22 thoughts on “Having to Choose Personal Safety over Civic Engagement

  1. Daniel Hartigkingledion

    Anonymous commenting is the key to the success to such virtuous civic organizations as Reddit, 4Chan, and GamerGate. By all means, lets encourage the invasion of internet-based, anonymous hate spewing into the actually important world of civic engagement.

    Harassment of women is bad, but if you think anonymity will reduce harassment, you have another thing coming.

    -Daniel Hartig (not an anonymous commenter)

    1. Matt EckholmMatt Eckholm

      Might want to check your slippery slope fallacy there. I see absolutely no reason to believe that not having to put your address into the public record or being allowed to publish on streets without giving a last name will result in 4Chan taking over civic engagement.

      Mainly because that would mean they’d have to go outside.

      1. Daniel Hartigkingledion

        The slippery slope is real. Haven’t you seen whats happened to America over the last decade? Just take the examples of the Charlotesville marchers. As long as you are relatively anonymous, you can back all sorts of awful ideas. But once exposed to the light of day, a lot of those marchers lost their jobs.
        By forcing people to associate their name and their personal information with their own ideas, you will force them to take responsibility for their own words.

        That once moderated the mainstream media, such as it was. You couldn’t write ‘the president is an idiot’ articles and circulate them because you had a reputation to uphold. But the advent of the internet and anonymous posting lead to the downfall of a person’s responsibility for their own words. First Bush was an idiot, then Obama was a Muslim. The groups circulating such hateful speech got large enough that the mainstream media realized they could indulge as well. The anger increased until we arrived at the worst possible solution: Trump. He could only have been elected because anonymous partisan rancor prevented people from even talking to each other.

        This site is slander free, open and polite. I am a hard-right conservative, yet I can read and enjoy and engage with people who I suspect disagree with me on just about every political topic (except density: go density!). But all over the internet, I can hardly go anywhere without suffering through political wrangling. Be it on CityLab or Facebook posts or whatever, the expansion of anti-this or anti-that rhetoric is hard for me to listen to and engage with, my political persuasions being what they are. I’m not even from Minnesota! This is simply the only urbanism blog around that is updated regularly and doesn’t turn my stomach.

        So, here is my appeal. This site needs to stay non-anonymous. Whatever you think about the short term value of publishing unattributed or partially attributed articles, I ask you to consider the long term effects of anonymity and tribal group formation on society at large.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Yeah, but what we’re talking about here is putting your full street address on your comments – comments that already have your full name and probably contain exactly as much information as stating your neighborhood, zip code or ward.

          As to streets.mn posts, it wouldn’t be anonymous, as the editors would know the identity of anyone not posting under a full name. Hopefully everyone would still have a consistent and unique identifier, though.

          And, of course, we already have anonymous commenting, of which you’ve availed yourself until just now (unless I missed your name earlier). There is a risk of sliding toward a cesspool, but we mostly avoid that via (1) a culture of quality discourse and (2) a bit of moderation by the editors/moderators. My sense, though, is that it doesn’t really take very much of the latter.

          1. Matt EckholmMatt Eckholm

            “There is a risk of sliding toward a cesspool, but we mostly avoid that via (1) a culture of quality discourse and (2) a bit of moderation by the editors/moderators.”

            Speaking as one of the editors, this exactly.

    2. Colin Fesser

      There’s absolutely nothing preventing that from happening now. Or do you believe that internet trolls are going to be deterred by the thought of faking a name and address?

  2. Christa

    It’s quite the stretch to suggest that allowing citizens to submit comments without having their home addresses published will lead to everything devolving into 4chan.

  3. Matt SteeleMatt

    Good point regarding data privacy and how it stifles voices. Even political candidates appear to have more privacy protections – since they can publish a post office box for their campaign disclosures while relying on state law to keep their address private under limited circumstances.

    I’ve also noticed that, at least in Minneapolis, the requirements are blurred for applicants or their representatives. They can usually just say “I’m with XYZ architects representing the applicant” or something similar. No home address is expected.

    I see value in people making an affirmation of why they have a stake in a matter – primarily if they are a constituent or not. Would it work to simply ask people to state their ward of residence? This would be specific enough to determine the stake the speaker has in a matter, but vague enough to protect privacy.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      That may be the case during election (not sure), but if they win — elected and appointed officials must provide their residential address by data request. This is required by state law, and individual cities may not override this rule.

      I was under the impression that providing address during public hearing was also required, but I don’t know the reference to verify it.

  4. Anton SchiefferAnton Schieffer

    I totally agree with this – we need to be reducing barriers to participation, not requiring folks broadcast their address just to be part of the conversation. I hope both Minneapolis and St. Paul look at whether the address requirement is truly necessary today. There was likely a reason for the requirement long ago, but rules need to be changed to fit the times (kinda like zoning).

    And the difference between internet sites like those listed in other comments is that we have moderation here. Removing the requirement that writers submit their last name will not turn streets.mn into 4chan.

  5. Ben Franske

    This article intrigues me. I am fascinated in the relatively recent change to the belief that a person’s address and phone number is somehow private information. Until about 13 years ago pretty much everyone had their name, address, and phone number, published in a telephone book. Certainly there were a few people who had their directory listing suppressed but this was definitely outside the norm.

    It’s far easier for me to understand people wanting to keep cell phone numbers private. After all, calls to those numbers can result in a lot of interruptions to your life given you take a cell phone with you everywhere. Home phone numbers are a mixed bag, but for me there doesn’t seem to be a compelling argument for choosing to keep your address private in most cases.

    Note here that I’m talking about making the choice to keep your address and phone private. In general I do think people should have a choice because for some people there are very good reasons to do so but I think for the vast majority of people there is little reason to make such a choice. I’m not going to make a stand saying the privatization of address and phone numbers is a bad thing, but it is certainly an inconvenient thing and it’s an interesting change to observe that’s taken place quite recently.

    And yes, if you spend a few minutes looking around you’ll easily find my name, phone number, address, and a substantial additional amount of information about me which is almost all available because I’ve put it there. I’ve been using my real name on forums and the Internet since the mid-90s so there’s quite a lot you can look through.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I wonder whether in the age of the white pages, the proportion of people choosing to be unlisted, using only a first initial or taking other steps toward privacy skewed significantly toward women.

      1. GlowBoy

        Yes, being unlisted in white pages phone directories was skewed very heavily towards women. I remember knowing quite a few women who were unlisted because of telephone-based harassment, and it used to be quite common for women to receive “heavy breathing” calls, or hangups once the caller heard their voice.

      2. L Peterson

        Personal Anecdote: My grandfather passed away decades ago and my grandmother still has his name listed in the phone book instead of hers for similar reasons.

    2. GlowBoy

      I don’t think it’s necessarily a new phenomenon that people want to keep their phone number and physical address private. As Adam points out below, when printed phone books were the norm it was very common for people (particularly women) to either be unlisted completely, or to leave their address out of the listing.

      What IS a new phenomenon is society taking harassment issues – ranging all the way to low-level heavy-breathing calls to outright hate crimes – seriously. Until recently all but the most serious offenses were accepted as an unfortunate fact of life, and victims were expected to suck it up and deal with it.

  6. Serafina ScheelSerafina Scheel

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I agree that there has to be some way to find a better balance between people being engaged and maintaining their safety.

    There’s a value in making people accountable for their positions on public matters by providing their name and interest. I live in Prospect Park where there is an old-fashioned neighborhood e-list moderated by a group of resident volunteers. It does allow anonymous posting on matters of local interest, which often makes me uncomfortable. People have made horribly racist statements directed at specific neighbors who have not chosen the cloak of anonymity for their opinions. Partly this is the fault of the moderators. Some have argued that it’s good because people feel more free to express unpopular opinions; our votes are private, why not our positions on public policy? Speaking from my own experience, however, I’m more likely to be more thoughtful and respectful of others when I’m advocating from my real identity.

    On the other hand, my sister works for an abortion provider. And before I got married and changed my name, I was on the receiving end of some of the vitriol she receives regularly from anonymous “Christians”–simply because I shared the same distinctive last name and was easily findable online. There are very good reasons people might want to keep their address private to maintain their safety when speaking out on public issues. Stating a neighborhood or ward of residence rather than a specific address might be a good first step.

  7. Anon

    The internet is written in ink; it does not forget. Can you be sure that what you write today won’t be considered offensive or morally repugnant in 50 years? How sure are you that in 50 years you will be living in a liberal democracy that tolerates your views? What if you want to explore a controversial idea by exposing it to critical feedback? What if your employer restricts or monitors your social media activity? What if your future employers google you? The Founders of the United States well understood the power and importance of anonymous speech and they used it frequently with great effect. Free speech requires anonymous speech and the best remedy for offensive speech is more speech, not less speech.

  8. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

    If you look at the 3rd community comment of the October 18th, 2016 Edina City Council meeting, there was a man who chose not to give his address due to his status as a recording artist. He also declined to give his last name, going only by Rick. There was some pushback and questioning on how to proceed, but ultimately his information was not broadcast. This should be a standard practice, if this information is actually needed there should be a reasonable expectation of privacy for anyone who may feel uncomfortable with sharing such information.

    13:00 http://edina.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=8&clip_id=2427

  9. Amy Schwarz

    There is a happy medium here that can honor women’s (and men’s) personal safety and promote civility and open discourse. I encourage the readers to take a minute and acknowledge the personal safety concerns highlighted by the author.

    Personal safety is a very real concern for many men and women, myself included. Women are stalked, harassed and generally silenced at a much higher rate than men, but violence is a reality for many men too.

    With that reality in mind, let’s be thoughtful in how we strike a balance in comment policies in local government and forums within our influence. I trust the editorial team here is thoughtful enough to consider the author’s comments and consider exceptions or changes as appropriate.

  10. AT40man

    The cities usually don’t verify. When there was a city poll in the city of Robbinsdale about demolition of the Historic Terrace Theatre, I reviewed the results. Turns out that Mayor Regan Murphy and Danger Moule both lived at 3508 France Ave N — the address of the theatre! 😛

    I also encountered entire households where chlidren too young to vote had clearly had votes cast on their behalf by their parents, etc. Despite the obvious fraud and manipulations, the city still held to the lie that “86% of Robbinsdale residents want a Hy-Vee.

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