Sunday Commentary: It is Time For a Change – Ending Anonymity on the Vanguard

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On January 1, 2019 for the first time since the Vanguard’s founding on July 30, 2006, only people who post under their full names will be allowed to comment on the Vanguard.  In a very real way, this will mark the culmination of one nearly 13-year journey and the beginning of another.

Perhaps only the most long time of readers will recall but originally the entire Vanguard was anonymous – when I founded the Vanguard, I created the name Doug Paul Davis under which I posted for two full years.  When I started, most people didn’t even know who Doug Paul Davis was.

The original concept coming out of very contentious times in 2006 was that the Vanguard would be an anonymous whistle blowing website.  No one would know who was behind it, but it would hold public officials accountable.

While that sounds crazy in retrospect, at the time, I tried to pattern it out of a feature from the San Luis Obispo “New Times” – an alternative weekly, which had a regular column, “The Shredder” which as the name implies, anonymous “shredded” public officials and uncovered wrongdoing.

As it turned out, it was a lot easier to run a normal newspaper with a single anonymous feature, than an entire anonymous publication.

Over the course of the next 13 years – necessity and practical considerations would slowly win out.  By January 2007, I made the decision to “come out” in a Sacramento Bee article that greatly expanded our readership.  By the end of 2008, I dropped the pseudonym entirely – it was too confusing for me to write under one name and meet with people under my real name.

It has been an evolving journey.  In 2009, following a very contentious battle of Wildhorse Ranch, we made several changes.  We required registration in order to post comments – that meant that people could post under whatever name they wanted, but it was going to be fixed.  At the same time, we brought on Don Shor, as a full time, volunteer moderator to keep things a bit more civil.

In 2016, we decided to eliminate most anonymous postings, but we allowed a handful of people to post under a first name and last initial.

The decision to end anonymous postings was not one we undertook lightly.  For seven years now, the Vanguard has had an editorial board and since the first days in Spring 2012, when the board was comprised of: Matt Williams, Tia Will, Robb Davis, Bernie Goldsmith, and Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald – the most contentious issue has always been anonymous posting.

To be honest, I was the final holdout on the board for the change.  My original concept still holds weight for me – the idea that people should be able to point out wrongdoing without fear of retaliation.  It is why we have retained features like Yolo Leaks that allows for anonymous tips or full on leaks.

But what I did not anticipate when we started was the degree to which anonymity acts as a shield for decency.  Let me be clear – because I have made this argument many times in our meetings – if you do a comparison between certain anonymous posters and certain “named posters” – you in fact may not be able to discern which one is acting more egregiously.

However, when you have an anonymous poster, there is an inherent asymmetry.  One person operates at an information advantage and one person operates at an information disadvantage.  And so, we have cases where anonymous posters have pulled up public information about the private lives to attack individuals who are posting under their actual names.

This is not just a case where the phenomenon called doxing is an annoyance, but actually a deterrence to public participation.

The perception of people being attacked by a horde of anonymous posters has led people to either not participate on the Vanguard or stop participating.  In some cases, some very notable and prominent people in this community have stopped participating on the Vanguard because of attacks from anonymous people.

Several points I want to address:

First, I value a diversity of viewpoints.  We have always had an open publication policy.  I have never rejected a local submission because I disagree with it.  It would be our hope that people of all political persuasions locally and nationally will feel free to participate in our discussions.  We hope that over time, these changes will allow our commenting population to grow again.

Second, the perception of the Vanguard comment section is that it feels at times like the Wild Wild West.  Even with the diligent efforts of Don Shor to patrol it.  Moreover, to many it feels like there is an anonymous good ole boys network ready to strike down people who venture in unwittingly.  This move is designed to change this culture.

Third, as many have pointed out, it is not nearly enough simply to go after anonymous posters – I agree.  So we will crack down on comments from all participants that are personal attacks.  It is a fine line between attacking the idea and attacking the individual – but it is important to guard that line.

