October 30, 2005
To Delete or Not to Delete?
Posted by Christine Hurt

A discussion has emerged on Prawfs and Concurring Opinions about the ethics of deleting blog posts.  I have commented at Prawfs, and I find myself holding the minority position that blog posts should not be deleted once posted.  Here is the Conglomerate policy:

Once we have posted something, it stays posted, even if we later regret it. Except for spelling errors or an occasional stylistic edit, which we will perform without telling you. If we change our minds about something, we will fess up or just move on, but we won't be sneaky about it.

In my opinion, bloggers can't have their cake and eat it too. I sense a growing opinion in the blogosphere (at least the blawgosphere) that bloggers are not just diary-keepers in pj's but contributors to a national dialogue. Of course, journalists seek to be skeptical of this notion, and I think that suspicion is warranted if bloggers live by different rules, including the rule that any post can be deleted if the poster has a change of heart. When a television journalist says something on television, those words are recorded forever. When someone writes an op-ed for the NYT, then once the paper is printed, the op-ed is there forever. I even recall at least one time when bloggers have fussed a bit because an established news source changed a headline or a story during the day on an associated website. For us, second thoughts are what the "draft" function is for. But posting is the end of a thought process, not the beginning. If we want to clarify, we can update or use the comments function or even post again. Believe me, I have wanted to delete posts that brought the critics out in full force!

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Comments (6)

1. Posted by Vic Fleischer on October 30, 2005 @ 10:42 | Permalink

For the record, I respectfully dissent.

While I certainly expect nearly all our posts to remain as originally posted or edited only through explicit updates, I can imagine circumstances where we might feel obligated to remove a post. Libel would be the extreme example; there may also be intermediate cases where we say something that in the light of day seems terribly wrong or unwise, such as a vicious attack on a colleague, the disclosure of confidential client or company information, or unauthorized use of someone else's IP.

So long as we don't remove posts on a regular basis, I don't think our readers will mind. Am I wrong about that?



2. Posted by David Zaring on October 30, 2005 @ 11:36 | Permalink

I'll of course conform to the policy, and my preference is for the blogospheric norm of strikethroughs, but I don't think the occasional deletion detracts much from the integrity of the product - perhaps it shows a judicious sense of self-editing.


3. Posted by Mike Madison on October 30, 2005 @ 11:37 | Permalink

Well, I think that you're both right. Context matters. Here's a quick story: I'm the administrator of a group blog in my little suburb. One of the other members of the group recently posted a note criticizing a new store in town, but she used some infelicitous phrasing, to put the matter gently. I commented on the post, politely disagreeing with her characterization. Because the original poster is a candidate for the local school board, the local press picked this up and ran a story about the alleged "controversy" (one post, one comment -- and by blogging colleagues!). The blog was deluged with vituperative comments directed at her. The tone got so ugly that she unilaterally pulled the original post. It's a choice that I wouldn't have made (the commenters, of course, noticed what had happened), but it's one that I respect. She felt that pulling the plug would discourage the attacks. She may have been right. The abuse seems to have died down. And the blog will carry on. I think that it's none the worse for wear.


4. Posted by William Henderson on October 30, 2005 @ 12:17 | Permalink

I agree with Christine. The blogosphere will be better served in the long run if the words are permanently recorded. A poster, of course, is free to say later on that he or she was wrong or changed his or her mind ... and that is a great thing, evidence that a valuable exchange has taken place. In addition, the permanence discourages overheated rhetoric in the first instance ... and that is a very good thing.


5. Posted by Gordon Smith on October 30, 2005 @ 15:23 | Permalink

I think our policy and Christine's position allow for exceptional deviations of the sort imagined by Vic. In two and a half years of doing this, I have never removed a post, though I have been tempted more than once. Bill is right about the incentive effects of our policy. I always think twice (or more) before clicking "Post."


6. Posted by Christine on October 31, 2005 @ 8:57 | Permalink

Never fear, Vic, you will never have to choose between our policy and jail (or civil damages). I guess that does make us different from journalists! I would also remove a post at the valid request of a third party who was the innocent subject of a post. With that in mind, I usually don't post about a non-public figure without speaking to them first, i.e., link to someone's paper, etc.

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