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Thread: What do you think about the policy requiring user identification?

  1. #1
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    Default What do you think about the policy requiring user identification?

    A Discussion Forum user recently emailed me noting that the Discussion Forum seems to be awfully quiet, while there's lots of activity at the Town Crier boards.

    A legitimate question is whether our policy of requiring users to be named is the best policy for this Discussion Forum, and I would like your feedback on it.

    When the Discussion Forum first started, our policy was to require users to either use their real name or identify themselves to the board moderators. If they wanted to remain anonymous, they were not allowed to post anything of a controversial nature (whereas postings like, "Does anybody know when hydrant flushing will occur?" would be perfectly fine.")

    Somewhere along the way, we amended that policy to simply require all users to use their real name as their user name. Our concern was that we wanted to avoid the extreme negativity that we have seen on the Town Crier boards. We encourage active debate and disagreement, but we can "disagree without being disagreeable".

    How do we best encourage useful and energetic debate without encouraging the bad behavior that drives people away from these boards in the first place? What's the right balance? Your thoughts are welcome. Even, especially!, if you disagree with me.

  2. #2
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    My vote is to continue this Discussion Forum as-is. There's been plenty of traffic in the past, and I don't see that there was some sort of "de-nucleating" event that would have changed that.

    That said, I like the idea of allowing anonymous questions--perhaps there could be an "email the administrator" option whereby the administrator could do the posting. Of course, the administrator might have to decide that some questions aren't on the "up-and-up." And, the anonymous asker would have to trust the administrator, but I see absolutely no reason why they wouldn't.

    Also, the Town Crier discussion board doesn't have all that many participants: Dawn, Kim, Jeff D., plus roughly a half-dozen anonymous contributors.

    Kim, do you have a way of reporting posts and views by month?

  3. #3
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    I don't think I have any way to post views by month (other than by manually summing the view data for each post at the end of each month - which anyone is welcome to do!), but I can report on the number of new threads and new posts, if that's useful.

    I like the idea of soliciting questions that I could then post. I have posted things in the past on behalf of people who didn't want to or were not able to post themselves (though in the past always with them identified).

    I would be happy to post questions submitted to me (or the editorial board if that would make more sense) when appropriate. I like this idea.

    I hope others will weigh in. If you have an opinion, and are not registered, please feel free to share it with me and I can post for you (with or without your name attached).

  4. #4
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    Default Keep it!

    My personal feeling is that if you're going to make a comment, you'd best be willing to put your name on it. The Town Crier "discussion" boards seem to be more about lambasting each other than actually having a fruitful discussion. Whenever I read them I swear my blood pressure goes up, so I try to stay away as much as possible. Posting anonymously allows people to say things that they wouldn't necessarily be brave enough to say otherwise.

  5. #5
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    Default User id is good

    I am quiet sometimes because I'm busy. I never will post on the Town Crier boards because so few people use their real names. Even if some of the points could have merit there it sounds like "the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind." (Gene Wilder, Young Frankenstein) The posts and the answers on The Crier are not generally calm and careful discussions - but rather slightly hysterical rants of highly emotional people. The discourse on Waylandenews boards tends to be more rational and even-keeled even when people disagree. I like that.

  6. #6
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    Default Maintain your policy of identification

    Kim,
    It takes a lot of work for you to maintain a site which is vetted for real names and real people who are associated with Wayland.

    I agree with the above posters that the only credible language is language where the author is willing to sign their real name.

    I have posted in the past on the Crier and have found myself sucked into conversations with ghosts and posters who seemed to have multiple handles but usually the same personality. The anonymous posters can hide behind that cloak, throw darts, say cruel things and do it with impunity because they never have to be identified.

    Now that being said, if somebody wants to post on an anonymous forum and be anonymous and if the forum allows it then that is also their right.

    I suppose if one wants to jump into the ocean then they should be prepared to become part of the food chain.

    I see your forum Kim, more as a warm swimming pool.
    So, i'll continue to post here.

  7. #7
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    Why stop at warm swimming pool, let's take the plunge and get a hot tub.

  8. #8
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    Kim, I would urge you to keep identity a requirement here.
    Besides the courtesy of knowing to whom you are communicating, it clearly allows the reader to consider the source.

    If people converse with respect and honesty, there should be little reason for anonymity. If people are interested in engaging in healthy discussions, and are not dysfunctionally acting out in order to fill some wild need for attention, they should be comfortable enough to use their name.

    It's easy to sit on the sidelines and be a critic, but too often those who are anonymous spend their time criticizing those "real people" who are actually doing their best to help our town. Their negativity can be toxic and people should see them for who they really are.

