What's in a name? Weigh in on anonymity and news comments online

In the print edition of the Town Crier, we’ve long required that letters to the editor include real names, or as close to real as we can verify. Online, we followed a different convention. Any reader could post a comment on our articles using an alias. Some commenters chose to use vague or constantly changing aliases, while others used an identifiable nickname that cloaked their “real life” identity but maintained a consistent voice.

This month we started encouraging people to use their real names online – no more pseudonyms like “Los Altan” or “Fed Up.” The intent is to foster civil conversation between real humans, not trolls. How we do that may need tweaking – can a commenter use a nickname? Or just a first name? Or initials, if they use them consistently? Do we want to hear only from people willing to name themselves fully? Can a commenter maintain accountability as a civil voice over time – using a nickname?

What other changes should we consider to make our news website a fertile place for community conversation? Online Editor Eliza Ridgeway would be curious to hear your thoughts – email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Readers responded to our initial announcement with feedback:

I respect and appreciate the intent behind using real names. However, perhaps you will consider the reason why some of us aren’t comfortable doing that. I am a Republican and conservative. I would love to be able to have civil discussions with opposing views; however, I do not feel it possible today. The vitriol and disparaging remarks I see scare me. I worry that our family will be affected socially, my children held back or not given equal consideration. So many of us sit back quietly, sometimes voicing our opinions when we feel safe to do so. Anonymously.

– MP

Thank you for making this change. I think it will lead to more civil dialogue. I hope people will still comment, thinking carefully about the message they wish to convey knowing their name is attached.

I hope we will be thoughtful when responding to other people’s posts. The purpose should be to discuss the merits of the idea, not the person.

We should want to know others’ views, even if we disagree. The ability to discuss opposing ideas is how we identify the best idea.

– Megan Satterlee

I wholeheartedly support this change. I agree with its premises and goals. In my experience, anonymity promotes incivility, and most people are civil when their real names are attached to their comments, regardless of political persuasion. It’s only the minority of far-left and far-right extremists, who refuse to see any point of view other than their own, who abuse anonymity and promote incivility, and it is my view that requiring people to use their real names will moderate their excesses.

– Dan Gonzales

I switched to always posting about school issues under my own name a long time ago. Back then, I kept getting accused, incorrectly, of making every outrageous statement anonymously. So posting as myself seemed like the easiest way to combat that. Having everyone post under their own name is a very, very welcome change.

– Phillip Aaronson

Please add your thoughts in the comment section below.

Submit a Letter to the Editor

The Town Crier welcomes letters to the editor on current events pertinent to Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View. Write to us at 138 Main St., Los Altos 94022, Attn: Editor, or email editor Bruce Barton at [email protected] Because editorial space is limited, please confine letters to no more than 200 words. Include a phone number for verification purposes. Anonymous letters will not be printed.

You can also have your say right here at losaltosonline.com – scroll to the bottom of any story to add a comment. 

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