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The Ethics of Deleting Posts or Comments

I recently noticed something on self-hosted WordPress blogs: unlike Blogger where the comment-leaver can delete their comment after posting, on self-hosted WordPress blogs, the only person who can do the deleting is the owner of the blog. This fact to me speaks volumes about the division that exists in the online world about deleting — who can delete (which is really about who owns the words) and should we delete in the case of blog posts or comments that we regret?

So before we even get into a discussion on deleting, consider that first thought: who owns the comment box?  Is it the blog owner?  Is it the comment writer?  Is it a no-man’s land controlled by both parties at the same time?  Or controlled by no one — a Wild West?

And interesting point to consider and plays into this larger idea of deleting posts and comments.

Deleting, of course, does not always mean that the words or images disappear. In the case of the recent Girl Scout cookie boycott video that went viral, the maker of the video made her manifesto private, but people had already downloaded the YouTube video and were now uploading it on their feed in order to keep it accessible.

Similarly, Dave Dorman deleted his post about finding offense with an image of a breastfeeding woman in a comic book titled: “Why Dave Dorman Finds New Image Comic ‘SAGA’ Offensive.” Again, when he decided to delete, it was after the backlash, when people had quoted from his post, therefore most of the words still remain online.

Of course, there is the well-known example of Scott Adams — of Dilbert fame — who deleted a rant last March, but again, it lived on in the blogosphere.  Once he realized it wasn’t going away, he fanned the flames for a bit. He insisted that despite deleting the original post (which he then proceeded to re-publish),

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I was enjoying all of the negative attention on Twitter and wondered how I could keep it going. So I left some comments on several Feminist blogs, mostly questioning the reading comprehension of people who believed I had insulted them. That kept things frothy for about a day. Now things are starting to settle down. It’s time for some DMD.

And those are just a handful of blog posts and YouTube videos. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the times I click over to read something from my Google Reader and find the blog post is gone, never to return again. Or the times when people are responding to a comment in the comment section of a blog, and suddenly the original comment disappears because the commenter has pulled their words.

Some people — myself included — believe strongly in deleting certain types of negative comments in the same way that if someone took a crap on my living room floor, I would clean it up rather than leaving it there for authenticity.  My blog is like my living room; it is my figurative living space on the Web. While I don’t delete people who disagree with me, I do delete hate speech and hurtful comments that are not meant to further a discussion but instead are meant to harm another person emotionally. An example would be the time when I was writing about my sadness over someone who miscarried, and the comment expressed glee that the person had lost their pregnancy. On the other hand, if I don’t believe the comment will emotionally harm another person beyond pissing them off (or if it doesn’t purport misinformation), I’ll leave it in place.

On the other hand, with the exception of deleting a comment and reposting it again immediately without a type-o, I don’t believe in deleting comments I write. Even when I’m slammed by others in the comment section for my point-of-view. Knowing that I don’t delete makes me think twice before typing, and there have been plenty of times that I’ve walked away from leaving a comment if I don’t think I can write it well or own my words in the future.

Similarly, the only time a post is removed is when I accidentally hit “publish” instead of “save draft” and it goes up before it’s ready.  But in those cases, it goes up again; only I wait until I feel the post is ready to go.  But I feel differently about deleting posts that I regret.  I don’t delete posts because I feel cheated when other people delete their posts once they are asked to own up to their words. Once you set your ideas out there and someone reads it, it becomes part of their story as well. Every reaction to an original blog post or video is just as valid and important as the original piece. And in that case, removing the original words becomes akin to stealing something away from your readers who were emotionally affected by your words.

It’s better to own your words and express regret for posting them. To explain your ideas further or even admit that the reaction of readers got you to change your mind. There is nothing wrong with stating that your viewpoint has changed. In fact, in addition to a new blog post, you can update the original post with a note at the beginning to explain how your viewpoint has changed over time.

Self-editing reflects on a person’s integrity. Just as we can’t take back words we say once they’re out of our mouths, we shouldn’t edit our online words. People make mistakes. People say things they regret upon reflection. But there is a big difference between crossing your fingers and muttering, “I didn’t say that!” with a delete, and owning your words and the damage they caused.

