Thursday, September 18, 2008

Are blogs forever? Should they be?

Here’s an update on my request that information about my site be removed from Wordhustler dot com.  Again, I don’t use .com because I’m not trying to create a link or endorse the site. 

After initially refusing to remove my information and referring me to her attorney, Anne Walls, one of the site’s founders, emailed me today and said they were removing my information.  She asked me to remove my prior comments about the site from my blog.  I explained to her that, like a news article that’s been published, you can’t just delete the blog entries I’ve already posted.  So my thanks to Ms. Walls (and apologies for misspelling her name in prior posts) and the folks at Wordhustler for removing my firm’s information from its site. 

Isn’t it all better when we just play nice? 

But my discussion raised an interesting point:  What is the general feeling about editing blogs?  I’ve noticed a movement on some sites toward leaving in place but striking out prior entries when circumstances have changed.  Perhaps the information was incorrect or is now out-of-date.  Or maybe someone just changed his mind.  Is that right?  I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t on the verge of some Orwellian time when blogs or even news articles can be edited and changed or deleted so easily.  The leader of North Korea is apparently fond of ordering changes in the official history of his country.  I’ve heard Japanese textbooks apparently ignore Japan’s less savory bits of history, like the Rape of Nanking and taking women from their families in Korea and turning them into “comfort women” for the troops.  Iran, of course, would like us to believe the Holocaust never happened. 

Now imagine when the search-and-replace function in software is intelligent enough to tear through entire websites and change information.  Imagine if Iran put hackers to work to delete any and all information about the Holocaust it could find online.  Scary, eh? 

Sure, a blog entry that is offensive (like genuinely offensive, not offensive like “I’m the President of Iran and I’m offended you believe in the Holocaust) should be edited or deleted.  Or one that is legally actionable.  But should an error in reporting be deleted or should it just be struck out and updated?  How about when circumstances change, as they did today, when Ms. Walls agreed to take the information off her site?  Or is what I’m doing here enough? 

Let’s take a poll (no, not an actual “push this button” poll, but just in the comments): 

Should I go back and remove my comments about Wordhustler or is this update thanking them for their cooperation enough?  And if I were to “remove” them, should I delete them entirely, or just strike them out? 




Hilary Wagner said...

When a magazine finds out they put incorrect information in an article or some sort of new information comes to light, they don't reprint the whole magazine. They simply correct the article in the next issue, or issue a statement with the new information, which seems to be exactly what you did. If people are not willing to read all the blog articles on a certain topic they're interested in then shame on them.

Andrew Zack said...

True, but printed magazines don't have the ability to reprint the article or go back and change what they had previously published. Blogs and websites do. So the question remains, Should they? Or should they just publish a correction or strike out the old and update it? And if they strike out the old and update it, should they put a notice up for users, who might otherwise not know that anything from two days ago changed?

Kathryn said...

In this case the posts seem to show a progression of events. If the original information posted had been incorrect--if they had agreed to remove the information the first time--then the blog post would have been incorrect. But as I see it, at the time it was posted, it was true, so it should stay.

Brigid said...

I'd recommend a note at the bottom of each post, something like:

Edit: As of (date), WordHustler kindly removed my information from their website. See *this post* for details.

Brigid said...

Oh, and I do think it'd be fine to leave the posts as they stand, by the way. The note-at-the-bottom idea is just something that came out of my interactions with someone who objected to outdated information on my blog. (I'd complained, she'd fixed the problem a week later, and I hadn't blogged again.)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I might consider going back and editing the old posts -- to include links to the other articles in this series, and with a note along the lines of, "Did Andy win or lose? Read on to see!"

That way, people can make their own decisions about the scenario.

Besides, even the removed supposed information about the Chinese gymnasts had been preserved in a cache somewhere.

I said...

I think it's important to maintain a distinction between the reporting of incorrect information and a simple change of situation. If something gets reported that's flat out untrue, then obviously steps should be taken to correct the mistake. My own preference would be for striking out the information and adding a note about why it's not true, but I can also see the argument from the aggrieved party about removing the information. After all, we all know the power that rumours have even once they've been completely and thoroughly debunked. (Did you know Barack Obama is a radical Muslim fundamentalist and an atheist and a member of an objectionable Christian denomination all at the same time?)

But when it's simply that the circumstances have changed, then I think it's important that the true historical record be maintained (probably with, as Brigid suggests, a note indicating the updated situation added to the post; you never know when someone might stumble on just the original post through a Google search or a link from another site). In instances like that, attempts to have the memory of people's previous actions simply erased really disturbs me.

Regarding the point about Japanese history textbooks, I also think it's important to acknowledge that they're by no means the only people who don't emphasize the periods of their history they'd like to forget. We can (and should) decry it when Japanese students don't learn about the atrocities their country committed in the last century. But by the same token, try asking a Mexican if the US education system does an adequate job teaching the Mexican-American War (ditto asking an American Indian about what happened to this country's indigenous population over the course of the nineteenth century). It's arguably one of the most important points in American history--it resulted in the US annexing about a third of its presentday land area, after all--but it's virtually unknown amongst the general population because there's really no way to spin it other than as a blatant war of aggression to seize land from a weaker neighbor.

Andrew Zack said...

Good comment. But I almost didn't publish it as you did not sign it as requested above. In the future, please do.


slcard said...

I've had to think about this.

I cannot see how you can strike out the information from the previous post completely, as I now have it on my computer in my subscription copy. Using such a copy, the information as it originally appeared can easily be passed on. It seems, therefore, that to attempt to strike the words out of a past blog post, or to attempt to eliminate them, is redundant. The action itself, however, most certainly is not, leaving the question, should you make such changes to your past post regardless, for the sake of clarification or courtesy?

Provided the dated, past reporting is accurate, I would argue the current post is sufficient. There must be some sort of responsibility on the part of a reader interested in this topic to read all of the available information. I think it is dangerous to strike out words, as this would dilute your opinion, and a violation of truth to remove them. The first smacks of silencing free speech, and the latter is blatant censorship. As you and others have indicated, this is a very dangerous path and not a precedent, I would hope, for a literary agent to set.

Sara L. Card
Sydney NS Canada

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