18 July 2007

Web Ethics and Deletions ...

Yesterday, Armando Llorens at TalkLeft posted an embarrassing (for him) list of CPAC sponsors to counter Dean Barnett and the JetBlue/YearlyKos sponsorship controversy.

The post was also duplicated elsewhere (i.e. LeftWord).

Unfortunately, the CPAC he quoted from, and linked to, wasn't the intended Conservative Political Action Conference but instead the Center for Process Analytical Chemistry.

The entire post was subsequently deleted. I don't know how long the post was up at TalkLeft. The time stamp on the post was Tue Jul 17, 2007 at 11:38:57 AM EST. It seems Google cached it within 20 minutes of posting: retrieved on 17 Jul 2007 16:51:56 GMT.

I certainly understand why Armando would want to delete the post and - depending how long it had been up - why he thought he could (without anyone noticing?). This is NOT about embarrassing Armando.

It is a blogging ethics question. Links rot. Posts are deleted. Entire blogs disappear (I deleted my previous blog, took a year off and started over). So what? Quoted passages or entire posts of now nonexistent blog posts or entire blogs may continue to exist elsewhere on the 'net with the corresponding reference link broken. Again, so what?

What really was lost when Armando deleted that post besides his own potential embarrassment and misleading his readers? Should he have put an update on the post with a retraction instead? Would you? Why?

What do you think about bloggers deleting posts? What would you think if it was a news organization or another publication that deleted an online story without notice or explanation?

As a discussion starting point, Rebecca Blood wrote in 2002:

4. Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry.

Post deliberately. If you invest each entry with intent, you will ensure your personal and professional integrity.

Changing or deleting entries destroys the integrity of the network. The Web is designed to be connected; indeed, the weblog permalink is an invitation for others to link. Anyone who comments on or cites a document on the Web relies on that document (or entry) to remain unchanged. A prominent addendum is the preferred way to correct any information anywhere on the Web. If an addendum is impractical, as in the case of an essay that contains numerous inaccuracies, changes must be noted with the date and a brief description of the nature of the change.

If you think this is overly scrupulous, consider the case of the writer who points to an online document in support of an assertion. If this document changes or disappears — and especially if the change is not noted — her argument may be rendered nonsensical. Books do not change; journals are static. On paper, new versions are always denoted as such.

The network of shared knowledge we are building will never be more than a novelty unless we protect its integrity by creating permanent records of our publications. The network benefits when even entries that are rendered irrelevant by changing circumstance are left as a historical record. As an example: A weblogger complains about inaccuracies in an online article; the writer corrects those inaccuracies (and notes them!); the weblogger's entry is therefore meaningless — or is it? Deleting the entry somehow asserts that the whole incident simply didn't happen — but it did. The record is more accurate and history is better served if the weblogger notes beneath the original entry that the writer has made the corrections and the article is now, to the weblogger's knowledge, accurate.

History can be rewritten, but it cannot be undone. Changing or deleting words is possible on the Web, but possibility does not always make good policy. Think before you publish and stand behind what you write. If you later decide you were wrong about something, make a note of it and move on.

I make a point never to post anything I am not willing to stand behind even if I later disagree. I work to be thoughtful and accurate, no matter how angry or excited I am about a particular topic. If I change my opinion in a day or two, I just note the change. If I need to apologize for something I've said, I do so.

If you discover that you have posted erroneous information, you must note this publicly on your weblog. Deleting the offending entry will do nothing to correct the misinformation your readers have already absorbed. Taking the additional step of adding a correction to the original entry will ensure that Google broadcasts accurate information into the future.

The only exception to this rule is when you inadvertently reveal personal information about someone else. If you discover that you have violated a confidence or made an acquaintance uncomfortable by mentioning him, it is only fair to remove the offending entry altogether, but note that you have done so.

Your thoughts?

Previous: Wierd Web Workings at CNN

No comments: