Urban Semiotic has been around in some form for over three years. We’ve been hosted here on WordPress.com since the end of October 2006 and we’re loving it. There is, however, something we do not love — and will never love — when it comes to publishing this blog: Commenter Regret. That regret rears its selfish head when people ask — hours, days, weeks, years later — to have Comments they wrote here removed from public view.

Commenter Regret

We have learned this Commenter Regret is usually most common on Hot Topic articles where people post an emotional comment without first thinking.

I’m certain our recent conversation concerning “Jesus Found Dead in His Grave” will foment several regretful requests to have their comment removed from publication.

We have no choice but to deny all requests to delete published comments. We have that policy not out of hatred or punishment — but to preserve the flow of conversation as all of our Commenter minds explore every angle.

To go back later and pull out a comment or two because someone is unwilling to own what they wrote is to create censorship via Commenter Regret. To abide such requests is to willingly destroy a conversation thread where others may have replied to, or been inspired by, the comment in question.

We appreciate your effort to move forward from hiding and to place new ideas into the fire pit of public analysis — but do not punish us, and our readers, by asking to delete your work. Recanting is better than removal.

Some try to argue we are not The New York Times or Newsweek or The New Yorker and we do not deserve the same standing or need to honor the same shared effort of preserving the Public Record. “You’re just a Blog,” they counter our denial for removal, “You aren’t a real publication.”

To that small-mindedness and lack of forward visioning, we reply, “We are every publication. We are every Blog. We are every preserved idea. And, so too, are your comments. As a part of us, the greater good is served, and your thoughts provide a mark of who we all were at a certain moment and we celebrate that opportunity to share the meaning of the world.”

25 Comments

  1. David,
    I must say, I am actually surprised that you have had that many people request that their comments be removed. I know that you screen all comments before they are posted and the really nasty ones never see the light of computer screen because there is simply no merit in personal attacks. If you posted the comment on the site, it couldn’t have been TOO too nasty. That is the only time I would regret a comment that I had made: if I made a scathing and personal remark out of anger. Even then, I am with you: best to recant than request removal.

  2. Hi Emily —
    Sometimes people reveal things they later think are too personal or they don’t want to be associated with another commenter’s comments that tear apart their comment.
    Some play the guilt card, “I can’t get a job if you leave that comment I wrote published!”
    You’re right that we sift through a lot of inappropriate comments that are personal attacks on specific people and such and those comments never get published.
    If, however, you submit a comment and we publish a comment, it is because we feel your thoughts have value for exploration and if people disagree with you or question your research or motives, that’s part of the price we all must pay for participation in this online community.

  3. David,
    The guilt card is especially silly. If you are going to say something that would by itself keep a prospective employee from hiring you, DON’T SAY IT! Or, find another, more open-minded profession. :mrgreen:
    We have already talked about the value of using your real name when commenting here. We know that people tend to use a higher level of discretion when attaching their name to their opinions. It seems that practice is still lost on some. Perhaps this article of yours will help remind them!

  4. Emily —
    People love to play the guilt card: “I won’t like you anymore if you don’t do this for me…” To that we say, “We Cannot Care!” 😀
    I’ve had authors in the past want ENTIRE ARTICLES deleted using the same arguments and some Commenters here:

    1. I’ve changed my mind.
    2. My name is on an angry rant.
    3. I have a new job and my boss won’t like what I wrote.
    4. I’m getting married soon and I don’t want my husband to know those things about me.

    I always offer the opportunity to recant and to refute their previous work. Only one person has taken me up on that offer so far and they did an outstanding and thoughtful job of persecuting and disavowing their old views –- to their own future peril, I feel.
    Real Names always provide more meaningful comments because there is a reputation and a vision to protect. It’s impossible to enforce a Real Names covenant on comments, but we can, and do, for all published articles.

  5. I really wonder if people really care as much as people think people care about comments on blogs?
    We’re in the Myspace and YouTube age where people post the most revealing things about themselves — sometimes with pictures!
    Making comments about a topic of interest shouldn’t disqualify anyone from a job. And, if it did, maybe it’s a sign that you shouldn’t be working at a place that wouldn’t allow you to express your views in a public forum.

  6. Hi Manny, and welcome to Urban Semiotic!
    Thanks for the support! Love your blog!
    You make an excellent point. People speak without thinking and cannot take it back without an apology or a recantation — why should a blog comment be any different? It was said. It is on the record.
    Google also preserves all our blog posts AND COMMENTS here and many times we get indexed in less than 30 minutes. Once you say something on a blog — especially here — you’ve said it forever.
    It is courageous to step forward and say something and submit a serious comment — but it also takes a certain core of bravery to stand by what you publish as your own thoughts and feelings.

  7. Chris!
    People say some nasty things in comments. Check out our Muslim President post and comments from just yesterday!. There is a lot of hate there from some new people and I published those thoughts to Put It On The Record and challenge the Hate.
    Kids today have no idea how every breath, thought, and fart is being recorded by someone somewhere for future use against them.
    I know employers today who won’t even give you an interview until they Google you first — and if you aren’t in Google they consider that suspicious, antisocial behavior!

  8. Once you say something on a blog — especially here — you’ve said it forever.
    It would be wise for everyone who comments in the public sphere, particularly on the Internet, to take heed of this warning. If you would not make a statement in front of a group of friends and peers, don’t leave it as a comment. A little common sense goes a long way toward staving off future regret.

  9. David,
    An author wanting their work removed is preposterous! “I’ve changed my mind” is not a reason to destroy former work. A personal narrative is an account of how a person feels at a particular moment in time and should be valued as such, even if that person has grown or changed since its publication. What better way to show personal growth and character than by proudly standing by all work, including that which shows the author’s less savory sides?

  10. icedmocha!
    Right! I was raised with this philosophy: “Don’t ever write anything in a letter you don’t want read in public.” The warning was mainly concerning love letters and hate letters, but that lesson is greater in its influence — especially now when anything you write is preserved on the web in perpetuity.

  11. Chris!
    You’re right Google cuts both ways!
    One student of mine was applying for a prestigious summer job as an intern at a law firm. It paid a lot of money over a short period of time and would’ve covered her nut for the entire school year.
    As part of her interview process she was presented with a printed Hate Rant she wrote about her the boyfriend she had posted on the web. She was asked during her interview to defend it.
    She was shocked and stunned and didn’t remember writing the words.
    The law firm told her that libelous and vicious attack on her boyfriend reflected poorly on her character as a person and since her rant was a part of the public record, they would not be able to offer her employment because of the possible harm that could come to them as divorce attorneys in the marketplace if they associated with her.

  12. The “and,” in the second to last line of my previous comment should be deleted. 😉
    I feel sorry for your student becuase the trendy thing for the youth to do is publicize every silly thing they’ve every done online. As the Antonella Barba episode reveals, it is never good to have a ton of pictures (fake or real) online.
    I remember reading a newspaper article about a swimming pool Googling its lifeguard applicants to see what they were doing online.

  13. Chris!
    You’re right we’re in the sophisticated Technical Frontier. It’s no longer the World Wild Web where anything and everything goes and nobody cares to look backward.
    Now everyone grinds Google to see who and what came before. There are now indexing services and databases and incredibly intricate ways to track your every move via IP address and email tail.

  14. Hiya jlmunn!
    Your comment is eloquent and telling. You serve up an excellent warning that virtual is the new permanence and — unlike wood and stone and paper — bits and bytes never disappear because they are not here or there, they are everywhere following you forever and ever.
    Knowing that, however, you realize what great power you have as one person to be a good influence and to change thoughts and minds over a long stretch of time.
    There can be great goodness in filling the void with appropriate intellectualism and dreams and wishes that linger beyond your physical lifetime.

  15. Ah! Gordon! Yes! I remember those days of pressure from you asking me to delete or to allow you to edit your published work!
    It’s great to have you with us there and I wish you were able to write more for us here.
    You are a wild and unique talent!

  16. Hi Stacy!
    What you say makes sense. You can only do the best you know in the moment you have. If you regret it later — so be it — but young people on the web should always wonder if what they write they want read back to them in a future job interview 10 years later.
    😀
    I think we need some sort of age restriction on the web for certain things and that should include restrictions on parents from posting images of their children online.
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/07/13/take-your-children-offline-now/
    Chat rooms are also populated with too many bad people looking to do children harm. Young people deserve protection and if their parents refuse to provide it, then the government must demand to step in and provide necessary cover.

  17. Well said, Stacy. I agree we can all be more conscious of our security needs and that it is certainly easy feel a fake sense of safety when people are really trying to catch you to take advantage of you.
    I realize it would be a difficult task to regulate an age barrier on the internet but if the parents won’t try to protect their children from online predators, that task naturally falls to the rest of us.
    I appreciate your sexual assault link. So many violent crimes and assaults are never reported and I think there are a lot of sex crimes that are forgotten or dropped or ignored for whatever reason instead of reported and prosecuted.

  18. What if, you commented accidentally on a blog using a shared blog account? The fact that there’s no way to correct it would pose a lot of problems indeed.