Fourth, for 13 years we have tended to view the idea that more comments were better than less comments.  But as I have seen in recent weeks, there have been a number of articles where there are a lot of comments but the quality of those comments is lacking.  There is no substantive conversation.  Or worse yet, the conversation breaks down into name-calling and insults.  That doesn’t invite others to participate.

This is a move that will seek to change the culture of posting on the Vanguard.  For many who have followed the Vanguard over the years, they will have to see it to believe.  Culture is a tough thing to change.  But the Vanguard will be undergoing many changes at one – a new comment policy, a new website, and a new major marketing effort.

We will see what that future will bring.  But just as our initial changes were driven by necessity, we believe that in order for the Vanguard to reach the next step, this too must change.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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104 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: It is Time For a Change – Ending Anonymity on the Vanguard”

  1. Keith O

    And so, we have cases where anonymous posters have pulled up public information about the private lives to attack individuals who are posting under their actual names.

    Just as you’ve had cases where people posting under their actual names have looked up public information to attack other individuals.

    I really do think most of the problems came from two commenters, one named and one anonymous.  Your readers know who they are.

    when I founded the Vanguard, I created the name Doug Paul Davis under which I posted for two full years. 

    Over the years did you ever post under other aliases?

     

     

     

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “I really do think most of the problems came from two commenters, one named and one anonymous. Your readers know who they are.”

      I really disagree. I’ll never forget Claudia Krich, respected member of this community posted a piece I think it was on Sterling. I didn’t agree with her – btw – but she was treated so badly by the commenters, she didn’t want to send another piece. It’s not one thing. We’ll see what happens with the changes we are going to make – and it’s not just going to be getting rid of anonymous posters. I haven’t posted under an alias since I stopped posting as Doug Paul Davis.

      1. Ron

        David:  “I haven’t posted under an alias since I stopped posting as Doug Paul Davis.”

        I could have sworn that there was another “evil twin” on here, a couple years back.

        In any case, looking forward to the change / break. Most of the subjects have been beaten to death already, on here.

        By the way, the “other” blog apparently doesn’t strictly require full names, but they do moderate comments before they’re posted.

  2. Jim Frame

    David, It’s your site

    In spirit, perhaps, and in terms of day-to-day control, yes, but in fact it belongs to The People’s Vanguard of Davis, Inc.  My impression is that the corporation’s board of directors made a policy determination, and the job of management (i.e. David) is to implement that policy even if it/he disagrees.

    1. Alan Miller

      the corporation’s board of directors made a policy determination, and the job of management (i.e. David) is to implement that policy even if it/he disagrees.

      Have you actually been in management/board role on a nonprofit?  Sounds like a “how it SHOULD” be viewpoint.  Believe me, as a former executive director of a nonprofit, it is quite easy to go against the will of the board majority while pretending to go along with it (if you are good at it, which I was).

  3. Howard P

    Have blocked a number of those on ‘dearth row’, but will guess some will follow Dylan Thomas’ advice, and “not go gently into that good night”…

    VG is doing what appears to be a good thing…

    Something about “auld acquaintances” ?

      1. Howard P

        Same here…

        May “sit out” for a month or so before taking “the plunge” (or, not)… partly out of curiosity to see if the “gloom and doom” predictions as to the VG becoming a mono-culture… best if I took a hiatus to examine the results, without affecting them (results).  [yes, I recognize ‘abstinence’ may also affect results…]

        I only hesitate due to some professional reasons, and I am sure my writing style (and opinions) will not change much… most will readily equate my ‘real name’ with my past/current employment and posts as “howard p”.  [which actually are parts of my true name]

        I’ve given ‘clues’ as to my past and current employment… and David, Don, and maybe 3-4 others have always known who I am… but I have a lot of personal info readily available on ‘the web’… because I worked for the City, and am retired… so still chewing on whether to continue as a poster, or just an anonymous reader.

