Note: 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.
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.
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: