Editing the Blogosphere

pencil1.jpgThere’s an interesting conversation going on over at PrawfsBlawg about the norms regarding editing or deleting one’s blog posts. Ethan Leib wrote:

It is certainly true that one finds many bloggers who “update” their posts, informing readers of changes made to the original posts. But I suppose my view is that I am entitled to do whatever I want with my posts. One could argue, I guess, that I have duties to the blogosphere–whatever ethical community that is. Still, my tentative view is that if I want to edit or delete my posts with or without disclosure, that is my prerogative.

A good discussion has ensued in the comments to Ethan’s post and in subsequent posts by Dan Markel and Marcy Peek.

I generally don’t delete my posts or parts of my posts, but I think that it is very important that a norm doesn’t develop that deletion is taboo. True, it can be annoying for readers to find a post deleted or altered. But that’s a small price to pay for encouraging people to engage in a robust debate in the blogosphere. Sometimes we say things we regret, and a non-deletion norm might be more chilling of speech than an ok-to-delete-when-really-embarrassed norm.

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10 Responses

  1. John Armstrong says:

    I’d say that deletion shouldn’t be frowned upon, lest people become too afraid of sticking their feet in their mouths to say anything at all.

    On the other hand, I find something unnerving about undisclosed editing. It would be far too easy to state something offensive, wait for commenters to take one to task, and then change the original post to make the commenters look foolish, or to claim that one was being quoted out of context.

    To be more explicit, one should be allowed to go back and retract or expand upon earlier statements. However, comment threads depend essentially upon what came before, and it is intellectually sloppy — if not outrightly dishonest — to alter that root without explicit comment.

  2. Paul Gowder says:

    It seems like some people (I’m not thinking of anyone in particular) are semingly unable or unwilling to draw fine ethical distinctions, say between deceptive editing (changing a post to make commenters look foolish) versus non-deceptive editing (removing errors of judgment without that deceptive/harmful intent or effect).

  3. John Armstrong says:

    Mr. Gowder:

    Obviously there is such a thing as an innocuous edit. In fact, the vast majority of edits may be innocuous. However there is such a thing as “fence-building” — designing guidelines more stringently than is strictly required so as to avoid the chance of stepping over a line.

    Besides, if an edit is truly innocuous then there’s no reason not to add a note at the bottom of the original post alerting the reader to the fact that it has been altered. In fact, routinely making such notes instills the confidence that the poster is not playing such underhanded games where no such notes are present.

  4. David Porter says:

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    David Porter

    President/CEO

    Pacesetter Mortgage

  5. Paul Gowder says:

    John: the adding notes at the bottom (“this post has been edited from its original form”) might be an excellent compromise position for a forthright blogger, since it would allow them to remove embarassment for themselves without causing embarassment to others.

    I resist anything more than that, however, as a free speech absolutist principle. Subject to the rights of third parties to take down what you said and remember it themselves (copyright notwithstanding), one ought to be in complete control of the communication that issues forth from one’s self, as one’s representation in the public sphere and avatar in cyberspace.

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  7. John Armstrong says:

    Mr Gowder:

    I agree in principle with the notion that “one ought to be in complete control of the communication that issues forth from one’s self”. Still, the ability to retroactively edit public statements strikes me as at least somewhat Orwellian. It’s a tricky question.

    For the moment, though I’ll sidestep the point; Solove’s post seems more aimed at the question of community norms and ethics rather than at regulations to enforce behaviors. As much as I think editing or deleting statements without notice is unwise at best, I’d object to removing the ability to do so.

    The discussion does raise in my mind one of my standard gripes about the evolution of “cyberlaw”, though: the tendency seems to be to find one analogy and to stick with it, no matter how awkward it becomes. A blog is neither a conversation nor a publication, but something else entirely with similarities to both. Yes, a blog entry can evolve in ways that a newspaper article cannot, but (as I see it) the notion of an explicit retraction is not a drawback imposed by the temporal limitations of the press but rather a vital element of transparency in the newspaper’s (limited) dialogue with the readers. When we transcend the limitations of one medium we must be careful to determine what benefits it had and attempt to preserve them in the transition.

    To bring us back to explicit examples, Solove’s avoidance of unannotated edits provides an analogous transparency and trustworthiness to his posts that in print I’d find with.. well I’d like to say the New York Times, but that’s another rant entirely. Suffice to say that if I determine that a blogger edits or removes his words without a marker to indicate the fact, it’s more analogous to the Weekly World News in my estimation and esteem.

  8. By the way, I don’t recall ever deleting a post or making a substantive edit without indicating it. I have fixed a typo here and there in some posts, but that’s about all I can recall. It would take a rather extreme case for me to remove a post — and I think that this is true for most bloggers.

    I do hope, however, that people who want to remove a post they regret aren’t overly castigated for it. Deleting posts should be rare, but I sure hope that the practice doesn’t become so stigmatic that deletion will come at too great a cost. If this happens, I fear that many people will be chilled in their blogging.

  9. As I think back more, there was one case where, when I began blogging, I relied on a source that I later learned was a hoax. I removed that part of the post. I did not want the focus of the post to transform into something about the source or the hoax, so I just excised it entirely so as to keep the focus of the post on my main point.