Of course, the simple answer is to also be circumspect with what you post on the Web. If you don’t want it connected to your name, don’t post it at all.

I know not everyone deletes for nefarious reasons.  There are perfectly good reasons for a person to delete their post, such as realizing that you crossed a line in regards to another person’s privacy and want to minimize the damage or assuage hurt feelings (again, leaving up something damaging to another person for authenticity is akin to leaving that crap in your living room).  So just to be clear, I am speaking to the times when we post before we calm down and think, and then regret it later (or times when the thoughts were calmly composed, but the backlash causes the person regret).  Those are the times — especially once people have read and responded to your words — that I believe a follow-up apology post is more appropriate than taking away the original post.  It’s about owning your point-of-view, the way you see the world (or, at least, as you presented it in that moment; again, we’re all allowed to change our minds).  Again, that’s what I believe, and I fully expect others to disagree.

Do you delete blog posts or comments you regret? Do you get upset when other people delete their posts?

And who does own that comment box?

Mostly cross-posted with BlogHer.


1 May { 01.22.12 at 9:10 am }

I have deleted two comments, in the entire five-and-a-half years I’ve been blogging. I had recently miscarried and was still feeling raw and ANGRY beyond anything, and someone found my month-earlier post announcing the positive pee-stick, and written a fulsome, gushy, G*d-has-blessed-you, congratulations comment. On a month-old post. Clearly without checking what had happened since. It felt like being hit in the face with a tinsel-decorated spade. I know the writer meant well, but I just could not leave it there, not after I’d lost that very pregnancy, and written so many anguished posts since that one about the loss.

About a year-and-a-half after that, I had another miscarriage, and AGAIN, got a ‘congratulations’ comment a week or so after I’d posted about losing this pregnancy as well, wail, despair etc. Worse still, this congratulations comment, anonymous, included a smarmy remark about trusting I wouldn’t be one of THOSE pregnant ladies who talks about nothing else and forgets she was ever infertile. That hurt. That HURT.

Neither of those were craps-on-the-living-room-carpet, at all, not even the one with the smarmy remark in it. I think I made it sound worse that it was with the above description. But they were like someone had forcibly broken in and painted my wall with a frieze of unicorns and baby cherubs. It was like someone hiring a clown-car full of kazoo-players and comedy horn-honking to play at a funeral, drowning out the Tallis motet the mourners had actually chosen. It was having someone slam a pie in your face when you’re allergic to gluten.

I never congratulate people on anything without making sure this is the latest post and this is the current state-of-play still.

Whereas, when I got trolled by some anonymous person who was accusing me of being an alcoholic (it was on a post in which I mentioned going to the pub and drinking gin) and saying I’d never get pregnant if I didn’t stop drinking, I left it up because it made me laugh my ARSE off. If I really had been a drinker, it’d’ve hurt, no doubt, but I drink about one alcoholic drink a week and I never drink during the TWW, so HAHAHAHAHA idiot troll. Technically a crap-on-the-carpet, but it was so wildly wide of the mark it became more of a slapstick fart-joke.

2 May { 01.22.12 at 9:11 am }

Sorry, that’s practically a NOVEL of a comment. Oops.

3 Blanche { 01.22.12 at 10:23 am }

I recently tried to respond to a post which spoke to me, but by the time I finished my comment, the post had disappeared. It actually made me feel a bit deflated. I’m hoping like you said, the author wasn’t quite ready to publish and it will reappear sooner rather than later so that I can respond while I still remember what I wanted to say.

4 m. { 01.22.12 at 10:35 am }

I can’t recall deleting any comments on my blog – I considered it once when someone used my real name in their response but figured, oh what the hell.

I have deleted 1 post among 442 – it was one that was at least two years old, but caused a family member’s feelings to be deeply hurt when it was discovered. Here’s the good news: the post became a catalyst for a heartfelt conversation. It all worked out, but I didn’t see the need to keep those words up knowing the pain they inflicted.

As the owner of the blog, I think that comment box belongs to you to use or not use as you see fit. I don’t agree with ruling it with an iron fist, but the ultimate role of moderator is yours.

