a screen name but sometimes you may not want what you say associated with other posts you make under your usual screen name.


Menlo Voter.
Menlo Park: other
on Jul 31, 2020 at 7:22 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
on Jul 31, 2020 at 7:22 pm
7 people like this

"Very poor decision. A way to silence us. How long do you think it will be before names are released or leaked?"

I've been registered for years. You don't know who I am do you?


dana hendrickson
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 5, 2020 at 1:21 pm
dana hendrickson, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Aug 5, 2020 at 1:21 pm
3 people like this

I support the new registration requirement as only The Almanac will know who makes a comment and it should have the ability to identify, educated and manager users who abuse the privilege of expressing their views on Town Square. All users can still use any screen name they choose so they are not creating personal exposures. I have posted many comments the past ten years, always used my real name and have never been privately threatened by anyone. (Although I have been publicly attacked and generally just ignore them.) Nextdoor requires actual names and remains extremely popular. The ALMANAC will remain far less restrictive.

I believe many readers do not comment in the Town Square because they dislike reading public personal attacks on themselves and others. I support judicious moderation. The new registration requirement will better equip The Almanac to perform this function.

Good move...


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