My Comment Deletions Policy

This is another “put it up to point people to later” posts:

In the space of 24 hours I’ve been e-mailed by three people asking if I wouldn’t mind deleting the comments they’ve posted here. They have various reasons for the request, not the least of which is that this site has sufficient Google gravity that their comments here are the first thing that show up when someone searches on their name. So this seems like a good time to create a policy on requests to delete comments.

Henceforth, the policy is: Barring the ones that run afoul of my comment policy, No, I won’t.

Reasons for this:

1. Because it takes time and effort, and I don’t want to bother.

2. Because the comment threads are (sometimes) numbered and people often respond to previous comments by noting the number of the comment, and deleting your comment will mess that up, making future readings of the thread more difficult.

3. Because sometimes people have responded to the comment requested for deletion, and removing that comment makes it look like the respondent is talking to themselves, which is silly and which also degrades the reading experience for others.

4. Because I think it’s a bit silly worrying that a comment here might show up in your Google searches. Yes, it might. So what? The vast majority of comments here are not in the least objectionable and will not likely have an effect one way or another on how anyone (potential date, potential employer) sees you. It might annoy or distress you that a comment here ends up high on your Google search (or other search engine searches), but you’ll have to take that up with Google, not me.

5. Philosophically, I’m of the opinion that people need to own their words, and yes, that includes the words that they toss off in a comment section of a blog. I’m also of the opinion that people need to realize that barring some horrible catastrophe that will mean we all have bigger problems, the Internet is forever, and anything you display on it will be archived in one form or another, until the end of time and/or electricity.

For example, even if I delete your comment, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone: The site takes a snapshot of this site on a regular basis, including the comments. They do such a good job of archiving the site that even I go to it when I need to find something that was on the site that no longer is. I also back up my site on a regular basis in case something goes horribly wrong, so the comment lives there too, ready to spring back to life should I ever have to reload my site. And in a more temporary sense, anything that is deleted here lives on in Google Cache for whatever period of time it takes for Google to spider that page again. And so on.

Knowing this, there are two ways of dealing with the Internet: One, never put anything on it, lest one day you regret your words; two, own your words and realize they may have consequences in the future, including consequences you won’t necessarily anticipate now. I can go on Google and find words of mine going back fifteen years. Between then and today, are there things I’ve written online I hope will never again see the light of day? Oh, my, yes. But I accept that they might, and that this is just the nature of the online beast. Welcome to the Internet. And no, posting under a pseudonym won’t save you from owning your words — it’s not at all difficult to connect those sorts of dots online.

Does this mean you should think about what you write here and elsewhere online before typing it in and clicking “Submit Comment”? Quite obviously, yes. It also means, however, that later, when you’re having second thoughts about whatever it is you posted, you should ask yourself if it’s really worth stressing out about. Generally it’s not, and on the rare occasion where it might be, I find the line “lots of people do stupid, ill-advised things on the Internet and I was one of them once” serves very well as an explanation. People who don’t understand that explanation are people you don’t want to spend time with anyway, like the people who are still under the impression here in 2009 that a tattoo or two means you’re automatically smoking crack and giving handjobs to sailors for ready cash.

So, no. Once you post a comment here, it stays up. Don’t like it? Don’t post. Simple.

108 Comments on “My Comment Deletions Policy”

  1. But, dude, when I posted that overly admiring comment about Leonard Nimoy, I was drunk. Furthermore, I didn’t know my wife then, and if she stumbles onto that one, it’s back to the dating pool.




    I posted that somewhere else?

    Er… Nothing to see here.

    Move along. Move along.

  2. smoking crack and giving handjobs to sailors for ready cash.

    Damnit. You could at least give warning before you shift from first to fourth gear without using the clutch.

    I think I need a mechanic.

  3. I heard a rumor that Ghlaghghee is bribable and will delete people’s comments when she sneaks onto the computer to update her twitter feed.

  4. OK, so instead of working I got caught up reading about the movement of the Milky Way. I see you never replied to that thread you started John, how rude! :)

  5. [drama pose] I’m just a wee mousie, scooting along the baseboards of the Internet searching for breadcrumbs and hoping that somebody has belled the cat. [/drama pose]

    Also, my mother has learned to search (hey, I taught her), so it behooves me not to post anything I wouldn’t want her to see. Learned that (the hard way) when I was eleven.

  6. If I was 10% as awesome as I think I was, I wouldn’t regret any single word I posted. Ever.

  7. and I think it’s 3 tattoos… two is fine.

    reimerpdx @ #1, if there’s only one tattoo but it’s a lower back tattoo, that’s the equivalent of three tattoos.

    I hope I don’t regret this comment once my hangover wears off…

  8. You’re getting these requests too? I got a series of them from people who’d posted in the comment threads at Boing Boing. That was in spite of my written moderation policy, which from its earliest iteration said our default policy was that we wouldn’t delete comments on user request.

    I was surprised by how surprised they were when I said no. As I fruitlessly explained to them over and over again, “You own your own words. You don’t own the conversation they’re a part of, and you don’t have the right to deprive it of its sense and context by removing them later.”

    (The point of owning their own words was that we wouldn’t alter or re-use their comments for some other purpose. We might disemvowel them, but the disemvowelled comments were left in situ, with all their consonants intact.)

    They didn’t understand my explanations. They also didn’t understand why I couldn’t remove comments that had been cached by Google, or archived by the Wayback Machine. I couldn’t even get them to understand the possibility that unknown persons out there might be keeping comment archives for unknown purposes. They just flat-out had no concept of the public sphere, and nothing I could say would change that.

    I recently had one of them turn up on Making Light. She was outraged when I refused to delete all the comments she’d made in an extended discussion. Her reasons for wanting them deleted were odd to start with, and got stranger as she went on. I never did figure out what was going on in her head.

    I don’t know where these requests are coming from. Have these people always existed, and we just didn’t realize it back on Usenet because they didn’t write to us to get their comments deleted? Is it a new misunderstanding fostered by social media, where whatever happened on your Facebook page goes away if you delete your account? I can’t tell.

    The one thing I’m sure of is that short of a court order, I’m not going to delete their comments.

  9. Actually, folks, for the main issue of avoiding Google’s linking the comments to your name in a search, pseudonyms work quite well, as linking them to your name takes actual effort.

    If your pseudonym is unique to this site, it’s hard to connect it to you. If not unique to this site, then future automated tools may manage to connect the dots depending on how much information you have revealed in various places.

    Scalzi is correct that your comment can be traced back to you (barring onion router usage), but that’s only by using records that are not themselves published on the internet.

  10. “Scalzi is correct that your comment can be traced back to you (barring onion router usage), but that’s only by using records that are not themselves published on the internet.”

    Or the proprietor deciding to out you, which he frequently can.

    But yes: For Google avoidance purposes, pseudonyms can work (heck, even just abbreviating your name can work). It won’t work as well if a real live human is determined to track you down.

  11. In order to avoid getting caught up by my ill-advised words, I decided long ago never to post anything on the Internet.

  12. I just googled myself thanks to your article, and I note that the first three entries that come up are for a physician in Las Vegas, a guy from Akron Ohio (a place I have visited a couple times) and a wanted fugitive in Shreveport.

    This seems like such a useless thing to worry about, especially given the nature of most of the discussions here. If a potential employer/ significant other/ in-law/ biographer stumbles across something in google that was actually you and not someone looking to beat a manslaughter charge, you’re doing pretty well.

    Another possibility is that people are starting to be aware of the fact that the internet is no longer anonymous. Once upon a time one could hop on a usenet group and berate someone for being a douche-nozzle, but those simpler times are gone.

    As one who has long harbored distaste for chicken-hearted holders of internet opinion, I applaud the notion that you’re holding people to a higher standard. You know, the normal social one.

  13. I sometimes only post anonymously for the casual googling. I know anyone halfway determined can figure out who I am.

  14. Theresa & John: You have put up an infinite blank billboard on your front lawn. Passersby have license to write on it, and quite a lot of latitude in what they may write.

    Sometimes some of these people knock on your door and say, Yeah, um, I wrote on your wall and now I’d like you to paint it out for me.

    This seems so self-evidently an imposition and a willfully dense misunderstanding of the nature of the billboard itself, that it’s hard to believe it requires any explanation at all.

    Now that I’ve said that, five years from now someone will find it here and quote it as proof of what a serious asshole I am.

  15. There’s another use for pseudonyms, beyond making it a little harder to track. It has to do with business and intellectual property rules.

    Where I work, the company asserts ownership of anything I produce for money, although they have graciously allowed me to claim anything I produce as a volunteer or for free as my own (good thing too: it avoids some awkward conflicts of interest on both sides). One reason I respond to blogs under this pseudonym is that, if I get into a discussion with the IP lawyers about who “owns” this comment, it’s pretty obvious that I’m not doing it for work or in any official capacity.

    That wouldn’t save me from getting canned if I revealed confidential information or criticized my employer, but I wouldn’t do that anyway.

  16. Teresa, don’t forget that in the Usenet days, comments were deleted locally after a period of time, so this sort of person might not even have realized their comments were still out there in the world (and until Deja came along, it wasn’t even an issue, in all likelihood).

    But yeah, these sort of folks have always existed; I administered a FirstClass server with a huge number of active communities for seven years, and the ability to unsend and later edit posts was considered a huge plus by end-users; in cases where a board was set up to not allow editing or unsending, appealing to the administrators was their next step (and they were told “no,” of course, as the owner of the specific board set the rules for a reason).

  17. Dear John Scalzi,
    Can you please delete this comment?
    Thank you,
    David W. Hickman

  18. Managing your online presence is something I’m trying to teach the students at the university where I work. Many of them have never bothered to Google themselves, which I have to explain is not vanity, but a necessary self-audit so you can better manage your online image for future employers. If some comments on a random blog are your top hits, you need to update that facebook page, create a linkedIn account or start posting book reviews on Amazon. Start a blog, if for no other reason than to post your resume. It’ll push those comments about Twilight and your Star Wars fanfic off the first page of Google hits, and everyone will thank you for that.

  19. Braxis FTW.

    One potential compromise is to have the 15 minute delete function enabled as I see on other websites. That way, the user (I think it is by IP) can delete their own comment within 15 minutes and after that it is fixed.

    In general, a good policy.

  20. See, what I *really* need is a keyboard with a breathalyser attached that won’t let me use the Interwebs when I’m plastered. Sadly, as there is no such thing, I have to occasionally explain that whilst I *did* say that, I said that while my blood was suitable for stripping paint.

    Fortunately most people who hire animators have a sense of humour, so it’s generally not too big a deal. Usually. Except that time with the anteater. Jesus, that was a bad one.

  21. I suppose it’s obvious (but just in case…) but one way to deal with this is to have editable comments. Not sure if allows those plugins though and they can be a drag on page load time. Of course, to edit you need to create an account making you more traceable.

    I quite like what does. There’s no Submit button when you initially want to submit the comment. There’s a Preview button. Once you’ve previewed the comment you can submit it. It’s a nice implied “any last thoughts?” check.

  22. > I’m also of the opinion that people need to realize that barring some horrible catastrophe that will mean we all have bigger problems, the Internet is forever, and anything you display on it will be archived in one form or another, until the end of time and/or electricity.<

    I can't even count the number of times I have had to explain this to people (day job clients, fellow authors, friends, family). There seems to be a cadre of folks who don't understand that once it's online, it is for-freakin-ever, amen.

    One would figure that in 2009, for people who use the Internets all the time, this would be obvious…perhaps I just should accept that the word should be "oblivious".

    Thanks for the great post, John!

  23. As a blogger, I’m (very) far from the BB or Scalzi level of Net noise, but I still get a few emails from persons asking me to take a comment down. I nearly always refuse, for the same reasons John and Teresa gave here.

    The only time, as far as I recall, that I deleted a comment was at the request of a person I happen to know a little personally and professionally. It was about some (very) important aspect of her private life, and I knew that although she was very vocal about that stuff a few years ago, she toned it down recently and didn’t want these discussions too readily accessible to the random Net browser. It wasn’t somebody asking the blogger to delete a blunder, but a serious decision by a mature person about how much she decided to share about her private life.

    So, at her request, I deleted a part of an old comment that had not much import on the conversation going on, but was revealing some intimate details that she didn’t feel like making public anymore.

  24. You can even avoid google without actually disguising your name to human beings.

    Adam Limpkin@23: Yeah, I think I’d have been stunned in 1987 if I’d known that this comment would likely (like all other usenet comments) outlive me.

    It is also somewhat embarrassing to know that all those comments made when I was younger and had somewhat different politics are out there. I suspect that in 20 years, we’ll be much more forgiving of youthful stupidity in our politicians. We’ll have to be our we’ll have no one to vote for.

    I do admit that it does annoy me that the number one hit for my name is here, mostly because I’d rather it was my poorly updated home page. I’d hardly blame John for that, though.

  25. I think everybody occasionally posts something on the internet which they later come to regret. Because they’ve gotten older, or their opions and attitudes have changed, or they’ve cooled off and the argument doesn’t seem so important anymore, etc.

    Also, I think it’s absolutely true that peoples’ personalities change when they get behind the keyboard, just as their personalities change when they get behind the wheel of a car. The things people do or say on-line are often not the same things they would do or say in-person.

    I try to tell myself, whenever I read anything by anyone — especially on blogs — and it upsets or angers me, “Maybe they’re a perfectly decent individual in real life, but in this instance on-line, they’re an asshole.”

    Lord knows I’ve committed my fair amount of e-assholery over the years.

    I try not to be so bad, lately, because the general awareness level of this sort of thing has gone way up in recent years. Heck, when a prospective employer is googling you, you’d better damn well be careful what they might find.

    Having said that, I think part of being an adult about blogs and e-conversation is realizing that nobody is without e-sin, everybody puts foot in mouth from time to time, and that most people deserve the benefit of the doubt — at least to a point.

  26. Well said. They won’t learn nuttin if you just let people spout off and then remove it once their brains have caught up with their typing.

  27. I never worry about what I write on blogs. You write it you live with it. What I worry about is that I make stupid spelling mistakes.

    Looking ridiculous because of a comment I made I can live with but the teacher in me cringes when I forget to edit my words.

  28. One of the things I have learned from many years on forums and blogs is this:
    Write whatever the hell you want. But just because you’ve written it doesn’t mean you actually need to post it. Probably half of what I write on the internet, I never actually post–I just let go and delete.

    Before you hit that “Submit” or “Post” button, consider a few things:
    –Does my comment add meaningfully to the discussion (or, if you’re trolling, will it actually do the job of trolling and goading people’s responses rather than just getting you ridiculed for being an idiot)
    –Is it clear what I am replying to or what I am trying to say? If I am asserting something, am I backing it up with sources or verifiable facts?
    –If I am asserting an opinion or speculation, am I clear that it is such? Am I providing a reason for my speculation (or, if not, at least identifying it as idle)?
    –If I look back at this in a week will I still feel that I want everyone on the internet to see this?

  29. I’m just planning on destroying the internet with some kind of super duper emp device before my little brother and sister get into web-surfing.

    It’s either that or have to talk to them about some stupid swearing or masturbation joke I wrote… and I think a world without technology is preferable to that conversation. Plus, then I can just vent onto some papyrus which is something I’d probably prefer anyway.

  30. Kenshin 36: if you’re trolling, will it actually do the job of trolling and goading people’s responses rather than just getting you ridiculed for being an idiot change your mind and don’t


  31. if anyone wants their post deleted you can send me $40 USD and i will come to your house and put White out on the screen over your post for you! easy fix. :P

  32. Christopher @ 35 –

    Typos burn away the core of my soul. I regularly say embarassing things. But typos are just too much. They’re all I can see. The submit button is like the “highlight typos button”, no matter how long I check the comment over.

  33. Way back in pre-history when I was involved in APAs the subject of keeping the mailings private kept coming up. My feeling was that if you wanted something kept from others you don’t write it down, make a few dozen copies and then arrange for a few dozen people to have them. With the advent of the interwebs this is even more so, only without the paper element. Don’t post if you don’t want people to read it.

    About the only time a request to have your comment deleted is valid is if it got garbled in transmission. (I have had noisy lines that have done wonders to my text.) A later post, over a clean line and explaining the garbled one, makes more sense, though.

  34. Jeffrey Beumel, #39:

    if anyone wants their post deleted you can send me $40 USD and i will come to your house and put White out on the screen over your post for you! easy fix. :P

    Jeffrey Beumel, I think you meant $40 USD plus expenses. Otherwise, this service of yours could be a real money-loser for you. Unless it’s really just a philanthropic endeavor?

    Maybe you can get Scalzi to delete your comment before anybody takes you up on the offer, causing you to spend massive amounts on travel to earn your (quite reasonable!) $40 USD fee.

  35. @31

    What I really want to know is…did Tom’s reply help you at all?

    C’mon man! 22 years of suspense is KILLIN’ me!

  36. My favorite is the guy who regularly abuses other people on various back blogs.

    He signs his own name.

    You would think he’d use an alias, but no. I did Google and Amazon searches on the dude.

    He claims the Internet is rife with idiots who don’t understand him. However, the top twenty Google hits involved his being banned from various Internet forums for threatening and abusive conduct. The Internet is rife with people who are intolerant toward morons. What has this world come to?

  37. Steve Nurnap @ 31: I suspect that in 20 years, we’ll be much more forgiving of youthful stupidity in our politicians. We’ll have to be our we’ll have no one to vote for.

    More likely it will have a perverse effect of making the only viable candidates people who have been obsessed all their lives with getting elected and make sure to leave no embarrassing tracks.

    There’s a business idea: An anonymizing service for the children of the rich and ambitious, to make sure that nothing online can be proved to have come from them.

    Digressing, this “Google your job applicants” trend opens up a whole new field in character assassination. Or is that old news already?

  38. Jim Wright @ #33:

    I, on the other hand, will be happy to delete your comments…

    Damn it, Jim, stay away from my comment! The hangover hasn’t worn off yet!

  39. I had a great web zen moment a few weeks ago when I had trouble remembering if the answer was 42, or 49, so decided a quick google search was in order. I forget exactly what the criteria of my search was, but google’s first result was a Usenet posting by Doug himself made in 93. It kind of made me stop to think about how words on the net really do live on, speaking in your voice even after you’re dead.

  40. Teresa @13: I suspect that LiveJournal and its clones have something to do with the idea that you can just delete your comments on someone else’s posts and have them go away. The Yahoogroups mailing list system where the mods can delete messages from the group archive may also have contributed. Those two between them seem to be a major source for the ones where I can see a clear cultural link for the mindset, although that may just be a reflection of the sf and romance fannish spaces I hang out in.

  41. There are other good reasons for not deleting people’s comments, like the possibility that the requester is an impostor, but the “take responsibility for what you say” and “once stuff escapes you can’t get it back anyway” are the big ones. The only privacy I’ve got on the net is that Google has 300k pages that match my name, and my email’s changed a couple of times since 1981 when it was !-format, but you can still find my good or bad writing with a few extra keywords.

    There are a few rare reasons where asking to delete your words can be reasonable – the “oops, sent it to the wrong list” problem – and there can be lots of cases where you’d like to be able to attach a followup to your writing even on platforms that don’t support that well. Doesn’t mean you can expect to get them deleted, but you can try. I did once have to get a Microsoft Mail message cancelled, because MS decided to run my message through a spell-checker when I sent it without asking me, so it “fixed” all the name spellings in the org chart I’d attached, and turned the document into an “orgy chart”. But those weren’t my words, they were Bill Gates’s, and fortunately nobody reads attachments anyway…

  42. The users I’m talking about wouldn’t be satisfied by having a preview mode or a short waiting period built into comment systems. What they want is to have all their comments deleted, including ones that were posted months or even years ago.

    Jules Jones @50, thank you for reminding me. “Prove you’re the person who wrote those comments” should have been in the list of arguments these guys just don’t get.

    We’ve always supposed there were commenters who didn’t understand that the other people on the internet are real, but we always assumed they were the ones who were habitually abusive and inconsiderate. I’m wondering whether we’re now finding out that the commenters who can’t grasp that concept write comments that are indistinguishable from the norm.

  43. Reading some of these comments I thank whatever people thank, when they are thankful, that I get to do what I do.

    I personally have never seen my comments on anything come up in Google search. Except for the odd two days that Google blogs farted and anytime I posted on 1 specific blog, WordPress and Goggle thought that the other blog was linking to mine. So my actions were traceable for a couple of days there.

    I am glad I live in a place where employers do not check the internet when hiring as that is an invasion of privacy, to an extent. I can understand checking to see if they have a site etc which is public, however this thing where some companies want to check FB, have access to private tweets, etc., well IMO that is crossing a line and I would never work for a company like that. My family and my friends are my business and nobody else’s. And if a company doesn’t want to hire me because I voiced my personal opinion, something I am entitled to do, I wouldn’t want to work for them either.

    I am a very foul mouthed individual in person and online. It is apparent on both my site, my personal blog (where I went off on a huge rant last night because of trolls) and Twitter (which is attached to my job) but I am not trollish. I just live in a country where on the news you hear swearing and on network television you see blue movies and shows that are censored in the States. So I guess my POV is different accordingly. As long as I am not being hateful/racists etc., then I will not be censored.