        John, best to you and yours for 2019…

  4. Howard P

    Just dawned on me, so will ‘share’ as potentially a ‘short-timer’…

    David wrote, above,

    In 2016, we decided to eliminate most anonymous postings, but we allowed a handful of people to post under a first name and last initial.

    There was one notable exception to that… that poster should have no gripes about the newest change, IMHO…

        1. Alan Miller

          The parable:  “A cat decides to jump off a fence, where is the cat?  Answer:  Still on the fence; he has only decided, not acted.”

          In the case of The V, decide and acted, but more and more half the comments (or so) were still from the anondoids; a half-baked policy is no policy at all.

  5. Alan Miller

    as I have seen in recent weeks, there have been a number of articles where there are a lot of comments but the quality of those comments is lacking.

    I resemble that remark.

  6. Sharla C.

    Since my first name is unique, this will not be much of a change for me.

    I tried commenting on that other blog and was soundly berated and will never do so again, so I understand some people’s unwillingness to venture out.

    1. Ron

      My guess is that the Vanguard will attract development-oriented commenters, while the “other” blog will attract slow-growthers. It’s already that way.

      I have not seen anyone “berated” on the other blog, although I did not see your comment.  Regardless, it’s nothing like what occurs, here.

      The advantage that the Vanguard has is that it’s run as a business.  This means that it will remain more consistently published, even if the same topics are covered over-and-over, again. Some may mistake the frequency of publication with “popularity” for the views espoused. (Especially given the “major new marketing effort” that is planned for the Vanguard, according to the article above.)

      1. Sharla C.

        It started when I received an unsolicited posting on Facebook by the site.  This coincided with news emerging that Russians and other nefarious groups had created Facebook sites in an effort to manipulate and sway voters.  I posted that I was hesitant to believe political information posted on any Facebook page that couldn’t be corroborated or vetted and was making an effort to keep Facebook just social.  This was obviously misunderstood to mean that the his new site’s information was suspect and I was viciously attacked by the author.  He copied and pasted comments that I had made on the Vanguard to his Facebook page as proof of what I know not.  I finally deleted my original comment, which then deleted the whole stream of comments to end it.  He never understood the point that I was making and I will not attempt to engage again.

        1. Ron

          Sounds like this primarily occurred on Facebook (and indirectly from the Vanguard), rather than on the “other” blog.  Actually, most articles on the “other” blog don’t generate a lot of back-and-forth comments, as they do on the Vanguard.

          In any case, I’m honestly sorry that you felt attacked, however it occurred.

        2. Sharla C.

          The posting was from the other blog and the back and forth was on that blog’s Facebook page only with one of that blog’s editors after the new blog’s article appeared in my Facebook news feed.

      2. Alan Miller

        My guess is that the Vanguard will attract development-oriented commenters, while the “other” blog will attract slow-growthers. It’s already that way.

        Just like the real word.  Echo Chamber Society . . . killing us slowly since the invention of the internet.

  7. Howard P

    Interesting observation… fits with my impression in glancing at it a couple of times… like some “royal houses”, looks like there is a bunch of “in-breeding” going on there… genetically, in-breeding is not a good formula for a healthy society…

    [meant as a reply to Sharla’s post a bit earlier]

  8. Jeff M

    First point I want to make:  Happy New Year to all my VG friends… even Hobbs!

    Second point: This is a mistake… but not everyone that runs a business has great business sense.  The logic of it is also tortured and full of hypocrisy given the stated mission on the enterprise.

    For a moment think of council chambers or another facility where members of the community come together to speak out against some issue or pending policy.  The room would be filled with butterflies, owls, wolves and bears.  It is the standard community thing… diverse people, diverse views, diverse personalities, diverse approaches to getting try and get what they think they want or need.   This change to the VG is analogous to pursuit of some chilling homogeneous scene out of The Giver that only welcomes the uniformed butterflies and owls.   It will be a sanitized and uninteresting place where a pursuit of conformity supersedes all other considerations other than making sure no butterflies are harmed, and no owls get their feathers ruffled.

