Rewriting history in real time.
April 3, 2002 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Rewriting history in real time. Recent blogging epiphanies and Borg Journalism are creating an amazing system of information sharing. But this article raises some interesting questions about the flip side. If an entry is removed before anyone reads it, does it count?  Or has the collective made it impossible for anything that's said to be retracted?
posted by harrycaul (22 comments total)
I'm reminded of the hundreds of courtroom dramas where the jury is asked to "ignore that last comment"; but can they really do that? My opinion: I think that since the blog collective is keen on picking up new writings so quickly, a post should remain up once its posted, with iterations and refinements coming as future posts. That's what gives weblogs their personality. There are plenty of steps an idea must survive before making it to a live site; censorship should happen during those steps, not after. If Dave Winer regretted something he posted previously, he should have said so on his live site. But outright deleting a post just seems like a breach of trust between writer and reader.
posted by harrycaul at 12:19 PM on April 3, 2002

AND he should publicly apologize to Hiler.
posted by Voyageman at 12:41 PM on April 3, 2002

I don't know what you're talking about. We have always been at war with Eurasia.
posted by jjg at 1:05 PM on April 3, 2002

One of the risks of the blogging is that, by making publishing so easy, it makes it much easier to publish mistakes. No revelation there. But I don't know that there's any obligation to keep an exact record of everything you've said. If you do publish something that is wrong, and that people read, you should publicly retract it and, if necessary, apologize, yes. But what's the point in continuing to publish it? The only value is that people who want to harsh on you for your mistakes can still point to it. That's bullshit. And it has a potential harm, in that, the way the web is linked, and there is no necessary order to anything, your statements (which you no longer support) can still be taken as serious beliefs. If you don't believe a thing any more, not only should you be able take it down off your site, you should take it off your site.

As for the trust between reader and writer, the important thing is that a writer shouldn't publish things he doesn't know anything about, hasn't thought through, or otherwise considered honestly and dilligently. That trust is violated whether an offending post is removed or not; it's just that our society is more likely to forgive a mistake that its perpetrator takes responsibility for.
posted by mattpfeff at 1:05 PM on April 3, 2002

But outright deleting a post just seems like a breach of trust between writer and reader.

(Serious question) Do you think this would apply to the general blogging community or just the more well known ones? I'm no Dave Winer but I have on occasion, removed something that I posted because in retrospect, it didn't seem to serve any purpose except to inflame. Of course, I also assume my readership is next to nothing so I really don't worry about it. I'd be interested to see what you think about this.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:17 PM on April 3, 2002

mattpfeff: But what's the point in continuing to publish it?

because if someone has already pointed to it, then you render their response nonsensical. no one will take weblogs seriously if posts are published and then changed or pulled willy-nilly. I believe that you should note when you've made a mistake. if it's important enough, go back and add an addendum to the previous post saying that you now believe this post to be inaccurate or whatever.

but it's irresponsible to just re-write things as you like without noting the changes, and to pull posts you think better of later. why not think *before* you post? and be willing to stand behind the things you post?

you'll note that the policy on this board is that members can't go back and alter or delete their own posts. the entire conversation would be rendered nonsensical if you could.

I like the boing boing policy: cory strikes through anything he later changes, with the corrected words immediately following. this method allows for correction and is at the same time very clear that a correction has been made.
posted by rebeccablood at 1:28 PM on April 3, 2002

Because if Dave took on those tenets then he would be held accountable for his words. Instead he can vaguely bitch that journalists "don't get it" and throw little tantrums about people and just delete the entry if he gets proved wrong, or he can rewrite his entry to make responses to it nonsensical. And then, hilariously, this same person is constantly bragging about "integrity."

For all the talk about how weblogging is some form of new journalism all I see is people taking the fun bits of journalism they like without taking the ethics, integrity, or practices of the industry.

After all, it's easy to bash BigCos and BigPubs and whatever else Dave dreams up if you don't have to live in their environment, walk in their shoes, or play by any of their rules.

If weblog writers really want to be taken seriously as some new form of journalism then they need to understand what Spiderman did on day 1: "With great power comes great responsibility."
posted by internetgeniuses at 1:40 PM on April 3, 2002

mattpfeff, I think the very malleability of the blog as a medium makes taking pains with corrections even more important. It's not only that you make people who point to your old argument look foolish, as rebecca rightly points out, it's also that if you disseminate information that later turns out to be untrue, you really do have a responsibility to try to correct that. It's all too easy to just erase the record entirely. Remember that WELL platitude "You own your own words?" That's not just an argument against anonymous cowards posting, it's also an injunction to take responsbility for the potential effects of what you post. There may not be any bloggers yet who have that much of an impact through their writing, but we should all be acting as though we already do.
You have to be your own corrections page.
posted by ClydeCrashcup at 1:41 PM on April 3, 2002

> no one will take weblogs seriously if posts are published and then changed or pulled willy-nilly.

