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Getting to know you Carlos R. Davalos | Sat, Sep 17 2011 12:00 PM

Thanks to The Union-Tribune's website, signonsandiego.com, I can get to know my neighbors in ways I hadn't thought possible.

This week the county's largest news publication implemented a policy requiring readers to sign in using their Facebook accounts if they wanted to leave comments on the paper's website.

The move, executives said, was made to facilitate civil discourse and hold people accountable for the remarks they made on the website's comments section.

In the days before Facebook authentication, it wasn't uncommon to find dozens of readers' comments following a story. Depending on the topic, remarks would range from insightful and thought-provoking (rarely) to insipid, hysterical, ignorant, nonsensical, bigoted, sexist and just plain stupid (more often than not). Those same comments were also hilarious because of their outrageous nature.

The ability to express how they really felt without having to sign their real name was empowering to some readers, cowardly and offensive to others.

So the cloak of anonymity was taken away and signonsandiego.com customers can now see who is saying what.

And they can learn other things too.

For example, somebody calling themselves Bob Cooley, who commented that "vista or escondido/north county seems to be a melting pot for sex problems" has a picture on his profile page of a man holding a rifle. A very large rifle. And he appears to be smiling. I know this because all I had to do was click on Bob's photo and I was redirected from signon to his Facebook page. I'm not sure what to make of Cooley, really. I just know I suddenly feel a little nervous.

Judging by his Facebook page, a Gregory Weir of Oceanside, who left a comment regarding a high speed chase that ended at the U.S.-Mexico border, has a sweet ride, went hiking near Idyllwild and someone named Kathy Carillo (an Evangelical Christian whose favorite teams include the Phoenix Suns and Anaheim Ducks and is listed as one of Gregory's friends) thinks Weir is a hottie.

If I were an enterprising salesman there must be something I could do with this sort of information. Maybe send Greg a targetted ad about hiking boots and car wax? Send Kathy a plea for a donation to the Republican candidate running in her district?

Maybe for now I'll just troll through the other profiles I find through Facebook and the UT and hang onto the information I find. I'm sure they won't mind a stranger peeking into their lives.

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obmama Says:

Fri, Sep 30 2011 01:55 AM

Hi Carlos, thanks for visiting signedoffsandiego's new site. You are welcome to peek into the lives of our anonymous community and get to know your anti-Facebook neighbors, too. We were frequent commentators at the old UT site, who didn't want to join Facebook or comment using our FB identities. With close to 10,000 comments, we've proven that civility can be maintained with self-moderation in an anonymous, no rules environment.

countrygirl1 Says:

Thu, Sep 29 2011 03:42 PM

Nice first story on this topic Carlos, I look forward to many more. It was great to see you over on signedoffsandiego.com too. I'm enjoying that site much more than the UT's site now that their comment section is barren. I can't believe any business would require a customer/participant to join Facebook!

Juan Changstein Says:

Wed, Sep 28 2011 08:21 PM

Nice piece, Carlos. I had been a frequent commenter at the UT prior to the move to Facebook.

Hindsight being 20/20, it seems dangerous to post any comments with your real identity revealed to the public. Some commenters had mentioned that previously, along with wanting to maintain anonymity because of their jobs, or even friends. Those positions seem to have been very relevant.

That being said, the UT's action represents the typical "knee-jerk" reaction that is common today across all spectrums of social debate. There are many things the UT could have done other than dismantle the entire forum, one which I and many others did express enlightened and colorful insight and commentary. -JC

evoc Says:

Wed, Sep 28 2011 07:56 PM

Interesting article, and humorous. I liked it. Sadly, most of the comments on UT are now more like facebook status updates - abbreviated, insipid. Racist comments are still being posted, and fake names are frequently seen. The UT change seems to have had little effect on that issue.

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