Coastsider now requires real names and prior review of all comments

Posted by on Fri, November 18, 2005

I put this off as long as I could.  Effective immediately, all comments posted to stories will be reviewed before they’re released on the site, and all people posting comments are required to use their real names.

I’ve been considering it for a while, but decided to wait until after the election because several pseudonymous posters were posting pretty heavily and critically on the site. I didn’t want anyone to get the impression that we were suppressing opinions.

Then, last weekend, someone posted something genuinely disgusting on the site while I was out of town.  By a stroke of luck, we managed to remove it pretty quickly, but I never want to repeat the experience.

This is a big step, so I hope you’ll be patient as we get the bugs worked out of the system.  My main goals are to avoid a repeat of what happened last week, and to lift the quality of the discourse by making posters responsible for what they say.

We will review new posts as quickly as possible.  We will require that posters get their facts straight and not make personal attacks. There will be more leeway in commenting on officeholders and candidates, but you will be expected to follow the Golden Rule.  If you don’t know what that is, ask your mom.

I will try to verify identities of posters.  If you’re going to post, you will need to click on the "Your profile" link in the left-hand navigation bar, and enter your real name in the field labeled "Name on your posts".  If I don’t know you, I may ask you to verify your identity.

I’m sorry I had to do this. But, I believe this will improve the quality of the conversation on Coastsider in the long run.

Comment 1
Fri, November 18, 2005 4:32pm
HMB Ranger
All my comments

Well this is disappointing. You may be referring to me, although I never imagined that critical comments would be considered out of line.

I can’t post under my real name, because I’m in a position where there could be repercussions. Of course, you’ll have to take my word for that, but that’s the way it is.

At any rate, this will clearly be my last post. Good luck to the rest of you.

Comment 2
Fri, November 18, 2005 4:58pm
Brian Ginna
All my comments

HMB Ranger,

me too.  email me at <email>[email protected]</email>

I am sure you can figure out what the xxxxx is.

Comment 3
Fri, November 18, 2005 5:18pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

I’ve released HMBRanger and Bginna’s comments to give them a chance to say their goodbyes.

For the record. I don’t remember anything either of them posted that I wouldn’t have cleared.

I think there are 2 reasonable setups:
1) Unmoderated, real name required, people are held responsible for what they post.  Subscribers must be vetted (real name verified) before they’re allowed to post.
2) Moderated, real name optional, moderator tosses back unacceptable anonymous posts.  Moderator may still require that the real name be known to the moderator.

Since I was old enough to read a newspaper I’ve never understood why (print) newspapers won’t print anonymous letters.  After all, they are screening what they print.

Newspapers that require real names and then on top of that edit what’s submitted and sometimes change the meaning, intentionally or unintentionally, are out of line.  The Review does this routinely. (*)  If it’s my name on the letter, it needs to be printed as I wrote it. (**)  If the editor has a problem with what’s submitted, they should kick it back for revision.

So Coastsider’s new policy doesn’t fall into either of my “reasonable setups.”  While I assume that approved posts will be put up unedited, I still think that the moderator should allow some anonymous posts.  I wouldn’t allow any anonymous attacks, even on government agencies, because that’s just an underhanded way of attacking the people running those agencies.  Yes, it’s a fuzzy line between legitimate criticism and attacks.  That’s why moderating can be difficult.

(*) An example of the Review tweaking a letter and royally screwing up the meaning is a letter that was submitted using the term “CQx”, which I invented in some private email after CQP turned into CQL (or was it the other way around?).  (Clearly the recipients of that private email understand CQx since one of them used in the letter to the Review.)  The Review changed it to whichever the current name was, which destroyed the point of writing “CQx”.

(**) An example of unacceptable editing of something with my name on it was a submission from me containing “CSD”.  The Review changed my letter by spelling out what CSD stands for and then inserting “(known by the acronym CSD)”.  Well, unpronouncable initials are NOT “acronyms”, and I actually got an anonymous phone call from a retired teacher who was miffed enough about the misuse of “acronym” to call me to straighten me out about it.  I had to explain that I understood that and it wasn’t the way I wrote it.