  9. #9
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    Default A Different Perspective

    I have a different view than those expressed in the above posts. And, I have posted on several occasions on the Town Crier board, and have always posted under my real name. Although I wish that everyone would always be willing to post under their real names, I am realistic enough to realize that there are lots of people who just won't do it. And, I think that there are probably a number of reasons why, depending on the particular individual. Some people are shy, some might want to express views that they would prefer others did not know that they held, some might have reasons related to work or to associations and friendships that they have. There are lots of totally legitimate reasons. I greatly enjoy reading electronic bulletin boards for a variety of reasons - entertainment, enlightenment, the ability to get to know someone who is running for office, etc. And, as far as I'm concerned, the more people who participate, the better. If a post is thoughtful, civil and on point, I'd like to read it, even if I don't know who wrote it. It's the substance of the post that I'm interested in, and not the identity of the poster. I do agree that anonymous posters are more likely to say something that they otherwise would not say if their names were attached to it. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Again, it's the substance that's the most important. The negative part is when someone uses his/her anonymity to make personal attacks and to make misrepresentations. And, to be honest, that does happen more often on the Crier board. However, it is my experience that the great majority of anonymous posts on the Crier board are not like that and are respectful and thoughtful, albeit quite direct. The interesting thing from an anecdotal perspective is that I have probably posted on the Crier board 20 times or so, and except for one situation, I have been treated respectfully by those who have disagreed with me, most of which have been anonymous. The one exception involved a poster who personally attacked me making false accusations without any grounds whatsoever, and this same person has made numerous similar types of accusations against others. And, funny thing, that person posts under their actual name. I think that in an ideal world, everyone would use their real names. However, we don't live in an ideal world, and if someone has something to say, I'd rather read it than not, even if they wish to post anonymously. For those that would choose to hide behind their anonymity to act maliciously, they should be ignored, and perhaps their posts should be removed. I think it would be a small minority.

  10. #10
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    I have a proposal for those of you who are interested in this topic and who do not usually follow the Town Crier bulletin board. Lately, the board has, for the most part, evolved (perhaps degenerated) into a dialogue between a person who posts under her real name and about 5 or 6 other posters, a few of whom post under their real names, but most of whom post anonymously. Read a few of the lively threads and determine for yourself which of the group, if any, (a) makes unwarranted accusations and/or (b) makes misleading statements and misrepresentations. Pay particular attention to the anonymous posters, and decide for yourself, not whether you would rather they posted under their real names, but, instead, assume that they would be unwilling to post under their real names for legitimate reasons, and decide whether you would prefer that they not be permitted to express their opinions on these threads. Do they add to or detract from the debate? I'd be curious as to your opinions.

  11. #11
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    Angry A Crier Poster named DUSK has Slandered me

    Quote Originally Posted by Lawrie Glick View Post
    Read a few of the lively threads and determine for yourself which of the group, if any, (a) makes unwarranted accusations and/or (b) makes misleading statements and misrepresentations. Pay particular attention to the anonymous posters, and decide for yourself, not whether you would rather they posted under their real names,.
    Lawrie, its interesting that you posted this challenge. A friend pointed out to me tonight that a poster named DUSK said the following on the Crier

    "Dusk
    It has also bothered me that even though other stories have been posted since the video was posted it has remained the top story. It seems more than a little biased. I guess the person who posted former selectman Reiss' video on their hijacked site probably has something to do with Mr. Reiss."

    The issue of usurping a URL has been characterized as fraud, I'm not sure if that is what it is but if it is, its a crime. And DUSK just accused me of a crime. This hurts my feelings and I do not deserve this type of treatment. If DUSK were using his/her own name then I would have to believe that he/she would not be so bold and callous.

    I'm going to state for the record here:
    I produced a youtube video from taping live, off the air a comcast channel 9 WayCAM broadcast which was an approximate 2 minute uninterrupted and complete segment of an exchange between Selectmen's Leard and Tichnor on the subject of the recent SOS party. I added a front end of introduction, posted some rhetorical questions, added some music and added a copyright notice on the backend with my webaddress www.AJReiss.com

    I submitted a youtube URL to WVN, to the Crier and through an iWeb widget on my website. I later discovered that www.soswayland.com had been linked to my youtube web URL. Anybody can link their URL to anybody and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it.

    I Alan J. Reiss do hereby swear that; do not own that URL, I did not register it, I did not protect it, I did not ask for it and I do not know who did it. When I heard about it, I put out a stern word far and wide in our small town and it was disconnected sometime later on. I do not know who did it and I will not be trying to find out. It is not my focus or my issue.

    I know that running for Selectman puts me in line for criticism and retort. I am in the kitchen and I can handle the heat but I do not deserve to be made a pawn of some anonymous poster who does not like me as a candidate and wishes to slander my good name and my good work and dedication with the town of Wayland. I was a selectman, I do deserve some small degree of respect, just as I respect others.

    If Mr. or Ms. DUSK wishes to continue to slander me then let that person come here and be identified by name and accuse me in the daylight.

    Else this slanderous matter is closed and I mean closed DUSK.

    Lawrie, that is my answer to your challenge.
    Last edited by AlanJReiss; 03-07-2009 at 12:11 AM.