    Third point: I won’t be back.  A place without any wolves or bears is boring and uninspiring… and not at all what the real world looks like.

    And don’t start with your stupid and artificial shaming of those of us that cannot post our real opinions using our real full name that can be searched on the Internet by the leftist mob having provide much, much clear evidence that it promotes a tactic of destroying people and business that supports things that are in conflict with their modern leftist orthodoxy.

    But I do wish you all a good life… even Hobbs.

    1. Ron

      Best wishes, Jeff.  The epic exchanges between you and Tia are one of the reasons that I ventured into the Vanguard.

      But ultimately, I’m thinking that participating on here is a waste of time and energy, anyway. It’s a bad, addictive habit, like crack cocaine. Especially when only one side of issues is presented as “fact”.

      1. Craig Ross

        Ironically and I say this as someone who disagrees heavily with both you and Jeff – both of you fail to recognize how much influence you gain by posting here, how much exposure you get on here.  You’ll never have another platform as influential.

        1. Howard P

          Let’s be “real” here, Craig… no offense intended…

          how much influence you gain by posting here, how much exposure you get on here.  You’ll never have another platform as influential.

          Let’s break that down… “how much influence you gain by posting here”… de minimus, for any… I seriously doubt if one vote has been swayed (but some may have been reinforced) in any direction… mostly venting, ‘getting off’ on justifying one’s own views, often by questioning (the P-A’s) or or denigrating others by uber generalizations(“lefties”, snowflakes”, party affiliations, “righties”, Nazi’s, etc., etc.).  

          “how much exposure you get on here”… most of the exposure is akin to ‘flashing’… and often exposes inane, incorrect, misleading etc. “truths” (in the eye of the poster)… that was the downfall of several of us, refuting the ‘crap’ (and doing so in a less than polite fashion)… no one here is cited in respectable publications,that I know of.

          You’ll never have another platform as influential.“… spot on, of that I have no doubt! Will be de minimus, but likely be the height of influence any of us may have, at least on blogs.

          Craig,  happy New Year, for you and yours… I used your comment to reinforce how little “impact” any poster here or anywhere has [at least via the blog… might have greater influence ‘in the real world’.  IMHO.

        1. Keith O

          I agree, I’m getting off the stuff cold turkey starting tomorrow.
          If you see a guy tomorrow walking naked downtown with the heeby jeebies that will be me.

        2. Ron

          I’m thinking that I shouldn’t even read the Vanguard.  Then again, it might have some of the earliest news (and advocacy) regarding the MRIC relaunch, via “direct communication” with the developer.

          I also suspect that the Vanguard will continue to try to stir up/facilitate trouble regarding Measure R, but I’m also reasonably sure that this will ultimately fail.

    2. Howard P

      Recall, that at public comment @ CC meetings, folk are asked to identify themselves, for the record… Davis has not gone to the “speaker request card” like the Co and other jurisdictions have… hope we never do… still, commenting ‘publicly’ often means identifying yourself… for the record… the VG is not asking anything more…

      As Sharla pointed out, and I’ve viewed, the “other blog” is more restrictive (and at least as caustic as to ‘dissenters’ who dare to post there, per Sharla)… requires permission of the author of an article, in order to respond… very direct “moderation”… orders of magnitude more restrictive than the VG, even under the new rules.

      To wit:

       
      Post a comment

      Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

      Not particularly surprised, as to the other blog, given the ‘frequent flyers’… authors and commenters…

      Think “1984” or “Fahrenheit 451″… if that is the sign of “progressivism”, I’ll pass… even though I’ll be a ‘non-person’ here in a few hours…

      Even with the changes, the VG will be more “open” to honest thought/opinion than appears to be the case on “Davisite.org”… will still read VG… may or may not post…

      1. Jim Hoch

        Howard,

        I went over to look and it’s a complete joke despite the fact I am generally more supportive of their viewpoints. Despite my being in opposition to most of David’s politics I will generally sit near him IRL if I have the opportunity.

