Is it ever OK to change peoples posts on a web forum?
August 7, 2007 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Is it ever OK to change peoples posts on a web forum? Say theoretically a government department ran a consultation via web forum, with invited, non anonymous participants, and wasn't happy with what some of their own staff said. Would it be ok for them to order the staff to edit the posts? Are there any useful examples of the consequences?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (10 answers total)
I don't see how your question can be answered. OK according to what?

Are you asking if it's unconstitutional? If it's morally wrong? If it would be offensive? If it would violate web norms? If it would violate labor laws?

Depending on which standard of OK-ness you chose, the answer could be nearly anything.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:36 PM on August 7, 2007

Assuming you mean "morally OK," yes, IMO it can be appropriate for an employer (government or private) to change posts made by an employee in the course of his job duties, or to have the employee change the post himself. The employer has every right to determine what the employee says when speaking on the employer's behalf. In fact, I'd argue it would be morally required if the original post had incorrect information which might cause harm to its readers.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:54 PM on August 7, 2007

That is one of the dangers of inviting answers from people - sometimes you don't like what they have to say. It would be better to focus on the answers and what can be done to improve responses, rather than change the responses to save face.

If I were one of the staff members being asked to change my response, it would not be OK. Maybe I would still do it depending on whatever circumstances surround this question though. But that's just one angle.

Would you be okay with it if Jessamyn ordered you to modify an existing metafilter comment because she didn't like that you criticized metafilter? Would the community get upset if all who criticized had to change their comments? Would it be OK? Maybe that's your answer?
posted by ml98tu at 1:54 PM on August 7, 2007

It might be smarter to simply post a "correction" even if that second post has to come from someone else.

Sort of a "Bob said XYZ; you should know that the official position of the Department is ABCD, not XYZ" type of thing. That way the agency can't be accused of trying to change history, or sweep things under the rug. On the other hand, some staff might feel insulted by that kind of post.

Broadly speaking, this is probably lawyer-time.
posted by aramaic at 1:56 PM on August 7, 2007

DevilsAdvocate raises a good point - are they speaking on the employer's behalf, or did the employees respond to the employer's query (i.e. a company satisfaction survey). I took it to be the latter, but if it's the former, then it would be appropriate to consider making a change (or on preview, posting a correction).

Regardless, there should probably be some investigation as to why the staff's responses were a problem, and address that too.
posted by ml98tu at 1:59 PM on August 7, 2007

I don't see a hard and fast rule here, although I think aramaic is on the right track.

Unilaterally editing someone else's posts: bad.
Telling someone else to edit their post: probably bad, but maybe not. Here's what I'm thinking. If an employee made a well-intentioned post that got some facts wrong, it's reasonable to say to the employee "Bob, the correct figure is actually 10 tons, not 100 tons. Could you correct your forum post please?" If Bob gives you pushback, well, that's another issue. If the source of disagreement is a matter of opinion or judgment, I don't think it is reasonable to request a revision, but it is reasonable to counter-post as aramaic suggested. The closest I would come would be to tell Bob "Look, you need to add a disclaimer to your post saying what the official position on this is."

If Bob posted something inflammatory or off-topic, do like Jessamyn and delete it.
posted by adamrice at 2:18 PM on August 7, 2007

OP here. I don't think there were issues of fact here, just the higher-ups don't like some peoples opinions. It was meant to be a general discussion site, some staff, some citizens sharing ideas and opinions. I am unhappy that they now want the staff comments to follow a certain 'line', and am concerned about possible consequences if alterations in comments are noticed (press coverage for example).
I think it would be better to post corrections/disclaimers, but am in the position of being ordered to make the changes to other peoples posts, and not happy about it. Some useful comments here, in a few hours I have to make my case to the bosses so keep em coming, thanks.
posted by onetimeysockpuppet at 2:28 PM on August 7, 2007

I think you need to show your bosses that the Internet never forgets. Even if you edit a post, the original version of it still exists somewhere, and can be recalled.

Even if they're not in the Internet Archives or Wayback Machine yet, people love, love, love to screencap forum posts, they love to save original source code, and they love to share it. Here is a current example of "deleting on the Internet is not actually deleting" in action. When somebody has the original, an organization is forced to be accountable for both the "deleted" version and the coverup that followed.

It's much better to amend with corrections and disclaimers, than to explain the two different versions (one of which you tried to pretend didn't exist.)
posted by headspace at 2:46 PM on August 7, 2007

Assuming that the staff and citizens who participated will remember what was posted -- and may have even quoted or printed out some of the submissions -- it will almost certainly be noticed and remembered. Going back and changing the posts would create bad will and damage the agency's (??) credibility.
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:20 PM on August 7, 2007

« Older My Computer Can't Hear Itself   |   Shipping bytes Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.