Will you please change that thing that makes me look bad?
February 2, 2009 7:20 AM   Subscribe

Distorted info, implying I'm being dishonest, put online accidentally by totally well-meaning people. Where are the lines in terms of asking for corrections, and if I do what is the etiquette?

I know people in media work under tight conditions, and I'm grateful they're paying attention to me in the first place (for my work in a creative field). But where do I draw the lines in terms of requesting corrections of -- versus just accepting -- distortions and errors? And what if it's a static bio that's going to be available on a site for a long time, rather than just a newspaper or blog article (which to me feels more evanescent, even if it will stay accessible online)?

Current example: a "bio" of me has gone up on the site of a non-profit org (I won a prize of theirs but I have no other relationship with them). I gave them clear bio info and offered to make other lengths/types of bio if they needed. What actually made it onto their site is a version of my achievements in their own words -- and in their process of rephrasing, they accidentally distorted what I said so it looks like I'm exaggerating/lying about two specific things I've done in the past (at least it looks that way to anyone who knows my field well).

I really care about staying (and appearing!!) honest and ethical in a world where it's so common and so encouraged for my peers to exaggerate or even lie in the supposed name of self-promotion.

This is not the first time this has happened -- this issue of accidental distortions after someone has carelessly edited my bio or expanded it into their own words. So in which cases should I push for changes? How do I balance gratitude and understanding vs. pickiness and creating more work for them? This is one of those orgs where nobody in-house seems to do web stuff, so it takes a while (and probably costs them money) to change the text on their site. In this case I especially want to keep building a relationship with this group in the future (I think they're amazing), so I don't want to be a problem. I do know how to communicate politely and concisely (more concisely than this post :-)) but I feel like I don't know what is really appropriate to ask for.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would send them a polite email saying the bio that's up is incorrect and include something they can replace it with. Apologize for the inconvenience but stress that it's very important to you that the information be correct. I think the most important thing would be to write the bio yourself--it doesn't sound like you did that the first time. It can be weird to write about yourself in the third person, but that's how most bios are actually written. You're the only one who can put it into words yourself.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:42 AM on February 2, 2009

so I don't want to be a problem

Do you have access to your own space somewhere on the Internet, a blog or a professional website? A page outlining your bio in your own words, with a section explaining how you have been slightly misrepresented with a link to the offending bio could go some way to ameliorate the problem without you needing to hassle them.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:49 AM on February 2, 2009

they accidentally distorted what I said so it looks like I'm exaggerating/lying about two specific things I've done in the past

I wouldn't sweat this too much. Without being able to read it ourselves, of course, we can't be certain how the wording misrepresents you. But you can certainly ask them to correct it.

Don't use the word "lying", or allude to your anguish about ethics and appearances. Just say something like "In summarizing my accomplishments you introduced some mild inaccuracies." Then say the line that you want changed and your rewritten version. It's likely that it was put together by an intern, publicist, or web producer without the in-depth knowledge of your field, that's all.
posted by dhartung at 7:54 AM on February 2, 2009

It's entirely appropriate to request changes to your bio. If it was an article in an industry publication or something, you might be out of luck, but you can totally suggest a change to your bio. Don't worry too much about it.
posted by YoungAmerican at 7:54 AM on February 2, 2009

When I was graduating with my undergrad degree, the University newspaper (the admin one that goes to alumni, not the student paper) did a profile of me and other graduating students. It was the same sort of thing -- they interviewed me and then wrote up this profile that made it sound like I walk on water. In fact, I do not walk on water, and I found this all rather embarrassing. Worse than that, I worried that it would seem to people who knew me that the tone of the article was based on the interview and they would think I was totally self-aggrandizing.

I mentioned my embarrassment to one of my profs and she said basically that the University has its own motives. They need everyone (read: alumni, donors) to look fantastic to show what a great job they're doing and how their scholarship money is going to such exceedingly worthy candidates. And she said the university's motives would be clear to anyone reading this and I shouldn't' worry that people would judge me as a result. I think she was right.

Would the motives of this non-profit (likely similar) be clear to readers of the profile? If so, don't worry about it. Just make sure your bio on your web site is clearer on the exact nature of your accomplishments.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:02 AM on February 2, 2009

Where I work, anytime anybody shortens something you wrote, they ask whether they accidentally introduced untruths. So I don't think it's out of line for you to ask that this be corrected. Including a correct version of their length will make it easy for them to change it.
posted by salvia at 8:29 AM on February 2, 2009

I suggest a written formal letter, both faxed and mailed. Be polite and clear regarding what you are writing about. "I am writing to you to clear up a few inaccuracies that appear to have cropped up on your organization's website biography of me." Note the deliberate use of the passive voice. It allows the inaccuracies to "crop up" on their own, without blaming anyone. (This is why good writers avoid the passive in most sentences, so that when it is used it can serve a function.)

Thank them again for the award and for their attention to the matter.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:08 AM on February 2, 2009

Just ask politely. I work in media and am never offended (though sometimes chastised and embarrassed) when someone requests a fix. I'd rather have something accurate on the site than worry about my ego being bruised or the inconvenience caused by a requested fix.
posted by faunafrailty at 10:26 AM on February 2, 2009

I agree that you can at least ask them to change it. It sounds like a reasonable request. I'd recommend you include the exact text you want for your correction.

Moving forward, it might help to specifically ask for the chance to review the final draft. They may not always be able to accommodate you, but at least they can expect that you might have some more input after their edits.
posted by juliplease at 12:40 PM on February 2, 2009

I maintain a not-for-profit website and wiki on which I have bios of relevant people, some of which I've had to condense or edit for brevity. I would not be offended if one of those people asked me to change their bio. In fact I have been picked up on a few errors, and the only time it offended me was when someone assumed an error (not on their own entry) was due to political bias - and that was more a personal thing (they assumed I was biased the wrong way!)

I suggest a wording which says something like "I'm a bit worried that a quick reading of the shortened version of my bio might lead to inaccurate assumptions. I'd really appreciate it if you could replace the text with this:" and then follow with your own suggested content. I would find that a simple fix and it wouldn't offend me in the slightest.
posted by andraste at 5:14 PM on February 2, 2009

I agree that it is entirely appropriate to ask them to revise the bio. In my experience there are often details that are professionally quite important, but easily confused or exaggerated by those outside the field. I think if you approach them directly they will probably be glad to make the corrections. I do think something like a bio of you on a website is worth trying to fix, even if the site isn't in your control.
posted by meinvt at 7:23 PM on February 2, 2009

Send them a polite, professional email requesting that they change whatever is bothering you about the bio. Why not just be direct?
posted by balls at 8:38 PM on February 2, 2009

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