5 Jo { 01.22.12 at 10:51 am }

Deleted comments drive me batty, particularly the ones like you mention where other commenters are responding to the comment. Twice I’ve had people without their own blogs/email addresses leave (and then delete) what I assume are negative comments on my blog before I could ever read them. My bloggy friends had my back, of course, which is why I assume the comments were deleted. But my curiosity over what was said is enough to make me crazy….kind of like coming in on the tail end of a conversation where everyone else knows what was said and no one will tell you.

6 Hope { 01.22.12 at 10:58 am }

Interesting post. I do moderate and edit comments. And not just flames and spam. I believe my blog is my space, and I set the tone for it by being the moderator. I love open, respectful discussions on other peoples blogs, but that’s not the kind of forum I’m comfortable with on *my* blog. It feels too personal, and it’s too hard for me to be detatched from it.

7 Lily { 01.22.12 at 11:48 am }

Great post! This isn’t only for blogo-sphere but everywhere on the internet. Everyone knows the old saying of what “opinions” are “like”…and I have a great little cartoon showing someone sitting at the computer screen at like 4 in the morning saying “Sorry I can’t come to bed…someone is WRONG on the internet!!!”

But anymore in this politically correct world, expressing an opinion (be it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’) SOMEONE is going to be offended. For example – I am a huge supporter of gay rights and gay marriage. I post about this often on my facebook page. My Godfather (who is also a minister and whom I love and respect dearly and I have known since literally before I was born) is very against gay marriage. I always forget to dis-include him from seeing my posts, even when it’s just something small I’m sharing…and he never lets me forget it and always wants to talk one on one about it. I do not. lol.

But – once it’s out there, it can’t be un-said. The internet, blogs, facebook, etc…can easily make people lose personal relationships because people think it’s so safe to put their full and honest opinion out there that they may not say in real life – as if putting it on the internet isn’t going to come back to them…

I am even on many message boards and have learned over the years, if you want to continue posting on those boards and have the online camaraderie you’ve come to experience on those boards, it’s really best to THINK before you post. Instead of putting that strong opinion out there that you KNOW someone is going to come back and “bash” you for…it’s best to just keep my mouth shut sometimes!

8 Tigger { 01.22.12 at 11:56 am }

I delete spam comments from my blog. I’ve only had one person ever leave a mean comment, and that amused me because I actually HAD a mean comment so I left it. I don’t delete posts – which is why I don’t have as many as I could, because I don’t write them. I also don’t delete my own comments. I try to think through what I’m saying, read over it before I publish it.

9 Bionic Baby Mama { 01.22.12 at 1:14 pm }

i have deleted one post, after i accidentally sent my blog address to my mother. (brilliant.) it didn’t say anything bad about her, but it did say something a little past nice about my MIL, and it didn’t seem somehow fair for my mother to see that.

I’ve since asked my mother not to read the blog, and I may restore the post. It was quite old when I took it down, but it still seems weird having it gone.

10 Curly Sue { 01.22.12 at 1:14 pm }

Before I joined Blogger, I used LiveJournal. There, you are able to choose whether a post is public, shared with friends, or private (haven’t seen if that is possible on Blogger). Having that tool, I never censored my words because I could always keep it private. I agree with a lot of what you say about “owning your words” – *very* important to me. I have never deleted a post and I hope I never will. I like your suggestion of updating a post to say you have changed your opinion or what-have-you. Great way to acknowledge error without pretending it didn’t happen!

11 christine { 01.22.12 at 1:47 pm }

I was going to say I have never deleted a post, but I think I might have back when my sister found out about my blog. I had written about a comment she had made and when she discovered I had a blog, I deleted it. That was more to prevent hurting her feelings than anything else.

Overall, I try to be cognizant of what I write, knowing that the internet has a way of holding on to things.

I never thought about comment box “ownership”, I guess I feel like it’s shared between the blogger and the commenters. I want to hear people’s opinions, but not if they are overly hurtful or spiteful. Thankfully, I have never had to delete a comment.

Thanks for a post that really made me think!

12 slowmamma { 01.22.12 at 1:54 pm }

I also see the comment box as a shared entity and I think that both commenter and blog host should have the ability to delete a comment if they choose to do so. To date, I have yet to feel the need to delete anything but I can imagine several reasons why that need might come up in the future.

