"I'm Going to Singlehandedly Fix the Internet" -- Anonymous Posts

A fictional newsman gives voice to an issue your real-world Lamorinda Patch editor deals with every day.


It has been a long battle and some of humanity's most trusted oracles have said that the longest battles make for the sweetest victories (they haven't? Well, I just did) and I'm nothing if not stubborn.

The public sounding board that this site has become is rife with my pitiful requests for those who contribute to it anonymously to come out from behind the curtain and post "in the clear," under their true names.

This is catching on, I'm pleasantly surprised to report, but we still have a long way to go. I would like to raise the topic again with you all -- the people who make this site what it is.

I know, I get it. "We live in a small town"... "people know me here, and they have long memories"... "I don't want to be bullied"... or "Why should I? No one ever agrees with me, anyway"... I've heard them all, and I wrassle with the issue every day.

Now, I know that many people are more comfortable posting under screen names and I completely understand the desire for security when using the Internet. No problem. But, as my much better looking and fictional colleague Will McAvoy puts it, "I'm on a mission to bring civility to the Internet" and some of you are going to have to learn that our message boards were not built for cyber-anarchists who like to post libelous "fire and forget" missiles from their darkened rooms.

Testament to the level of intelligence of our readers, I will say that Lamorinda Patch gets far less of this sort of thing than other, similar sites. The quality of our posts, even those harpooning others from behind a screen name, are extremely well written and have had a lot of thought put into them. I don't care. The analogy I keep coming up with are the so-called kangaroo courts of old, or lesser developed modern countries, where "witnesses" with cloth bags over their faces pointed to those they opposed politically or simply didn't like and accused them of something despicable.

There's no better way to smear someone, and I don't like it that I'm handing some people the means to do so. At present, we allow anonymous posts at Lamorinda Patch. Most are fine but a small number cross the line and intimate things from behind the electronic equivalent of a cloth mask. I think that's un-American.

I've noted that some people who have weighed in under screen names and posted prior comments about political candidates who stand -- in the open and with their names and lives on public display -- have re-registered their LamoPatch accounts and taken to using their true names. I am most grateful. On the other hand, a persistent few continue to stomp their feet and accuse me of censorship and worse while willfully libeling their neighbors with reports of impropriety, cover-up, and, in some cases, criminal acts.

Now, we're not afraid of addressing these issues, as longtime readers hopefully know. But I want to know who you are and how you came by the information you're presenting when you use us to present it. You owe that to your neighbors. If you have a tip you want us to look into write me with it. If you want to comment publicly on your neighbor's ability to run for the local school board -- keep your words civil and please post them under your true name.

It's the decent thing to do.