      2. Ron

        Regarding a comparison between the Vanguard, vs. the “other blog”:

        The Vanguard is a business (and is operated as such – with a full-time founder, a board, and moderator), along with a “major new marketing effort” – according to the article, above.

        The other is a community blog, which I believe does not accept advertising or donations.  And, was founded by someone fed up with getting attacked on the Vanguard, as I recall.

        Over time, I suspect that a few former Vanguard addicts might migrate to the “other” blog. (Which actually doesn’t require full IDs, apparently.)

        1. Craig Ross

          LOL.  One site has three to five articles a day, the other three to five articles a month.  And several of those are articles that were published elsewhere.  You keep wanting to promote the other site on here  but there is no there there.  You think Vanguard addicts are going to migrate there?  Why?  They are even more restrictive than this site is going to become.  It’s a joke.

        2. Ron

          Sounds like you’re reading it, already.

          Like I said, the other blog will appeal to slow-growthers and those who care about the environment, while the Vanguard will continue appeal to development activists (and/or, those who think there are Nazis in our midst).

          But yeah – since the “other” blog isn’t run as a business, it may never have quite the level of activity as the Vanguard does.

          1. Don Shor

            I check it every week or so to see the new articles (few) and see if there are any posts by Ron (none).

        3. Ron

          Don:  I will say this:  It’s one thing to comment on someone else’s article, vs. writing one of your own.  (Especially if you’re not doing so as part of your own business operation.)

          That’s probably one reason that David repeats essentially the same information/topics. Resulting in the same responses, day-after-day.

          Vanguard articles primarily consist of growth/development issues, Nazis/Antifa, Immigration, Trump, the DA and police. (Am I missing any?)

    3. John Hobbs

      “And don’t start with your stupid and artificial shaming of those of us that cannot post our real opinions using our real full name that can be searched on the Internet by the leftist mob having provide much, much clear evidence that it promotes a tactic of destroying people and business that supports things that are in conflict with their modern leftist orthodoxy.”

      Happy New Year and have a good life. I sincerely hope you talk to someone about your paranoid delusions. They’ll do real harm to your career and reputation.

      1. Keith O

        David, if I remember it right do you recall the time a commenter busted you for posting under the alias of ‘Growth Issue’?

        Growth Issue also brings up memories of Pugilist and Davis Progressive.  They all had the same commenting style.

  9. Alan Miller

    We will see what that future will bring.  But just as our initial changes were driven by necessity, we believe that in order for the Vanguard to reach the next step, this too must change.

    Blogicide is also an option.

  10. Alan Miller

    for the first time since the Vanguard’s founding on July 30, 2006, only people who post under their full names will be allowed to comment on the Vanguard.

    If someone you’ve never heard of before signs up with a first and last name, how do you know they are not lying to you, perhaps even a former anonymous commenter?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      People are going to sign up through Facebook (there will still be the alternative but I have to sign them up that way), so a key question will be whether the FB account is real.

  11. Alan Miller

    The original concept coming out of very contentious times in 2006 was that the Vanguard would be an anonymous whistle blowing website.  No one would know who was behind it, but it would hold public officials accountable.

    And now you get upset at comments who call a public official “dangerous”, as if that is a personal insult or something.   But hey, if a former public official is offended, it must be true (quite a leap from holding officials accountable to cleaning your blog of “trigger words” that might hurt their precious feelings).

  12. Alan Miller

    So we will crack down on comments from all participants that are personal attacks.  It is a fine line between attacking the idea and attacking the individual – but it is important to guard that line.

    Agree

  13. Alan Miller

    we have tended to view the idea that more comments were better than less comments.

    I certainly feel that way, too . . . about my own comments (see above).

  14. Ron

    Alan:  “And now you get upset at comments who call a public official “dangerous”, as if that is a personal insult or something.” 

    Thank you.