  12. #12
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    Hang on a second, Alan. Speaking only of the particular post by Dusk that you cite, I see no accusation whatsoever against you.
    "Dusk
    It has also bothered me that even though other stories have been posted since the video was posted it has remained the top story. It seems more than a little biased. I guess the person who posted former selectman Reiss' video on their hijacked site probably has something to do with Mr. Reiss."

    In this instance, Dusk has said only that (1) your video remains a prominent story on the Wayland Town Crier home page despite not being the most recent, and (2) that the person who misappropriated soswayland.com knows you. I don't interpret any of this as accusing you of wrong-doing.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lawrie Glick View Post
    I have a proposal for those of you who are interested in this topic and who do not usually follow the Town Crier bulletin board. Lately, the board has, for the most part, evolved (perhaps degenerated) into a dialogue between a person who posts under her real name and about 5 or 6 other posters, a few of whom post under their real names, but most of whom post anonymously. Read a few of the lively threads and determine for yourself which of the group, if any, (a) makes unwarranted accusations and/or (b) makes misleading statements and misrepresentations. Pay particular attention to the anonymous posters, and decide for yourself, not whether you would rather they posted under their real names, but, instead, assume that they would be unwilling to post under their real names for legitimate reasons, and decide whether you would prefer that they not be permitted to express their opinions on these threads. Do they add to or detract from the debate? I'd be curious as to your opinions.
    Lawrie, as you know from our own exchanges on this topic in the past, I am definitely torn on this issue. You are right that there is not a 1:1 correlation between good behavior and accurate posting and named posters. However, there is a correlation, and I contend it is strong.

    It is my opinion that there is only one named poster who is consistently badgering, attacking and inaccurate (of several who have historically been on those boards), and that there are several unnamed posters who have those attributes.

    But more importantly, it is my belief (completely without proof, I admit) that in the past there have been posters who posted BOTH anonymously and with a name, and that in those instances, the anonymous postings contained the venom, while the named postings were much more civil.

    A listened to part of an NPR piece on anonymous harassment on the web (I'll have to dig up the podcast and listen to the rest of it) in which a possible solution that was raised was requiring that posters provide their real information to the owners of the board (so they could be held accountable), but allowing anonymous posting.

    In concept, I like this idea, but (1) I don't think people who want to be anonymous would be comfortable providing the information to me (however trustworthy I may be!), and (2) under what circumstances could the names be pulled forth? a lawsuit only? It is hard to see any of this stuff going that far.

    This is, however, a policy I wish that TownOnline would employ if they are to continue anonymous posting.

    Just dug it up. Here's the link to the NPR piece: (http://www.onpointradio.org/shows/20...er-harassment/)
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 03-07-2009 at 07:52 AM. Reason: to add the link to the NPR piece

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lawrie Glick View Post
    Pay particular attention to the anonymous posters [on the Town Crier discussion board], and decide for yourself, not whether you would rather they posted under their real names, but, instead, assume that they would be unwilling to post under their real names for legitimate reasons, and decide whether you would prefer that they not be permitted to express their opinions on these threads. Do they add to or detract from the debate? I'd be curious as to your opinions.
    The Town Crier discussion board is characterized by a handful of anonymous posters who are generally supportive of me and one anonymous poster who is not. So, on balance, I am probably "helped" by anonymous posting. Nonetheless, I would like to do away with the practice.

    As it turns out, the worst damage done on the Town Crier discussion board is by a single person who does NOT post anonymously. That person is vindictive, insulting, and by all appearances, wholly ignorant of the distinction between fact and opinion. That person to my recollection has never once said anything positive--and certainly nothing of substance--about town government or town services. That person will not even make actionable suggestions about how to improve town government or town services. Moreover, I have never heard a single person write or speak in support of this person. (Please note that by posting here, I am not hiding this opinion of mine from that person--I have said as much on the Town Crier discussion board.)

    So, does banning anonymity absolutely improve the tone of the conversation? No, it does not. But it certainly improves the tone, and if nothing else, adds a layer of accountability.

  15. #15
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    Alan, for what it's worth, when I read that post from Dusk, I did not think that he was accusing you of any wrongdoing, and it didn't even cross my mind that he was accusing you of establishing that web address. Anyone in Wayland who knows you would certainly have no doubt that you would never have done anything like that. My suggestion is that you respond to Dusk on the Crier board, and I would be surprised if you didn't get an appropriate reply. On the other hand, if you read all of the recent posts, although Dusk is quite direct and does not mince words, Dusk's comments have added positively to the debate about the schools and particularly about Wayland's property values, and I think have helped to clear up and expose some of the misstatements and exaggerations that appear to have been made by another poster.

    Kim, I agree with you. I do realize that there are some problems with anonymous posting, and you've hit on a few of them. There definitely are more anonymous posters who make attacks, and you're also correct that there may be problems with people posting under several anonymous names and also people posting under a real and an anonymous name. There's no way to prove it, but it certainly could be happenning. However, I still believe that the great majority of anonymous posts are within the bounds of civil discourse, and I would prefer that they were allowed to post, and try to figure out a way to deal with the very few posts that are outside the bounds.

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