Ian Lipnicky (still a SportsFan) September 02, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Food for thought. A. Not every item that gets posted to Patch needs to allow for comments. You sometimes feature items that are links to other websites. Readers can't comment on those since they're not Patch generated. Case in point: The recent link to a story about Miramonte's principal. Why not give some thought to which categories are appropriate for comments & which aren't? I'd suggest "announcements" probably shouldn't be set-up for comments. B. Some items should be pre-moderated. Blog posts are one of them. Just as your sister/cousin site pre-moderates comments to blogs, so to should Patch. Why would anyone want to blog for Patch when they're using their real name & subjecting themselves to vicious criticism from known & anonymous commenters? I suspect you'd have more people willing to blog if you pre-moderated the comments and screened out the junk. C. Given the limitations of your commenting system, you need to close them after a set number. When the comment thread hits 150 comments, it's not manageable. You can see the most recent comments on the main page but if you click on it, you aren't taken to that comment, you're just taken to the comment list. So, if the comments are up to 175 and the most recent one is a response to comment #43 then it's difficult, if not impossible, to find because you have to hunt through 175.
Miles VanBuren September 02, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Silence Dogood! JD I never thought you would be one to disagree with one of our founding fathers. For those who may not know during the eighteenth century, it was common for writers and journalists to use pseudonyms, or false names, when they created newspaper articles and letters to the editor. Ben Franklin used this venue routinely throughout his life to express ideas that may be slanderous or even illegal by the authorities at the time; other times simply to present two sides of an issue. When Franklin used a pseudonym, he often created an entire persona for the "writer." Sometimes he wrote as a woman, other times as a man, but always with a specific point of view. While all of his writings were focused and logical, many were also humorous, filled with wit and irony. Silence Dogood, Harry Meanwell, Alice Addertongue, Richard Saunders, and Timothy Turnstone were a few of the many pseudonyms Franklin used throughout his career. If using pseudonyms was approving of Ben Franklin and for the record JD you are no Ben Franklin:)))) I say let the people speak under whatever name they wish.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop September 03, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Bronco Nagurski?!? How'd we get there from here? To your point, JD. Ben Franklin had precisely one medium to spread his word (print) and it was difficult and slow and hardly a crowded field. Literacy in colonial times was very limited in general and present in white males in the main. Ben's pseudonyms were well know as his work. The digital soup we swim in today is populated by every sort of psycho-descriptor imaginable and in the interest of clarity, a true ID is the only way to lend credibility and gravitas to one's words. Otherwise I see them as emanating from a single source: the unsure and insecure. I remain foolish enough to actually believe I might learn a thing or two here about my fellow citizens. I admit to taking up unpopular points of view at times to simply turn up the volume. But I would never represent an idea that is not legitimate. I simply discount the ghosties. They are as valuable to me as those that hide behind rote perfunctory extremes, that is to say; not at all. It is less important to me to be correct than to be convinced. There is a great deal of solid factual info here in Patchville, Steve C. comes immediately to mind, and some Philosophical ideologies are pedantically defended to my great amusement. But if you filter out the detritus, the dialogue herein is pretty darn good. Have your doubts? Pick a Patch or two at random (there's over 800) and read a while. You will find JD's nearly erudite by comparison. Out, you, out!
Regular Guy September 03, 2012 at 05:01 PM
J.D., I respectfully disagree. I understand that some people use anonymity to be rude or worse. I understand that those people make a lot of work for you in addition to repelling readers, even the ones who happen to agree with the vile poster. Real names will greatly reduce this misbehavior, making your life easier and improving the readability of the comments. I understand the benefit to you of real names. Now I'd like you to understand the benefit to me and people like me of anonymity. Some of the more fanatical advocates of particular issues seek to suppress expression of opposing opinions by personally attacking anyone who supports the opposition in any way. One example was the call to boycott businesses who contributed to the campaign for Proposition 8. We all should be concerned when taking a public position on an issue puts one's livelihood at risk. That's not respectful disagreement. That's take-no-prisoners war. Then there are the people who feel the need to see the other side of a political issue as evil. These people will end a long friendship over politics. They aren't a majority, but they exist. They normally sit on the locally dominant side of the spectrum. Anonymity means that I don't have to worry whether some nut case will decide to attack me offline. I don't have to worry that a friend who takes politics too seriously will decide to un-friend me. I can speak my mind freely, politely, and I hope persuasively. If anonymity ends, I'm gone.
Ian Lipnicky (still a SportsFan) September 03, 2012 at 05:19 PM
"The neighbor asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation." http://danville.patch.com/articles/stonegate-neighbor-very-shaken-from-friend-s-death "Many people we spoke with did so only after making us promise not to reveal their names or specific locations of their homes." http://lamorinda.patch.com/articles/lamorindans-head-back-to-the-farm-with-sustainable-living Both of these recent Patch stories (one in Lamorinda; one in Danville) were built primarily on the back of individuals who wished to remain anonymous. Patch seemed to agree that anonymity was a reasonable request and warranted. Anonymous commenters have the same concerns as the people interviewed in these stories. If it's a legitimate desire on the part of people being interviewed, it ought to be a legitimate desire on the part of people commenting. When comments, whether anonymous or non-anonymous, cross the line delete them. No explanation is required. Beyond that, I would not worry.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop September 03, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Your examples are unconvincing. The people you mention, you can apparently do without.
Patrice Martens September 03, 2012 at 06:58 PM
I disagree. d- I disagree. Delete any offensive posts without explanation. Period. They will get the message that poison pen emails are not allowed soon.
Dan Perkins September 03, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Censored comment or no my point still stands... Patch is unable to verify or enforce real names so the point is moot.