    And asking for a comment to be removed, well… That just enables people to not be accountable for their words.

    However, there was a time a few months ago where someone was impersonating me and a couple other people on a well known site/blog and that posed a bit of a problem. But that was fixed with a quick name change on my part and the others to clarify who was the fake and who was the real “us”

  44. As grounds for having a policy of not deleting comments, I recognize as “it doesn’t really work (because of, etc.),” “it’s unfair to others,” and “it’s too burdensome” as legitimate reasons, probably in that order of significance.

    Here are a couple reasons I might take issue with:

    “People need to own their words.” As with so many other things, that makes sense as a general principle but breaks down around the edges. In particular, it’s hard to see why the general principle of “we should avoid causing people emotional hurt and/or severe embarrassment” would have to give way to self-word-ownership, if that were the only other thing at stake.

    “People need to realize how the Internet works.” They surely do. But it would surely also be good if there were less painful ways to learn life lessons.

    To be clear, I’m not suggesting that this blog or any other blog is unreasonable in adopting a no-deleting-comments policy — as I noted up top, I agree that there are legitimate reasons for such a policy, and among the things people do need to learn about the Internet is “my blog, my rules.” But I urge that the policy be prefaced with a strongly-felt “Alas.”

  45. alkali:

    “But I urge that the policy be prefaced with a strongly-felt ‘Alas.'”

    Well, but I don’t have a strongly-felt “alas” to preface it with, or even a weakly-felt one. I think what I’ve outlined is perfectly reasonable and sensible and I don’t regret the policy, or that some might be miffed by it. As I said, if they don’t like it, they shouldn’t post.

  46. I didn’t say you were being unreasonable — and to eliminate the double negative, let me say expressly that it is a perfectly reasonable policy. But my feelings are more mixed than yours.

  47. Heh, for some reason, whenever I google my own name, I always get an extremely old discussion thread about potatoes from Nothing else I’ve ever been involved in on Usenet comes up, and everything else on the first page changes (and this time around there’s actually another person mixed in), but that one is always in there somewhere. Someday maybe I’ll stop being associated with potatoes. ;)

  48. There are several Greg London’s running amok on the net. One of them is a voice impersonator. Another one is a sherriff somewhere.

  49. “Cancel” worked so well on Usenet, after all.

    Proof of identity could be problematic in various ways. Photo ID? Even if you aren’t “Mary Smith” or signing just as “Jenny,” that names aren’t unique identifiers is well-known. I’m not the only person with photo ID for my real name (there are at least three of us, and it’s not a name that jumps out as “oh, you must mean a different Vicki Rosenzweig”). IP address? OK, the stranger in Florida can’t delete my comments, but now you’re vulnerable to a spouse, roommate, parent, annoying teenager, or anyone who might visit to hang out with same.

  50. @60 And that is yet another reason why I think this whole employers checking the web is bad business.

    For the longest time if you searched my name, you would have to dig through pages to find me. Then overnight like magic, that was no longer the case BUT I was the only me.

    Then something really odd happened and there was another me. And this other me was posting on various forums using my nickname and all of a sudden was on FB (up until June of this year if you searched my name on FB, I was the only me) and people looking for me were requesting them as a friend. So if you search my name you will find me and this other person.

    Now think how difficult this issue is for people who have common names (unlike myself)? I ended up writing a blog about it (got buried long ago) when I noticed people requesting both this other me and me as friends on various sites to try and clear up confusion. Now I just don’t care. It is the internet. People are going to find what they find and draw their own conclusions regardless.

  51. The easiest way to maintain your privacy on the Internet is to have a ridiculously common name. If I google my husband’s name, I get a Chicago politician, a researcher, a futures trader, a guy on Facebook, a judge, an artist, a CPA, an attorney, and an image of a gravestone. NONE of these people are the guy I’m married to.

    This approach doesn’t work well for me at ALL. So far as I have been able to determine, I am the only Naomi Kritzer on the Internet.

  52. Humph. I googled MWT to find out about the potatoes, and all I got was a bunch of stuff on molecular weight.

  53. Naomi:

    I’m not the only John Scalzi, but the other John Scalzis don’t even START to show up on Google until well after the first 100 entries. I suspect the rest of them HATE ME.