I don't think we're all in this together; as a user of Blogger brand software and the owner of site that sometimes publishes in blog format, I am not thereby obliged to follow a particular set of rules. And whether or not people take blogs seriously is not really a concern of mine (I think most bloggers take them far too seriously already).

> I believe that you should note when you've made a mistake.

Fair enough, but so what if I don't? And what if I pull things willy-nilly? Personal site owners should be able to do whatever they want on their personal sites.

If there was some blog publishers association, and one wanted to be a member, and it had certain rules of conduct which members were obliged to follow, then one ought to follow those rules. But since there isn't, and I probably wouldn't join if there was, why should I feel compelled to follow certain practices in order that blogs have more credibility?
posted by sylloge at 1:58 PM on April 3, 2002

Sylloge, I think the post is about weblog writers who DO take themselves as some form of journalist. I think everyone can agree that personal web page authors should be able to do whatever they please. However claiming that you're participating in some sort of P2P Journalism or whatever the term is this week can be criticised.
posted by internetgeniuses at 2:14 PM on April 3, 2002

sylloge, your right. There are no rules to blogging. All blogs start out with zero credibility. But those who want more, who want to build credibility and reader loyalty, must earn it one post at a time. The rules they follow to earn this are not blog-specific rules, but general, commons-sense rules that any author/journalist/speaker/blogger would use to build credibility. Accountability of your words is one such rule. Its ok if what you say is wrong, inconsistent, harsh, inflamatory, this is the wonderful world of blogs; but just be prepared to face your own words.
posted by harrycaul at 2:20 PM on April 3, 2002

sylloge: I should have been more clear. I recognize that people have the right to publish whatever they like on their own sites. but I *personally* think that publishing carries some responsibility, and I agree with harrycaul that anyone who wishes to build credibility will have to behave in a credible fashion.
posted by rebeccablood at 2:30 PM on April 3, 2002

Good points all — I apologize (wait - does this count as responsibility?) for the confrontational tone of my post above. For some reason, consideration of all blogs as blogs (as a group or kind) bothers me (I think it's because I don't want to implicitly be identified with any particular movement or organization).
posted by sylloge at 2:55 PM on April 3, 2002

If you publish and unpublish your thoughts "willy-nilly", no one will take you seriously -- which is as it should be. I certainly am not defending that.

And I agree, as I say, that the right thing to do, in case you make a mistake, is to openly acknowledge the mistake. Moreover, on the web, one should always fight link rot -- so you should not break the link to the mistake, and include the acknowledgement of the mistake there.

But not only is it your personal choice to adopt or not adopt these standards, you can take responsibility for the mistake, and avoid link rot, without keeping the writing in question on your site. In other words, I think those are separate issues.

[On another level, I confess, talk about how blogs should or shouldn't be done seems entirely contrary to their completely personal, individualistic spirit. I actually have strong feelings about what distinguishes good blogs from bad (and deleting old posts for the blogger's own convenience or pride is certainly not good), but how can you suggest that there should be some sort of broad standard to hold them to, when blogs are written almost purely for their writers, and not their readers (or anyone else)? Does it make sense to criticize another person's project because you would have done it differently if it were yours?]
posted by mattpfeff at 4:11 PM on April 3, 2002

Your Web site is not your house. The Web is a public space, and any public space imposes certain responsibilities upon those who would inhabit it -- or so the notion of 'civilization' would have us believe.

Also, I see no reason why doing something in your spare time should buy you immunity from criticism.
posted by jjg at 7:26 PM on April 3, 2002

The Web is a public space, and any public space imposes certain responsibilities upon those who would inhabit it.

I agree with the general principle that one has certain responsibilities when one does something publicly, but to my mind that means, in this case, things like libel and slander, not perpetuating archives. For instance, there's nothing wrong, I think, with choosing not to archive your posts at all. After all, even certain celebrated sites do that -- including some guy named Lance.

I see no reason why doing something in your spare time should buy you immunity from criticism.

