Should Offensive Comments Be Deleted Or Edited?

Further to my posting about HP blogger David Gee removing another comment from his blog, here’s a reply to an email I sent him requesting comment:

My May 10 blog posting summarizes my personal opinion on blog censorship well. I stated the following: “Comments, whether positive or negative, are all fair game as the blogsphere resoundingly reminded me last week. Spam, off-topic, or defamatory comments are not appropriate and I reserve the right to remove them. That’s also fair game.” As such, I did pull this blog comment which included foul language. I believe we have the right to remove offensive posts. I would also draw your attention to the coverage this activity received in Slashdot as there is plenty of healthy debate around what’s “acceptable” and what’s not when posted to a corporate blog.

That said, I also believe that we should not be editing incoming comments (ie, remove the foul language), but instead we have the right to remove them per the criteria above. I can only imagine the feedback I’d receive if I started editing comments.

This approach has some merit. But I still have some problems with David’s answers which to my perhaps oversensitive ears have a little too much polish to them to have the authentic feel of a one-person, unfiltered blogger. Or as David puts it: “My blog is my own and I keep it pure by delivering my own unfiltered point of view.” This raises more questions than it answers about corporate blogging, and, to be fair, David is by far the least egregious example of why it doesn’t often work.

Let’s parse again. “Comments, whether positive or negative, are all fair game.” Good. True. “Spam, off-topic or defamatory comments are not appropriate and I reserve the right to remove them.” Hmmm. David before only referred to Spam or defamatory comments, not off-topic, so something is being slipped in here. Should off-topic comments be removed? In a corporate world, off-topic comments may seem to be, as he puts it, ‘fair game’ for removal. It’s like someone talking about something irrelevant in a meeting. He or she would soon be hushed (unless she was the boss.) In the blogosphere, I’m not so sure.

Of course, in a perfect world everyone would stay on-topic. But if they did, Slashdot would be a really boring place to visit, as would most blogs. And who is to decide what is off-topic and what isn’t?

David says, ‘As such, I did pull this blog comment which included foul language. I believe we have the right to remove offensive posts.’ No one likes foul language, but is deletion the only reponse? David points in his post to the BusinessWeek blog post about the topic, in which Heather Green writes the following:

So, we moderate because the magazine doesn’t want to risk that even one or two of the postings on this site ends up being pornographic, racist, libelous, or hateful. If we run into those, it’s likely that we will email the person who sent it and ask them if they want to rephrase. But we don’t delete critical comments, as you have seen.

I think that’s a fair and good solution. And, given that HP blogs require registration before comments are made, HP are in a good position to go back to the poster and seek a rephrase.

All this feeds my sneaking suspicion that a lot of corporations — and the individuals who ‘officially’ blog for them — see blogs as a marketing tool in the traditional form. The evidence is there: Registration before being allowed to comment. No email address for the blogger (I reached David through HP’s Singapore PR division). Lots of on-message stuff in the blog, lots of talk of passion and having lots to say. All true. But that’s not just what blogging is about. Being a corporate blogger means opening a window on your company, and expecting a bit of a bumpy ride. To many people you’re not an individual, you’re a representative of the company. You may not like what you hear in your comments, but you’re duty bound to represent the company and handle customers as you would expect to be handled yourself as a customer. Deleting a comment because you don’t like the way it’s expressed is a bit like ejecting a customer from the store because they seem a little agitated.

David’s area is management software, so elsewhere he could reasonably argue that any comment from a reader that’s not about management software is off-topic. But that’s not, in my view, how corporate blogging works, at least in these early days. Corporate blogs are not just about getting the message out. They’re about getting messages in. David has learned one part of the lesson by reinstating the first comment that he deleted. By deleting the second, and not seeing the problems with that, he’s failed to learn the second: That every reader is a customer, and not everything a customer says may be agreeable.

The Slashdot Report Part II: Where Does The / And The . Come From?

 This week’s column is about The Slashdot Effect, (subscription only, I’m afraid) and I’ve already started receiving mail telling me my explanation of the term Slashdot is wrong. Here’s what I wrote:

Slashdot (slashdot.org, named after the slashes and dots in a Web site address)

One reader commented:

Hi Jeremy, The slash and dot in Slashdot do NOT refer to “the slashes and dots in a Web site address.” They refer to having “root access” on a Linux (or Unix) computer, meaning godlike power to do whatever you want to do with the machine, like being an Administrator on Windows XP. Getting root access to a remote machine is the holy grail of hacking, because it means you “own” that machine. The slash and dot refer to how you would change what directory you are in when using a command-line interface.

In MS-DOS, or the command prompt in Windows XP, you might do: C:>cd c:windows

But in Unix you would do: cd /.

Hence, Slashdot.

while another slight variation:

Actually Mr Wagstaff,

slash dot is from “Unix”. The “bourne shell” command “ls” (for list) will report the contents of the Root Directory when you type “ls /.” The inverse “ls ./” reports the contents of “Here” (your current working directory).

        /. “News from the Root”

and 

        ./ “Here be News for Nerds”

Don’t worry that you didn’t get the “hidden in plain sight” meaning. Non-Nerds never do.

(I really appreciate the ‘Mr Wagstaff’ bit. Thanks). Both are interesting definitions, but are they correct? I based my definition on Slashdot’s own FAQ, which says:

 What does the name “Slashdot” mean?

“Slashdot” is a sort of obnoxious parody of a URL. When I originally registered the domain, I wanted to make the URL silly, and unpronounceable. Try reading out the full URL to http://slashdot.org and you’ll see what I mean. Of course my cocky little joke has turned around and bit me in the butt because now I am called upon constantly to tell people my URL or email address. I can’t tell you how many people respond confused “So do I spell out the ‘dot’ or is that just a period?” 

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily make the other explanations wrong: Slash and dot could still refer to the Unix command, making the website name both a parody and an in joke.