  54. JS – very interesting and subtle watermark of you in your comment area. Has that always been there?

  55. From what I’ve been able to ascertain, the other guy with my first and last name does not agree with me about politics at all. He’s starting to post stuff, and here I am with his name saying all these things he probably finds odious. Oh well, I’ve said things I find odious too.

  56. What I don’t understand–and forgive me if it’s been addressed and I missed it–is how you can have a google groups post in 1994 when google didn’t exist before 1996.

    I will now timidly hit “submit” and take ownership of my potentially stupid question.

  57. @69 – yes that is what I wanted to indicate. It is only his comments. At first I thought I had a bad area in my LCD or that someone left smudges on my screen.
    It may have been there for years and I am just blind as a bat.

  58. Scalzi@64: I know it pains me to see that lady from Lost taking my Google space when I owned the first page of Google on my own name for about three years before that. I used to get her fan mail, but no longer. She and her fan sites have swallowed up my name.

    It doesn’t help that a science fiction editor ALSO has my name, as I discovered recently when Jo Walton tuckerised me in Half a Crown. The name of my character had to be changed. :(

    re: comments – finding the comments and weeding them out seems like it would be an onerous job if more than one or two people requested this. So it seems like a bad precedent to set, aside from everything else.

  59. As well as other real people with my name, I also appear to be a road junction in Ottawa, usually linked with Laurier in some kind of triangle.

    I’ve never met anyone with my name, but I did just miss another one by a week in a small hotel in Kuwait once.

  60. Naomi,

    I also have that problem, only worse, since there are only a handful of people in the US with my last name. So I have to consider that if someone searches for my Dad, chances are they’ll find me, and since we’re pretty obviously related, my online presence can be seen as affecting my entire family.

    However, I do link to my website, so I’m not hiding who I am. I just don’t want some random comment I make here to come up when someone does a search for my father in his professional capacity.

  61. Naomi @62: that works well if the first several hits for your name are senior IT workers, local politicians and coffee-shop owners, not so good if you share a name with a notorious cattle rustler. (“No, no, I’m not THAT Chad Orzel.

    I can see one circumstance where it would be OK to delete comments, and that’s where the person making the request did not actually post the comment in question – somebody hacked my account or used my real name to spew LaRouche propaganda or whatever. But the Internet is always about no backsies.

    I’m sort of hoping this leads to the revival of the polite fiction and the pretense not to notice. Just because somebody posted a sex video of my favorite B-list actress when she was in college doesn’t mean I have to go look at it.

    *in case anyone really missed it, this is a joke. as far as I know, Chad Orzel has never been within fifty yards of a cow and doesn’t trade in beef futures.

  62. alkali@55:
    it’s hard to see why the general principle of “we should avoid causing people emotional hurt and/or severe embarrassment” would have to give way to self-word-ownership

    wait, *what*? The proper response to a comment that has hurt someone else inadvertently is apologizing, retracting, clarifying, contextualizing, or groveling, in extreme cases. Not, “la-di-dah, erase it and pretend it never happened, too-rah-loo”. That doesn’t heal any wounds. Perhaps I have misunderstood what you meant?

    I guess deleting a comment could avoid emotional hurt to the comment-writer, but in that case, yeah, own your words.

  63. dance@79

    Interesting. I interpreted alkali’s comment as meaning that leaving the comment up would cause emotional hurt and/or severe embarrassment to the person who made the comment who then later regrets it and wants it removed. Instead of ponying up to said embarrassing words and perhaps saying “Yeah I was a douche, sorry” or retracting, clarifying, etc.

    In real life however you do not get to delete your words with the simple click of a mouse, I really do not see comment sections as any different. Maybe if more people saw it that way and had to take responsibility for what they say, there would be less trollish behavior.

  64. @80… and again, if comments were editable people could edit stuff they said and regretted. However, they’d need to create an account of some kind in order to be able to edit which has it’s own issues for some.

  65. I use “Wirelizard” everywhere online – google it and the first three or four pages are all me – but it’s never been a real pseudonym: my name points to my blog, which has my real name on every single page. In bold.

    I prefer the ‘nym because my real name is moderately common, at least online, and besides, I’ve never been entirely happy with the family name. :)

    And there’s some entertainingly stupid Usenet posts from the mid-late 1990s with my name on them. Guess I have to own them, because I can’t get rid of them!