Ian Lipnicky (still a SportsFan) September 03, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Was Miles arguing to keep comments that violate the rules? I thought Miles was addressing pseudonym usage.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop September 03, 2012 at 09:40 PM
We haf our vays, should ve choose to use them. Any competent IT pro can find out plenty via internet connection/ISP billing records, etc. should an ID be necessary. When I was in the tech biz, I knew guys that could tell me what I had for breakfast! In all but extreme cases this is not necessary. We don't see what JD puts the axe to (I have felt the sting of said weapon and he is generally spot on), and the iffy stuff that makes the cut is pretty harmless. Why would anyone post something that they are; a: unwilling to take credit for, or b: so self-destructive they'd have to worry about it? I believe that politicians are fair game for all of it. The decisions these essentially amateurs (at this level) make can and do carry serious repercussions. A recent local pol got flustered by the heat he took over an about face on a volatile issue and declared (in effect) that once he was elected, he could "do whatever he damned well pleased". He is, of course, correct. But on the other hand, they have too much to say about our lives (and pocketbooks) to be given the 'politeness pass' as regards criticism. Better have a thick skin if you want to play government. Politically motivated decisions are susceptible to 'gloves off' rhetoric IMO.
Jose September 03, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Mr. Stoop: There is no truer believer than a recent convert!
Ray Earle September 03, 2012 at 10:53 PM
I agree with J.D.
Louise Benvenue September 04, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Just have to say, HBOs "The Newsroom" is some of the best television available.
2nd Generation Moraga September 04, 2012 at 04:33 AM
JD, you should be an advocate for free speech and increasing the discussion in any format. This doesn't mean "anything goes" because I do believe that cyber bullying is a real problem, however posts under a pseudonym that meet the agreed upon criteria under the terms of service shoud be welcomed. Those posts that are outside the boundaries (whether anonymous or not) should be deleted.
Chris Nicholson September 04, 2012 at 04:56 AM
As long as you don't mind the thick layer of smug and self-righteous bias, I agree with you. Par for course with Sorkin.
Brad Katkowsky September 04, 2012 at 05:04 AM
Someone has got to play sheriff or else the cowboys take over the town
Louise Benvenue September 04, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I don't mind at all. In fact, as stated, I love it. The program really hands it to the self righteous A-holes that are all over the "real" news every day. I cannot imagine that any one of them would actually go so far as to think about what they are doing - but Hannity, Rush, O'Reilly - all have something to learn, methinks.
J.D. O'Connor (Editor) September 04, 2012 at 11:42 PM
BeaHal -- don't know where those numbers come from but if true it feels as if those 180,000 commenters have all landed at Lamorinda Patch! Having trouble keeping pace with the comment stream!
Nancy Lee September 04, 2012 at 11:44 PM
It was a fun show. Just ended unfortunately
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop September 05, 2012 at 12:02 AM
"How can I miss you, if you won't go away." - Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks Circa: 1969
Rob Armstrong September 05, 2012 at 01:33 AM
What if every comment you uttered at a cocktail party or shooting the breeze with a neighbor was transcribed and archived(and attributed to you) on the Internet? That is the reality of our Internet world including patch. Besides being impossible to enforce, using real names just isn't that wise for people who want to maintain a reasonable level of privacy. Furthermore I would hazard a guess many commenters here using a first and last name do not use their actual names, me included so how do you monitor?
J.D. O'Connor (Editor) September 05, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Morning, Hal... though it has been tough-hoeing at times, I feel we are making progress and "cleaning up the Internet one rogue commenter at a time." Offline comments have been extremely supportive and I am nothing if not stubborn. Appreciate your "eyes on."
J.D. O'Connor (Editor) September 05, 2012 at 02:27 PM
@Dan & Rob -- Gentlemen, thanks for writing. I do not share your fatalistic view and, though it has been tough going and may not seem like it at times, I believe this site is making progress as regards the issue. And thanks for reading.
William H. Thompson September 06, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Our vehicles have license plates, tied to identities of the owners - enabling those who enforce the vehicle use regulations to take appropriate action when violations occur. To the normal driver, another's license plate does not reveal the identity of that person. While I am one who - from first registration here - has used my name in the open and salute others who do so, it seems that a registration process requiring the correct full name of the Patch user along with other verifiable information would be an appropriate way to maintain the anonymity of those who want it, while enforcing the rules of the road for this forum when they do not comply. For those who would not submit to such disclosures and agree to certain rules of conduct, it is my opinion that they should not be allowed on this online "highway."
Sue Haas September 06, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Well said. I agree completely.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop September 06, 2012 at 11:36 PM
The only place of true neutrality is silence. The mechanical and philosophical flaws of language make communication with out an attendant point of view impossible. Assigning ownership to a de facto source of random statements made by random individuals is absurd. Our 'point-of-view' is only valuable to us in the moment in time when it is uttered and to no one else and it degrades exponentially. Whether 'right or wrong' is immaterial because of the nuanced imprecision of the vehicle by which it attempts to assume form. The 'quality' (or lack thereof) of a statement is so utterly unattainable, it begs retraction. If it were not for bias,' identity' would not exist. Someone inevitably knows who every one is by virtue of who they are not. So why bother? Because if we do not 'do' we cannot 'be'. Whomever we think we are. That is why I do not care who you are as I cannot possibly know. Particularly if you claim it is not you saying it.
Scott Bowhay September 07, 2012 at 04:19 AM
JLE, it all sounds the same!
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop September 07, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Yes , it does, Scott! The point exactly. The anonymous poster lacks the confidence of conviction and will not stand behind their statements. Jose, dogs lack the ability to converse and, most likely, the desire.


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