Shall we trample the rose because of the thorns? | Pressing Issues | Gina Channell Wilcox | |

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By Gina Channell Wilcox

Shall we trample the rose because of the thorns?

Uploaded: Jul 2, 2008

I recently received an email from a frequent Town Square contributor that said, "This morning I discovered that someone has falsely posted using my online identity."
This is not the first case of an "online identity theft," nor will it be the last.
I'm sorry, but the theft of an online identity is not our fault. If a person doesn't have the guts to participate in a conversation without using someone else's "name," mandatory registration nor special software will fix this problem.
The benefit of registration on the site, which you can do at the top of the home page, is that it's easier to post comments because you don't have to retype your name and find your neighborhood on the ever-growing list on the dropdown menu. And you can track topics so you know when a new comment is added.
But it defeats the purpose of an open forum to make everyone register in order to post. Not only does it take away the anonymity some find protective, it doesn't guarantee immunity from "identity theft." A contributor can register on our site under any online name they want. I found the same is true with the New York Times site. The difference is that the New York Times doesn't immediately post to the site; they have editors who ferret through the comments before they go online, meaning not all posts are seen.
As the song goes, every rose has its thorns.
The purpose of Town Square is to have a community forum where people are not afraid to ask tough questions and bring things to community members and leaders without fear of reprisal. Those are a few petals of the rose; trolling, flaming and, in this case, identity theft, are a few of the thorns.
This theft issue is becoming all too frequent. However, I would like to believe that contributors would prefer to not have someone sifting through their comments deciding which ones to post and which to remove.
The Weekly staff will edit comments that do not adhere to our terms of use, such as posts containing profanity or "comments that are hateful, libelous or obscene , or that are threatening, abusive or offensive to any individual, group or class of person." However, you will see those as "Comments edited by Weekly staff." Only rarely do we completely remove a post, and that's only when the comment is so completely inane it's a waste of space and might deter other posts because it's completely off topic. We would rather let the contributors edit comments and make right what they perceive is wrong.
Town Square contributor Frank, who has been an identity theft victim, has devised a unique way of protecting his identity. In a recent forum he writes, "I am the real frank of Pleasanton Heights. To confirm go to (Web Link) and there you will see a copy of this post. This IP address is mine. Any other IP address is a counterfeit."
Tell me, would you rather us control who and what gets online? Or would you rather deal with the thorns as they come?

Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Company, president of the Pleasanton Weekly and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to [email protected]