Comment 5
Sat, November 19, 2005 11:18pm
Darin Boville
All my comments

Leonard’s “reasonable setup” #1 is closer to what I see as the ideal solution. I don’t know the history of the post that caused Barry to institute the new rules but I suspect that if people were required to use their real names the tone of some of these posts would change.

After all, Coastsider, as Barry has expressed in print, in an exercise in community-building and openness. I would find it valuable to hear my neighbors’ views on things—mystery posters aren’t much in the way of neighbors.

But I also see the need to set limits. This isn’t the Usenet, after all.  We don’t need trolls and people set on causing trouble.

Barry should set out a few basic ground rules (or re-state them, to be more accurate) about what sort of posts are improper. And then delete those where he feels his ground rules have been violated. (Posting a placeholder to inform others of the deletion, of course.)

Coastsider isn’t public property, although it is an asset and a resource to the community. (It was, in fact, one of the key resources I used to learn about about the various communities in the Bay Area and influenced my choice in deciding to move here from the Easy Coast last year.) Barry needs to set rules and enforce them so losers don’t destroy the valuable thing that he has created (on his own initiative, with his own time and money).

The trick is to do it in line with the goals of community-building and openess. Requiring real names is certainly a step in the right direction.

If someone has facts to share but are afraid of revealing their identity they need not despair. I’m sure Barry would love to hear their tips and leads for future stories. But an opinion by the same person, with a secret identity, is of much less value.

—Darin (real name Darin Boville, in Montara!)

Comment 6
Sun, November 20, 2005 9:11am
Barry Parr
All my comments

Seeing real names in the Recent Comments list makes me feel good about my decision. It changes the whole atmosphere of the discussion to know who you’re talking to.

It also makes me nervous that some people say they can’t comment on the site unless they were anonymous.

I will respect requests for confidentiality. I have a strict policy of not sharing email addresses used for registration. And it couldn’t be easier to send an anonymous tip or have an anonymous email conversation with with me.

If you want to make an anonymous comment, there’s always the Review’s Open Line.

Comment 7
Sun, November 20, 2005 2:42pm
Scott Boyd
All my comments

The Review’s Open Line is a great example of a bad idea.

On the surface, it seems to offer a voice to those who don’t like to write letters, or who might feel uncomfortable saying something if their name had to be attached.  But is the result worth the actual consequences?

Over the course of the past several years, I have urged a number of the editors to consider modifying the process to add some accountability and temperance.  While I’ve heard a number of good-sounding reasons from those editors in support of Open Line, the fact remains that it provides a home for cowardly attacks.

The Review has little way to ascertain the factual correctness of any given anonymous verbal message, and has shown little regard for even doing what they can.  It also allows the Review, should they choose to do so, to favor familiar voices with whom they might agree, and so join a faceless attack.

Anonymous sources have a place in journalism.  The New York Times’ ombudsman has a relatively good piece on Anonymity:// Who Deserves It this weekend.

Barry has cast a vote in the direction of accountability and journalistic standards.  It’s the right direction.

Comment 8
Mon, November 21, 2005 11:48am
Leonard Woren
All my comments

I agree that Open Line is a big problem.  Scott wrote “it provides a home for cowardly attacks.”  While that’s true, I’d add that—maybe more significantly—it provides a home for baseless, unsupported, and unsupportable attacks.

Thanks for posting the NYT link.  It’s a good article.  I guess we won’t see the Review adopting those policies…

Somebody please explain to me what the difference is between the Review and the way that Voice of the Coast was characterized by some people?  Both have a clear agenda, and both are selective in what “news” they report.  And the Review’s slant is much more blatant.  VotC is needed for that very reason:  to give a voice to the viewpoints that the Review ignores and/or disparages.