Among my extended circle of Chicago weblogging friends, there have been a couple incidents recently in which a weblogger posts strong feelings in the heat of the moment, people get offended, and the weblogger sheepishly retracts the post.
I think this sort of retroactive self-censorship is a double-edged sword that should be wielded more lightly. On the one hand, it makes amends towards the offended parties, while on the other; it prevents everyone else from knowing how the weblogger felt.
Waxing paternal for a moment, I think it’s a fairly common mistake for novice webloggers to go too far and post something too personal and offensive. They might think that since their weblog doesn’t get a lot of hits, only their close friends will read the post. They don’t realize the attention that one juicy post can attract. Also, the solitude in which most webloggers compose their entries can seduce the writer into a false sense of privacy. And often sarcastic jokes are misinterpreted as flamebait. So, when composing a post, keep in mind not only the people you know will read the post, but your potential audience, i.e., everyone. As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it on your weblog.
Now let’s say a weblogger posted something and somebody leaves a comment saying that they’re offended. The default response should not be to delete the offending post (though sometimes it is appropriate). As with every communications medium, information on the Web cannot simply be deleted, erased, and gone forever. It leaves a trace in the memories of the people who read it. People still know what you said. (And Web caches may know as well.) Deleting a post fuels the gossip engine that popularized the post in the first place, and almost certainly polarizes the original sentiments.
Furthermore, being offended isn’t the worst thing in the world. I’ve become a better person because people have had the forthrightness to tell me things that, at the time, offended me. I’d rather be occasionally offended than mollycoddled with bland opinions and PG-rated stories.
So… (this is a list so people will read it)
- Think before you post: even if you delete it, people will still know what you said.
- Deleting a post appeases the offended party, but does a disservice to everyone else who would have read it.
- Instead, consider clarifying the language in the post, or adding a postscript.
- Allow your weblog to be a two-way medium, either through comments or e-mail, so you know how you’re being received.