Sierra Club Yolano Group Questionnaire for Yolo County District 4 Supervisor
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Concern Regarding Moderating Practices on the Davis Vanguard

Vanguard-policyNote: Prior to giving permission to the Davisite to post this, the author sent this piece to the Vanguard yesterday, saying "If you have any particular concerns, please let me know before 8:00 a.m., tomorrow. (Alternatively, if you'd like more time to respond, please let me know that as well.)". He did not receive a response.

By Ron O.

I am writing this article in regard to my personal experience, as well as what I’ve witnessed regarding ongoing problems with the Davis Vanguard’s policies and practices in reference to moderating of comments (as well as the general commenting environment).  These problems are interfering with the Vanguard’s mission to operate in an “open and transparent manner”, and are contributing to a rather hostile commenting environment in which to challenge and discuss the issues presented.

Background

My interest in the Vanguard primarily springs from my interest regarding development issues – especially discouragement of sprawl.  I sincerely appreciate the efforts of those who took steps approximately 20 years ago, to ensure that Davis voters have a say regarding whether or not to approve peripheral developments.  It’s unfortunate that other nearby communities have not followed Davis’ lead, although some have created voter-approved urban limit lines.

I first started reading the Davis Vanguard a few years ago, and cautiously/slowly started adding my own comments (mostly regarding my primary interest).  One of the first issues that I recall reading about was the effort by a local developer to obtain a city-owned greenbelt, for inclusion into a small housing development.  Although I hadn’t formed a strong opinion regarding the Vanguard by that point, I was already somewhat confused by the lack of concern regarding the potential loss of a greenbelt, even if it primarily benefited the homes which bordered it.  (Presumably, those residents reasonably expected the city-owned greenbelt to remain in place.)  Fortunately, the greenbelt remains, and the developer was able to proceed without obtaining the greenbelt property.

Over time, I started submitting more comments, even as the number of commenters appeared to be significantly reduced in size.  This reduction seemed to occur as a result of the Vanguard’s new commenting policy requiring full names, as well as the establishment of the Davisite as an alternative source.  Interestingly enough, the commenting “environment” did not seem to improve as a result of the new policy.

As time went on (and I started paying closer attention to the Vanguard’s underlying positions), I realized that many of the articles presented were primarily based upon the author’s opinions, and were not necessarily an attempt to provide a balanced presentation or examination of the issues.  This style of reporting was somewhat new to me, and I might have been somewhat slow to recognize what was occurring.

More importantly (to me, at least), I started to realize that the Vanguard’s support for development (including sprawl) was generally not something that I agreed with.  I have heard from others (including on the Vanguard itself) that the position of the Vanguard (regarding development) has “shifted”, over time.  However, I have not been reading it long enough to observe that change.

I would acknowledge that the Vanguard has certainly brought development proposals to light, in a manner not previously seen.  I would also acknowledge that the articles are generally written in a persuasive manner – at least until the point that they are challenged.

In any case, below are some of the concerns I have regarding participation on the Vanguard’s comment section.  These ongoing issues are interfering with the Vanguard’s mission, and are creating a hostile environment in which to participate (and perhaps more importantly – to challenge the information presented).  I have also included links to the Vanguard’s commenting policy and guiding principles (for comparison to actual practices), at the bottom of this article.

Unexplained (and “un-noted”) Deletion of Comments

As noted in the Vanguard’s commenting policy, comments that are deleted are supposed to be “noted” by the moderator – in place of the deleted comment.  However, this rarely occurs.

More importantly, the Vanguard has now targeted one individual in particular, and does not seem to be allowing any comments from that person to remain on the blog.  This despite the fact that the commenter is generally not violating any documented policy, and is contributing comments that are both on-topic and well-researched.  Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the commenter often challenges the claims put forth in the Vanguard -  often referring to external references as needed.

This is truly unfortunate (for the Vanguard itself, as well as its readers), as the commenter in question often has professional expertise in the subject at hand, and presents analyses that the Vanguard does not perform.

In fact, the deletions of comments from that particular commenter have been noted by several others (including those who don’t necessarily agree with his point of view), and the unwarranted deletions have been specifically pointed out to the Vanguard via officially prescribed channels – to no avail.

Personal Attacks and Attempts at “Doxing”

Despite the Vanguard’s requirement that commenters provide their full names, there does not seem to be any reduction in “personal attacks”  by commenters.  (At least, when accounting for the overall reduction in the number of comments/commenters, apparently as a result of requiring full names.)  In fact, some of the remaining commenters might be among the worst offenders, despite the full-name requirement.

In addition, “doxing” attempts (which are much easier to accomplish as a result of requiring full names) now occur, and are sometimes “allowed” to remain.

