Blog comment retro-editing query
June 19, 2017 9:47 AM   Subscribe

I run a longstanding blog focused on local news and issues. By and large, commenting has always been civil. A locally contentious issue came up a couple of weeks ago, was debated in a brief thread of about nine comments. Now one of the participants wants me to delete his two comments. I can't decide. Details inside.

Relevant elements:

The participant, unlike many of my commenters, posts under his whole full name.

He's an aspiring journalist in our town.

His remarks were followed by several responses, so if his comment is deleted or heavily edited, the thread becomes incomprehensible.

One thing he said was a comment about a fellow journalist, tangential to the main issue, but which was potentially damaging. But that point got one thoughtful response I don't want to delete either.

I understand why this man wants to go back and delete what he said, but I'm not keen to start doing this for people. The topic is one that's bound to recur in our local scene and if anyone searches my blog they would find a topic with a discussion that makes no sense.

Curious, if a mod here sees this, to know as well how they would handle such a request.
posted by zadcat to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Could you anonymize the name but leave the comments? That seems like a fair compromise.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:50 AM on June 19 [7 favorites]

Yes. Anonymize the name.
posted by jbenben at 9:58 AM on June 19

I would delete- the fellow journalist deserves to have something "potentially damaging" about themselves taken down from a conversation they were not involved in.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:04 AM on June 19

Damaging as in like, a critique of his professional work? Or personally damaging like, he had an affair? If the former I'd anonymize, for the latter I'd delete.
posted by lalex at 10:08 AM on June 19

If the blog comments are public and already findable via google, they're going to be very hard to erase from the net. Aspiring journalist just done a learning.
posted by scruss at 10:09 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

From Eric Burns' Channel Markers essay:
Don't try to rewrite history. Look, we make mistakes. We all do. Sometimes we post an essay and we get stuff wrong in it. Sometimes that stuff makes the whole essay wrong. Sometimes, we put up an essay innocently and it turns into a firestorm of controversy we never meant. Sometimes, we find ourselves in a crucible on all sides.

The temptation is to go back. Revise. Reword what we said. Take the essay down entirely.

It is never a good idea. Ever.
The linked article, and especially the "Don't try to rewrite history" section quoted in part above, are worth reading in their entirety.

Faced with similar choices in the past, my general policy has been to let the ill-advised post stand, but give its author the opportunity to post a retraction, amendment and/or apology if they wish to do so.
posted by sourcequench at 10:20 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

First question I'd be asking is "Do you have a policy?" If not, this is a good point to make one. And yeah this is tricky since there was a follow-up comment on the "potentially damaging" comment he made. I agree that it matters what sort of damage you are talking about since anonymizing the comment would make those allegations anonymous which is sort of not cool. Might it be possible for him to change his username for something a little less "my real name" ish so the comments show up differently? I guess some of this depends on what sort of software you are using.

I think I'd be erring on the "Anoymize but don't delete" side but also letting the guy know that they're already in Google and you're not going to lie for him and he can do what he wants with that information moving forward. As it is I assume people don't have the option of just deleting their accounts and removing all their old comments (like here).

Otherwise maybe if you actually don't have a policy, delete the comments (like, all of them) this one time and then have a new "we don't delete comments" policy that you use going forward. Totally appreciate that this was an oversight on your part but there's probably some responsibility from you to be clear on what you would have done in this situation. If you already have a "we never delete comments" policy then point to it and stop answering the guy's emails.
posted by jessamyn at 10:31 AM on June 19 [5 favorites]

And, as a past MetaFilter mod, I know we have been pretty rigid about not deleting past comments but realistically we occasionally would for various reasons, So as much as it feels like the "right" thing to do to just adhere to policies or have a blanket "we always do this" approach, realistically people are human and so are you and try to take your action from a position of empathy when possible but then be a lot more strict if the person turns out the be a repeat offender.
posted by jessamyn at 10:33 AM on June 19 [5 favorites]

Don't delete, but I would -- if I felt generous -- change his posting name to First Name Last Initial as a favor. (I've moderated various things for nearly 20 years now.)

I'd also suggest he go in there and apologize if need be.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:14 AM on June 19

Another option you might consider is whether it's possible to selectively edit the posts to achieve the aim they want while leaving your conversation intact. Like, if he takes a potshot at a fellow journalist in the middle of a long, on-topic post, and no one responds to the potshot, maybe the potshot can be removed and everything else left behind.

That has to be done with great care, obviously, to avoid making other things in the conversation make no sense, or to avoid making other participants in the conversation look bad, but some times it can work.

The urge to just say 'we don't delete comments on request' is strong. it's easier in many ways and it feels right -- because we should all be for preserving the conversation that actually happened. But there are real people with real world interests behind those comments, and if we want to build a community of those people, it is good to try and make things easier and better for those real people where we can.

When I was a moderator, our general policy was not to delete comments on request but if someone came to us and said "You know, I left a terrible review of this business, and now I'm applying for a job at this business" we would do our best to help them -- removing their comment if we could without messing up the conversation, anonymizing it so it was less clear who wrote it (we couldn't change the username, but we would remove identifying details from the post itself sometimes), editing out the worst bits if that wasn't going to also mess up the conversation.

There's value in preserving the record, but there's value in not preserving every stupid ass thing a member of your community ever typed, too.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:49 PM on June 19

I've run a community news blog for the past 12 years. Policy has been to remove the text of the comment at the request of the person who made the comment, but leave it as a place holder in the thread as [COMMENT REMOVED BY REQUEST].

It's come up 5 or 8 times in the years, and we have an active conversation. A small enough occurrence to feel like I'm losing any historical integrity.
posted by john m at 2:35 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]

Thanks to everyone who responded. I anonymized the comments and the commenter is satisfied.

Incidentally, I never had an explicit policy on this. I do have a rule on removing offensive comments, which I've only had to act on a handful of times, but over more than 15 years it's never come up before that a commenter wanted their own words removed or obfuscated. I'm fortunate to have an exceptionally cool community around my blog.
posted by zadcat at 7:54 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]

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