13 Queenie { 01.22.12 at 2:26 pm }

I don’t think I’ve ever deleted any posts. The words were how I felt when I posted them, and valid for that snapshot in time. I don’t want to self-edit later on and lose that original moment in time, because whatever it was like or whether I was wrong, it was authentic. Of course, I also blog anonymously, so I suppose I don’t entirely “own” my words. But then again, that’s why I blog anonymously–to give myself complete freedom to say what I need to say without feeling like I need to self-edit. It’s remarkably freeing.

I always wonder what people have said when they delete a post, and why they’ve chosen to take it down. Sometimes I try to see if I can read the post, anyway. There was a blogger recently whose son was run over by a tractor trailer. She took down her post, presumably because her attorney told her to. However, Google had already cached it, and I was able to pull up the cached version and read her whole (horrifying) post even though she’d made the decision to remove it.

As for comments, I don’t delete, and I don’t really mind if anyone else does. I don’t see anyone as explicitly “owning” the comment box–it’s kind of shared space, as I see it. I have a right to delete things because it’s hosted on my blog (but I never have), and the person writing the words has the right to delete them because they are their words.

14 Rachel { 01.22.12 at 2:31 pm }

A) earlier in the week a post called “you are beautiful” popped up from you on my sidebar, but every time I clicked on it, I got an error page. Did you delete it? I was so excited, because I assumed you had responded to the new “size 6 is plus size” bullish%# that came from the fashion industry. Just curious 🙂

B) I have deleted comments that have hurtful profanity and/or sling mud at me, my family or our son’s birthmother. I moderate now, so I actually don’t even publish those. I think the combox is a community, but unfortunately, sometimes every community needs policed.

C) yesterday i deleted a post from Facebook. I found a better source than the one I had originally posted, so I took down the original comment and replaced it. I don’t recall ever deleting a blog comment, although. I have started to comment and then changed my mind because I was afraid what I wanted to say wouldn’t come across and I would be offensive.

15 Kimberly { 01.22.12 at 2:34 pm }

I have always put a lot of thought into my comments. I’m shy, even when it comes to blogs so for me to work up the courage to post a comment on someone’s post is a big deal to me. Stuff like ICLW have helped me greatly in being a more open blogger and commenter but I still put time and effort and really think about what I wrote before I hit the submit button. So saying that, I treat everyone else and their comments like my own comments on another blog. I assume that someone has taken the time and effort to compose their thoughts to share with me so if someone comments, it is their space to share their thoughts and to open dialogue on something I started in my post. I’ve never deleted a comment but I’ve never had to deal with an inappropriate comment. If someone was flaming a war in the comments and I deemed it mean or hurtful to myself and others, I would remove the comment. But I would probably leave a comment first to ask them to consider the audience and the words they have used. I have had my comments removed before and that has angered me to the point where I no longer comment on those bloggers sites. As I was not flaming anyone but merely giving my thoughts on an issue, I was hurt. So in that way, I see the comment section as a shared entity. If I did not welcome comments, I would find a space to write where comments are not an option/disabled. But if someone is disrespectful or hurtful, I would remove it.

As for removing posts, I have only ever removed one post and have since regretted it. I posted when I thought I had calmed about an issue. Locals found the post and brought it to my attention. I realized that my words did far more damage than good so I took the post down out of respect to those that took me aside and were willing to show me the error I had made. Upon removing the post, I posted a follow up more or less thanking those for their comments, a rough overview of the previous post and that I was completely wrong about the situation. At the time, it made sense to take it down. But now, I honestly regret taking it down and I wish I had done a simple follow up post and apologized appropriately.

16 Donor Diva { 01.22.12 at 2:45 pm }

I believe your blog is your space. If you disagree with me, that is fine but hateful comments are deleted. My blog is my form of therapy and a safe place for me to share my inner most feelings about TTC.

Great post!