Sorry if I misled -- I don't mean to say that the criticisms aren't valid (not at all; I confess I regret and lament many things about a number of blogs I otherwise really, really think well of), just that there's no point in them, since they're criticisms of things intended for their authors' own satisfaction, not yours. Similarly, I would say there's no point in criticizing a person's slide show of his vacation in Tahiti (no matter how tedious it truly is to watch).
posted by mattpfeff at 8:40 PM on April 3, 2002

If you are going to criticise someone publically, you should be ready to admit your errors publically. Especially when you run a popular and respected media site.

There are several reasons for this: in the first case is libel. There is nothing preventing a court case springing up quickly when false claims are made. Just take a look at, which was hit for a AU$40,000 settlement for putting up incorrect claims for a couple of hours which only had 250 readers or so. A public apology has also been up on the Crikey site for 7 days, as part of the settlement.

Now, simply removing the statements and pretending they never existed is not the answer, even as a self-protective action against a libel suit. At least if the errors are spelled out and corrected, a court will be a lot more sympathetic - "hey, I admitted I was wrong, pointed out the errors, wrote out what really happened, and apologised... haven't I paid enough".

We all have to agree at some stage that weblogs are, no matter how personal, a public medium. If you make statements in a public medium, either be prepared to back them up or correct them publically. I don't care if the only one posting to the weblog is grandma betty, as soon as she makes false statements about another person publically, she's placed herself in the position of responsibility for ensuring such statements are true, and that a retraction should be put in place if they aren't.
posted by Neale at 10:15 PM on April 3, 2002

I'd agree that blogs exist publicly and have certain responsibilities because of it. For the same reason, matt, they are going to be exposed to criticism. You argue that criticism is pointless because the blog author is only writing for themselves, but that's not always true - I for one love seeing any criticism of my writing. I'll check out the critic and take from it what I can. But criticism is also valuable in how it informs an audience, not just authors. So there's a point, if it helps someone else (a reader) figure out what they might want to read or not.
posted by D at 10:31 PM on April 3, 2002

This article reminds me of a story run by a current affairs TV show about Neilson (sp?) TV ratings boxes. Not surprisingly it rated it's arse off.

This article does a similar thing. It's specifically aimed at Weblogs in an attempt to get linked-to and lots of traffic. Heck, it even has heaps of SciFi references just to gain the attention of the stereotypical on-line white male.

But when you boil it down, it's nothing more than a cheap stunt by a journalist so relentlessly part of the old economy that they think the word "synergy" actually means something.
posted by krisjohn at 11:45 PM on April 3, 2002

criticism is also valuable in how it informs an audience, not just authors. So there's a point, if it helps someone else (a reader) figure out what they might want to read or not.

Of course! Reviews are valuable to readers, and writers can benefit from feedback. I don't deny that. What I'm trying to say is that criticizing or attacking (as opposed to reviewing or critiquing) a personal project for not meeting your own (or someone else's) standards is missing the critical point that it's the author's standards that matter, not yours.

I realize, though, that I may have missed a point, with respect to in particular. It is regrettable that Dave Winer apparently sees fit to publish and unpublish as he pleases, and not acknowledge his errors. And seems to aspire to be more than just a personal project; maybe it is even valid to correct an apparently widely-held view that it is a trust-worthy publication, in light of this. (Though I would still say that the problem there is still not with the act of "unpublished" something, but with how ill-fitting that behavior is for a publication of's stature.)

(I apologize if that's the angle I've been missing; I was responding to the general question raised in the original post, and not to Winer's behavior specifically.)
posted by mattpfeff at 12:00 AM on April 4, 2002

For some reason, consideration of all blogs as blogs...bothers me

Amen to that. Treating the blogaspora as a monolith seems preposterous to me, given the variety of goals and methods webloggers use to create their sites. What vexes me even more is the constant discussion of, and comparison to, journalism... why not parallels to novel-writing? poetry? posting flyers in a public space?

It seems like a display rampant insecurity and worse, an exercise in irrelevance, to keep referring to journalism as a touchstone when such standards and subjects are the goals of only an infinitesimally miniscule percentage of weblogs out there.

Only 5 or 10 weblogs in the world even aspire to report stories or break hard news. Maybe 50. As a subset of the entirety of weblogs, they might be interesting. But they're hardly so much more compelling as to be worth this much scrutiny. What about weblogs being their own idiom, with their own norms and mores?
posted by anildash at 12:12 AM on April 4, 2002

For instance, there's nothing wrong, I think, with choosing not to archive your posts at all. After all, even certain celebrated sites do that -- including some guy named Lance.

Fair point, mattpfeff (although as you say it's not quite what's at issue with Winer), but Lance isn't the best example: he has archives all over the place.
posted by rory at 1:32 AM on April 4, 2002

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