    From article, and repeated by Alan: “. . . some very notable and prominent people in this community have stopped participating.”

    One of them is “participating” with me (in the other article), today, on my last day – at least for awhile.

    1. Richard McCann

      Ron

      And you are being typically unresponsive and unproductive, which just reinforces what most of the rest of us believe about the need for the change in policy.

      1. Ron

        Right – nothing “subjective” in your response.

        But again, the upcoming change in policy doesn’t bother me. So, I guess I’m part of the “rest of us” that you’re referring to. Except that I don’t think it will improve things for the Vanguard.

      2. Keith O

        Richard, you were one of the commenters who made the big push for this.  Just wait one more day and you’ll have what you wanted.  It still bogs my mind why you just didn’t read posts of commenters you didn’t like or simply clicked the ignore button.  Enjoy the new blog with the three other commenters.

        1. Ron

          Keith – and development activists, which seem to predominate on here.

          You’re kind of a “double-negative”, as far as the culture of the Vanguard is concerned. (Rather slow-growth, AND conservative!)

          I’m surprised that you haven’t been figuratively “tarred and feathered”. 🙂

          Yeap, it will be rather monotone, on here. Will look forward to keeping in touch!

  15. John Hobbs

    “Yeap, it will be rather monotone, on here.”

    No, but it will certainly be less puerile. Honest to Pelosi, you guys kissing each other goodbye while still whining about leaving a blog where you claim you’re not welcome is nauseating.

    1. Ron

      Hey – I’m not complaining about it. I’m looking forward to it!

      In reference to “kissing each other goodbye”, maybe you and Howard could “get a room”, together.  😉

      (Or, at least a “chat room”.)

    2. Howard P

      John Hobbs…

      Perhaps they’re going out as a mutual “bang”?  Kissing which organ/orifice (I can “guess”, but am currently ‘blind’ to your apparent referents)?

      John… perhaps for those you appear to refer to, it is the “Daze of Whine and Neuroses”… might make a so-so movie…

      Less than 6 hrs to Anonygeddon… either ‘end of the world’, or prelude to a ‘second coming’ (not talking about Ron/Keith)… a re-birth, as it were… looking forward to it.

       

      1. John Hobbs

        “Daze of Whine and Neuroses”

        Trying to get ready for a gig (Where many of the guests will be older than me. Playlist includes Can’t get Started and How High the Moon..) I don’t want to play, but the money is too good for a semi-retired civil servant to pass up. That bon mot just lifted my spirits out of my size 11 Tony Lama’s. Merci beaucoup!

        1. John Hobbs

          I am doing Toots’ arrangement of Bluesette in the first set tonight. A quadruple threat, he was a great composer, harmonica player , guitarist and whistler. I’m going to try and manage the last two. Happy New Year to all. (and adieu to some.)

  16. Ron

    Howard:  One would have to start with John’s 5:30 p.m. comment, as well as your 6:07 p.m. and 6:23 p.m. comments, to name a few.

    Or – just leave all of them.  I figured this would degenerate during the countdown, anyway.

    I’ve never understood your hostility regarding protection of farmland and open space, ensuring that neighborhoods are not over-densified, and ensuring that downtown remains a commercial district. (Not just in Davis, but also in areas throughout California.) How anyone can view that in a negative light is beyond me. Especially when UCD has plenty of space (and resources) to take care of its own “growth plans”, as well as impacts to the city itself.

    1. Howard P

      I’ve never understood…

      You got that damn straight! Good job!

      As to the rest of your last hour rant, you are demonstrably wRONg, as usual… hyperbole and lies to the n th degree… I have never opined on 90% of what you wrote @ 6:44… as to hostile? Zero percent on the issues you cite.

      Please try to grow up.

       

  17. Ron

    One suggestion that I have for Don and David is that they “discourage” responses from fully-named individuals (aka “namies”) which are directed to those who won’t be responding after midnight – within any of the recent articles.  (Knowing that they would be prevented from responding.)

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