All-in-all, the Vanguard’s relatively new online identification policy seems to have reduced the range of discussion (and drastically reduced the number of commenters), but without reducing personal attacks. (Which - as a result of requiring full names sometimes include attempts at doxing, as well).  This result seems entirely predictable.

Possible “Anonymous” Commenters

There have been complaints that at least one regular commenter on the Vanguard may not using an actual/real name.  When this was brought to the Vanguard’s attention (privately, via the prescribed channels), there was no response, and that commenter continued to submit comments for a period of time thereafter.  This despite the fact that the Vanguard now requires full, complete, and accurate first and last names of commenters.

References to the Davisite Routinely Deleted

Despite a lack of any documented policy, the Vanguard’s moderator routinely deletes references and citations (solely) to the Davisite.  This does not occur regarding references to any other media source, in regard to related articles which expand upon a topic.  At one point, David Greenwald made a comment which indicated that he viewed the Davisite as “competition”, which is presumably the basis for the Vanguard’s undocumented policy in regard to the Davisite.

Of all the problems associated with the Vanguard’s moderation practices, this particular issue is (or should be) a source of embarrassment, for the Vanguard.

Lack of Response from Moderator/Editor/Board

Despite what is noted in the Vanguard’s policy, responses to concerns (such as those described above) that are relayed via the prescribed channels are often not acknowledged or responded to. 

Conclusion

All-in-all, not exactly a “stellar” record regarding adherence to its own policies, as well as its self-described role as the “community’s watchdog”.  Ironically, the Vanguard’s continuing problems regarding policies, procedures and practices are likely a primary factor regarding the creation of the Davisite, as an alternative source of community news and discussion.

In reference to the comments above, a link to the Davis Vanguard’s commenting policy and guiding principles are provided, below:

https://www.davisvanguard.org/about-us/comment-policy/

https://www.davisvanguard.org/about-us/guiding-principles/

Comments

Roberta L. Millstein

I myself was subjected to repeated personal attacks on the Vanguard and repeated broken promises from the founder to stop those personal attacks -- which is why I stopped being a donor and commenter and withdrew from the site completely.

Daniel Cornford

I think Ron raises some excellent issues re the DV’s policies and there can be no doubt that there has been a shrinkage in the number of commenters in the last 3-5 years, and that some, like myself, have almost entirely stopped making comment for reasons that Ron spells out. I’d argue, based on people I know who are critical of David and the DV, that this shrinkage is not due to the supposed abandonment of the anonymity provision.

Instead it was due to: the borderline abusive treatment that some critical commenters were subjected too; the fact that the DV morphed over years into being an uncritically pro development blog, and no matter the strength and logic of the criticism the DV did not change its position; and finally, and of course relatedly, that the DV was taking money directly and indirectly from developers. And thus changing its policies and editorial positions was fruitless.

I supported the DV at the beginning for a few years as it seemed a useful, and even at times, progressive blog and a good alternative to the Davis Enterprise especially on land use issues. However at some point that I cannot date specifically, but at least five years ago it became an unabashedly and unashamedly pro-development organ. I “engaged” for a while on certain issues esp. when an important council or an election loomed. (My own activism re development issues began in 2003-04 when Covell Village threatened, and I worked 30 or more hours a weeks on this for months).

I cannot date it, but circa 8-10 years ago, the DV became a nakedly pro development lobby. My memory of what positions the DV took on development and land use prior to this date is hazy, and perhaps other commenters can help here. I do, however, vividly remember one very personal comment by David G. He wrote (at least ten years ago) of riding his bike into Davis, and just being both horrified and frightened by all the traffic he encountered.

The irony of this is just stupendous as, needless to say, the effects of all the development, both approved and in the pipeline, are going to have enormous and horribly adverse traffic impacts on Davis, notwithstanding the huge biased and inadequate EIR traffic studies, “commissioned” from the “loyal” EIR firm of Fehr & Peers by the City Council, which purport to show otherwise, and which are now very outdated.

In recent years, what I find especially troublesome, even nauseating, is the way David portrays himself as an advocate of affordable housing, and by at least implicit extension, his argument that virtually uncontrolled development will somehow solve California’s housing problem. In the context of SB50 (and others), critics have pointed out that this simply has not been and will not be the case. SB50, even in its revised form, makes limited provision for so called affordable housing (never defined clearly).

Many academic experts on urban planning and many city governments (including 11 of 12 san Francisco supervisors oppose SB50) for many reasons including the fact that if passed the ensuing development would certainly lead to the displacement of tens of thousands (if not more) of poor renters across the state just as federal government policies displaced many poor and minority people in the 1950s and 1960s (and earlier). SB50 would also take a large measure of control, and indeed total control, of land use planning out of the hands of city governments.