17 KnottedFingers { 01.22.12 at 2:46 pm }

I’ve been known to delete a comment I made just because I was signed in under the wrong username (I share a computer with my DH) but on my blog I’ve only removed three comments. One was spam. And the other two were from an anonymous person who told me ‘You child is dead let her rest in peace and stop posting about her’

I don’t tolerate that stuff. As for posts. I’ve removed a few posts. The only ones were the ones that had my children’s real names in them.

18 Liddy { 01.22.12 at 4:13 pm }

I feel that by having a blog, I have to be welcoming to the comments that are posted. Yet, I will delete comments that I find to be off-topic or rude. I have a warning on my blog saying that I will do this.

An ICLW Visit from #3 (mfi, speedskating, trying again)
liddy @ the unfair struggle

19 HereWeGoAJen { 01.22.12 at 5:07 pm }

I’ve deleted a few, ones that I thought crossed the line. I don’t think I’ve ever deleted a comment after I’ve posted it on someone else’s blog, but I write and then delete over and over again before I decide what to actually say. Maybe that’s why I’ve never needed to delete one?

20 It Is What It Is { 01.22.12 at 5:29 pm }

Well, that explains a recent post of yours, the first paragraph of which was on my reader but when I clicked over, poof, gone.

I have never deleted a post. If I am truly waffling as to whether to post something, I leave it in draft status until I feel surely either way. I have published posts, reverted them to draft status to clean them up or more specifically represent my thoughts or feelings, then publish them.

As to comments, I’ve never had reason to delete any. I have edited them, if the commenter used my real name (or my son’s), but never deleted. That said, since I own my blog, if I found something to be inflammatory or degrading or objectionable (which would have to go way beyond just disagreeing with me), I would either A) post a follow-up comment to the comment in the comments section or B) think NOTHING of deleting it. They may have originally been the commenters words, but once they were posted to the blog that I own and pay for, how they are represented (or not) is up to me.

I have had commenters ask me to delete their comment and in those cases, even though using the above logic I could have left them up, I have deleted them.

21 AlexMMR { 01.22.12 at 6:11 pm }

I have deleted one blog post. It was a late night rant that really had no value other than letting me vent. I posted it so late at night and deleted it within an hour before anyone had a chance to read or comment. I didn’t realize it would still show up in peoples readers so when they asked me about it, I was honest. I said it was a rant that I really shouldn’t have bothered writing that simply had no value to it.

I have also deleted a series of comments from “anonymous” who came over to tell me that I was fat, old, a total bitch, and that my twins were somehow inferior due to fertility treatments than those who are conceived naturally. I kept anonymous entertained by continuing the conversation within the comments for about an hour and then when I was pretty sure they had left for good, I deleted all of it. I assumed that my readers are intelligent enough to figure out that I’m a fat old bitch without needing some anonymous idiot pointing it out for them. But they crossed the line when they insulted the validity of my kids, and by calling the majority of my reading audience inferior for being infertiles. Insult me all you want, and if you leave something to identify yourself, I’m happy to leave that insult there. But when you insult my readers and don’t have the nerve to leave your name or contact info, get your own audience, you can’t have mine.

22 a { 01.22.12 at 7:33 pm }

I’m not much for deleting posts. I also don’t often proofread thoroughly until after I hit publish, so I keep going back and editing. But I don’t delete. Of course, Idon’t post often either.

I think that comments somewhat belong to the commenters, but I do give the blog owner some rights to delete. Like HereWeGoAJen, I tend to think pretty hard about what I’m putting down. Sometimes I’m scattered, but I usually make sure I’m doing my best not to be offensive.

I was so quick on the draw with your deleted/delayed post that I even left a long comment!

23 Hapa Hopes { 01.22.12 at 8:47 pm }

I deleted a Facebook post once. I had posted a photo of my new (Japanese) car asking for suggestions on what to name it. Someone went on a rant of racial slurs. Since my profile picture is of my Korean husband and myself, it was quickly deleted and he was unceremoniously defriended. Still pisses me off just thinking about it.

I have wanted to delete one of my own comments once and wasn’t able to. It was on a WordPress blog and I used my Google profile, but it used my real name (first and last!) and not my Blogger name. I wasn’t prepared for that and I try to say semi-anonymous. It wasn’t the post I wanted deleted really – I just didn’t want people to know my whole name! At least it’s common!

