There are those who will believe that the decision to eliminate anonymous postings is politically driven – that is untrue. I have always taken pride in the fact that all voices come to the Vanguard to express themselves.
However, twice in the last three months or so the treatment of people who have submitted articles to the Vanguard caused me to severely re-think my longstanding support for anonymous posters. In both cases anonymous posters tore apart the authors, hiding behind the veil of anonymity. The treatment was so harsh that both authors requested their article be pulled, and it took some doing to get them not to.
I bring that up because, for many of the anonymous posters, their stated reason for remaining anonymous was that they are a conservative in a liberal town. As “Sam” put it, “Davis is a small town and my personal views do not align with about 90% of the population.” Sam, in fact, I am sorry to see go – he was always respectful and made good arguments.
But still there is irony here.
Here another would compare the position of conservatives in Davis to “a transgender black atheist with a Hillary bumper sticker on his Prius would feel in a 99% white Mississippi Bible Belt town where 90% of the people voted for Trump.”
Said by a poster who frequently used personal information that named posters and would volunteer to bludgeon them behind the cloak of anonymity.
Vanguard Board member Tia Will, one of the dissenters on the issue of eliminating anonymity, I think put this issue very bluntly.
She wrote, “To those who are leaving because of any kind of ‘fear’ whether that is of economic harm, or social harm either to yourself or your family members, I am sad to see you go. I am concerned about the loss of distinct minority opinion voices. I would ask those of you who are leaving to take a moment to reflect on the fears that are driving you away from commenting, and ask yourself whether these may not be the same kinds of fears that many of us are now feeling if we have Mexican or Muslim family members, or if we have a tenuous hold on access to health care.”
She added, “Please bear in mind that direct threats have been made, and many of us cannot do something as simple as not commenting on a small city blog. So when you go to criticize someone else’s fears as ‘unrealistic’ or ‘hysterical,’ please think about why you are no longer commenting.”
To me that is ironic to the point of near rank hypocrisy. You see, the very people fleeing from the Vanguard because of fear that they will be retaliated against for being a conservative in liberal Davis are the very people, almost to a person, who have belittled the fears of Muslims and immigrants as hysteria.
For months the fears of people of color have been dismissed and derided. For years, I have pointed out that people of color, often children in schools, have enjoyed a different experience in Davis than others, and this notion has been summarily dismissed.
But here we are, faced with the prospect of exposing their viewpoint in their own community, and they go running for the hills.
This was a difficult decision. Even after I knew something had to change, it took several months of discussions. Weighing against this decision was the belief that there needed to be a space where people could express their opinion without fear of retaliation. Also weighing against the decision was the knowledge that many people posting under their own name could be just as uncivil.
But there was also a fundamental fairness issue, an information asymmetry that weighed in favor of ending anonymous posters. I got tired of reading attacks on individuals using personal information, with the veil of anonymity to protect the posters.
They fear retaliation in this town, but do not hesitate to go after people from their safe vantage point.
In the end, the decision became very clear. Something had to change. More and more people told me that they stopped participating, stopped reading the comment section, stopped reading the Vanguard altogether because of the hostile environment.
People who would have ordinarily wanted to participate chose not to, because they didn’t want to subject themselves to a small group of anonymous posters.
So now we’ll see if these people will come back and participate. I hope some of the anonymous posters who have left will change their minds and choose to participate under their own names. That we will see.
Today is a new day and a new start.
—David M. Greenwald reporting