Finally, while we are on the subject, I’d like to raise a delicate issue and that is the lack of transparency by the DV regarding it funding sources—an issue raised by at let a half a dozen commenters on the DV over the year and probably more but for censorship. Circa two years, and I think connected to the issue of legal disclosure of campaign funding, there was a direct confrontation between Rik Keller (and done other) and David G. It appeared that there was a real prospect of unmasking the DV’s funding.


However, after a few days, the story went cold. If anyone can she further light on this I would appreciate it either as a post of the Davisite or in an email to me (Roberta has my email).

I raise this not as a personal attack on David G, but because, like others who have raised or confronted the issue, I think there are obvious and profound moral and legal issues with respect to the transparency of the DV’s funding that so far it has been able to dodge or deflect.

Needless to say, the fact that David G. refuses ever to mention the Davisite is due to the fact that David fears that a competing blog might affect his livelihood (I welcome other or alternative explanations!).
.
If David G. thinks that I have in any way misrepresented him then I would welcome his response on the Davisite. And I would like that response to be directly from him and not through or by one of his student interns.


Dan Cornford

Ron O

I appreciate the comments from Roberta and Dan.

It might be noted that one of the Davisite authors recently suggested that a couple of my own comments (on the Davisite) not be published, due to how they might be interpreted (and because they were starting to drift off-topic). I ultimately agreed with that assessment, and was glad to receive that feedback before the comments were published.

Sometimes, we are not our own best "moderators".

Roberta L. Millstein

Thanks, Ron. In my original comment, I should also have thanked you for taking the time to write this and lay the situation out so clearly. I am impressed that you have been able to hang on as a commenter on the Vanguard through all of this, especially the recent doxing attempts against you, which the moderator seems to tolerate -- while deleting comments that are much less unproblematic or completely unproblematic.

Dan Cornford

Thanks Ron. I suppose it could be argued that some of my comments on Ron’s article were a little of topic in the strict sense. However, I do not think one can fully understand the DV anomalous and one sided editorial policies without a broader context (which maybe not all readers of the Davisite have). And Ron raised some questions re the DV’s political evolution that I thought worthy of comment and input.

Finally, and especially in the light of the ways it treats many of its critics (driving them away and circumscribing those who stay), I think the broader issue of why the DV takes the position it does, and why it has such influence needs to be taken up whenever a possible context arises.

Keith

The Vanguard aint what it used to be.

ron glick

When the Democrats in the Clinton administration supported Tipper Gore's attempts to censor vulgar speech in the music industry the late great journalist Alexander Cockburn described it as the boot heal of the liberals. This is how I would describe censorship on the Vanguard.

Roberta L. Millstein

Ron, there is nothing particularly liberal about many of the Vanguard's stances. They are simply squelching the views of someone who is all too good at pointing out the flaws in their arguments, typically their pro-development arguments.

Ron O

Roberta: I agree, and I didn't claim that the Vanguard's stances regarding development are "liberal". In fact, they're much closer to traditional "conservative" stances.

The person who is still being outright blocked from participating on the Vanguard (Rik) seems to have consistently liberal views.

I'd like to see Rik submit more articles on the Davisite, since it seems that he's no longer allowed to comment on the Vanguard.

Ron O

(Note: I just realized that Roberta's comments were made in response to the "other" Ron.)

In any case, the Vanguard is ultimately hurting itself, by blocking Rik's comments.

Roberta L. Millstein

Ron O, oops, sorry, I should have been clearer that I was responding to Ron G!

But to respond to you (Ron O) -- I agree. If they want real dialogue, if they want to look like a respectable publication, they should allow Rik's comments, which contain reasons, facts, analysis, and an alternative perspective.

Ron O

Truth be told, Roberta - we don't need the Vanguard. But, it's "easier" to respond on there (to the daily, repetitive onslaught), vs. creating a separate series of repetitive "response articles" on the Davisite.

Still, I'm hoping that Rik focuses more of his efforts on the Davisite, since the Vanguard is apparently off-limits for him at this point. They are deleting comments which don't appear to have any relationship to their own policies, and leaving others which violate it.

And frankly, Rik is one of the few who actually does his "homework" before responding.

How any of this is "o.k." with the majority of Vanguard readers or its supporters is beyond me.

Roberta L. Millstein

"Still, I'm hoping that Rik focuses more of his efforts on the Davisite"

Me too.

"the Vanguard is apparently off-limits for him at this point. They are deleting comments which don't appear to have any relationship to their own policies, and leaving others which violate it."

Yep.

"And frankly, Rik is one of the few who actually does his "homework" before responding."

He does!

"How any of this is "o.k." with the majority of Vanguard readers or its supporters is beyond me."

Well, I think you know.

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