24 Kate { 01.22.12 at 8:57 pm }

I agree completely – I did hear a good reason why you can’t change a facebook post (can entirely delete) because if you say something like “I like brownies!” and get 50 people agreeing you can’t change it so something awful that keeps all the agreements. (sorry for a tangent)

25 Birdie { 01.22.12 at 9:17 pm }

I have never deleted a comment on my blog, however recently I removed my former blog due to a HUGE family argument. My husband and I decided at that point to have my blog be anonymous so I had a space I felt safe to talk and write about our IF journey.

26 April { 01.22.12 at 10:25 pm }

I deleted a post once, in my public journal in a ‘support community,’ because I received so much hatred for it. I was explaining why I made the choices I made in my treatment, and apparently that was not okay. I deleted the hateful comments as they came in, and when I started receiving hateful comments about that, I deleted the post and left the community. I did save it elsewhere for myself, as I’ve done when deactivating social media accounts.

As to the comment box, I think it’s kind of like a city park, and I’m the city. It’s there for everyone, as long as you play nice with each other, but if you want to spray paint offensive graffiti on the slide, there will be consequences. I’ve never deleted comments on this blog, and I only delete my comments elsewhere for grammatical errors (ugh, autocorrect!).

27 Lori Lavender Luz { 01.22.12 at 11:17 pm }

If we think of a blog as a home, then the blogger is the owner of the comment box. When we leave a comment in a box on someone’s blog, we must realize that it then belongs to the blogger and can only be taken back by the goodwill of the blogger.

So we must be careful and circumspect.

BUT. I recently encountered something that makes it not so clear. When writing a book or an article, if you want to quote someone who was interviewed on a blog or who leaves a comment on a blog, would you need to get permission from both the original speaker and from the blog owner?

28 JustHeather { 01.23.12 at 9:08 am }

I’ve not deleted a blog post, yet. I hope I won’t ever feel the need to.

I for sure have deleted at least one comment, but that was at the request of the commenter, because she used her wrong account (and immediately reposted her comment). I’m not sure I’ve ever deleted any others on my own blog. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten something so hateful and spiteful that I’ve felt the need for it. But like so many others on here, I would delete it if I felt the need. I did get a spam comment once asking me to contact them for some story, I didn’t delete it, beause I found it funny, nor did I contact the person.

I’ve not really thought about who “owns” the comments area. I guess it is a bit of everyone, but I’ve got the main authority. 🙂

29 loribeth { 01.23.12 at 9:12 am }

I may have deleted a comment or two of my own because I saw too many errors or thought of a better way to word something after I hit “publish.” I have also deleted or not published a couple of comments that were obvious spam. Fortunately, I have not had any trolls on my blog to date (knocking wood here) but I would consider deleting those comments as well. I don’t think I’ve ever deleted a post, once published, although I have gone back in & done some editing for typos & clarification.

Like Rachel, I too noticed the “You are beautiful” non-post & wondered what was going on.

30 Mash { 01.23.12 at 11:06 am }

And you can also no longer delete your comments on FB (ones you make on other people’s statuses), which you used to be allowed to do…

31 stephanie { 01.23.12 at 2:15 pm }

I don’t delete. I leave it up and own up to my inappropriateness. I’ve apologized in a comment thread (or forum post, etc) and attempt to make amends. Even if the amends is an “agree to disagree,” I still try to do that type of followup.

32 Roccie { 01.29.12 at 2:56 pm }

I went to a blog to send my condolences for a horrible and tragic loss. I misspelled her name. It was careless of me and I was mortified. I chose to submit a second comment to ask her forgiveness for the typo in place of deleting it.

I took a post down once and put it back up with a disclaimer. Cant even remember the details why now, but at the time it was consuming me. Perspective changes and this shows where I was and what progress I made… and still need to make.

I didnt want to let anyone think someone had said something intentionally unkind to her. Funny that is what I think deleting means – being a jackass.

33 Roccie { 01.29.12 at 2:57 pm }

(Er, now see I would delete the comment above and repost since my 2nd and 3rd paragraphs somehow were transposed. Go figure.)

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