It is the end of an era. After much discussion and consideration, the Vanguard has decided that effective 4 pm on Thursday, December 22, 2016, we will change our comment system. We have decided to go to Facebook logins for most users (with some exceptions that I will lay out shortly).
Anonymous posting has long been a heated topic of conversation, both on the pages of the Vanguard as well as in the community. This was not a decision that was made lightly. It seems the issue has come up at least once a year for a long time.
In the last three or four months, the Vanguard editorial board has had three discussions on the comment policy. Our belief is that the perception of allowing anonymous posters and the overall belief by many that they will be attacked by anonymous posters have become a barrier to the growth of the Vanguard.
We reached out to well over 100 people who cited the allowance of anonymous posters as THE chief reason for their lack of participation in the discussions and, in some cases, they reduced readership of the Vanguard as a whole.
A recent comment on Nextdoor illustrates the dilemma: “The Davis Vanguard is the place to go for hardball politics, local real estate development or other big topics. I highly recommend it, but since people on the Vanguard are not required to use their real names, it can get a bit rough.”
My observation has always been that people can be just as nasty under their own name, but the perception of being attacked personally, without a chance to respond to someone in kind, is a deterrent to participation.
There have been several articles in the last six months, where named authors were attacked by anonymous posters to the point where they will not be participating any longer.
It has been clear to me for some time that we needed to change things. Change is scary and it can be uncertain.
Back in 2009, after a particularly tumultuous election for the Measure P – Wildhorse Ranch Project – the climate on the Vanguard was far worse. Based on that, we made some major changes. First, we required registration for people to post comments. Prior to that some people were registered, but many simply entered a name and often the same person would post under many different names in the same thread.
By requiring registration, we saw a brief drop off in comments, but they quickly rebounded.
At that time as well, we added Don Shor as a volunteer but full-time moderator. That dramatically improved the tone on the Vanguard, but it has not solved the problems.
We now have 5 to 10 times more readers than we did back in 2009, and the Vanguard is much more prominent than it was back then.
There are concerns that Facebook registrations will kill the comment section and thus readership. Some have cited the Enterprise change to Facebook registration as that which wiped out much of their discussion.
However, I believe this is a change we must do, even if it decreases readership in the short term.
We are not completely eliminating all anonymous posters – as I will explain in a moment.
On Thursday at 4 pm, everyone will need to log on through a Facebook account. This is an effort to ensure that people register under their real and, while there are workarounds for their doing so through a Facebook account, it will be fairly transparent.
However, there are people who have a legitimate reason to remain anonymous – their business may be threatened, they may need to act as a whistleblower, etc.
We have a system to allow them to remain anonymous. They will have to petition the Vanguard. They will have to provide the following in writing: (1) Their name, (2) a valid email address, (3) a valid phone number and (4) the reason why need to remain anonymous.
It is our intent that this will be a small number of people only. We will keep confidential their identity and information, but that information will be known to the Vanguard.
Anonymous posters will be moderated much more stringently than people posting through their Facebook profile and we will have very strict rules about multi-registration (although, despite views to the contrary, the number of multi-registrations with the Vanguard are fairly limited).
All petitions should be submitted to: firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be reviewed and processed expeditiously.
Anyone requiring technical assistance for setting up a Facebook Account or logging into the new system can do so by contacting me at the same address.
It is our hope that this will improve the user experience and, from my conversations in the community, this is a change that will be embraced by many who are not participating now.
—David M. Greenwald reporting