  66. I’ve never been able to get rid of the dumb and stupid things I’ve said to others, why should on-line be any different? (Although being disemvoweled is a different experience!)

    I’ve been “htom” since … well, since before there was on-line. There have been a few other on-line names, almost always because that was already taken, or rejected as too short.

    Stand up. Take responsibility. Yes, I said that, and it was stupid to have done so. Next?

    (A reasonable policy, I think. Maybe deleting things that there are legal reasons to, like court orders, with the understanding of the court that it’s not really possible. Because it’s embarrassing? No.)

  67. “I’ve never been able to get rid of the dumb and stupid things I’ve said to others, why should on-line be any different? ”

    Well, as I said previously in comment number..hey, waitaminit, it’s gone!

    Damn your black heart, Scalzi! You’ve destroyed the internet!

  68. @dance: wait, *what*? The proper response to a comment that has hurt someone else inadvertently is apologizing, retracting, clarifying, contextualizing, or groveling, in extreme cases. Not, “la-di-dah, erase it and pretend it never happened, too-rah-loo”.

    I don’t think removing something from the Interwebs precludes someone from apologizing for having put it there in the first place. I can also readily imagine that if were the target of a nasty comment, I’d prefer to have it removed entirely, at least in some cases.

    @Jules: In real life however you do not get to delete your words with the simple click of a mouse, I really do not see comment sections as any different.

    In real life your words are ephemeral. On the Internet, they are readily accessible to billions of people. Perhaps that isn’t a dispositive difference, but it does call the analogy into question.

    Again, I recognize that there are sound reasons, practical and otherwise, for a no-deletion policy. I’m just less enthusastic about the “people need to learn painful lessons” rationale.

  69. Dear Mr. Scalzi,

    There is another reason a person might wish to have their comments removed from a website that does not seem to have been mentioned so far: the desire to disassociate oneself from views and statements made by other posters or by the owner of the website.

    The fact that Theresa Nielsen Hayden has chosen to post defamatory comments about me on your website should serve as ample justification for my desire to disassociate myself from her behavior. I would humbly request that you remove her comments, as they spring from a private disagreement that she is characterizing inaccurately.

  70. Dear Mr. Scalzi,

    I wish I were creative enough to aspire to the epithets you have chosen.

    Alas, my post was sincere.

  71. Well, Deeply Offended, if you sincerely believe the posts are defamatory, you go ahead and take it up with her. Since a) TNH neither names the person about whom she is talking and b) you choose to hide behind an alias here (presuming in fact you are the same person TNH is talking about, which is not a given), I’m not seeing to see how it’s defamatory in any concrete or legal sense, and I have a good eye toward both senses.

    Also and independently, asking me to delete comments in a thread whose originating entry is on why I don’t delete comments is more than a little silly. Please go back to the entry and re-read until it sinks in. I wouldn’t take down her comments if she asked me to, and I’m certainly not going to take down comments at the request of a random third party who can’t be bothered to tell me who they really are. That’s just stupid.

    Now, off with you. Shoo, shoo.

  72. “I’m certainly not going to take down comments at the request of a random third party ”

    hey, he’s not random! more lies and insinuations. rrrggghhh

  73. Cool story:

    I use this pseud not, as I suspect several people that hang here already know, because I’m so afraid of being outed or because I’m afraid to own my words, but because I like to keep my professional me and my personal me google-separate. By and large it works, and it’s pretty important. If folks really want to find me, I’m under no delusions that they could do so, and fairly easily. But I like most of my google hits to bring up my professional persona, so that clients, potential clients, curious opposing counsel, etc., can find me easily and don’t have to wade through a bunch of irrelevant stuff to get to what they need to know.

    ANYWAY, reading this just now prompted me to one of my semi-frequent “google checks” to see how much of me is overlapping. I didn’t find much overlap. What I did find, however, is that my name comes up in my state’s “unclaimed property” database. TWICE.

    Woo! Thanks, John.

  74. Jules Jones @50: I had a request from a long-time user on a Yahoogroups list I moderate to delete his old posts. It was hardly more practical to do there than on any other kind of list: with some work I might have been able to delete his posts but I couldn’t do anything about posts by others that quoted or referred to them.

  75. Andrew @98: A lot of the Yahoogroups I’ve seen have some fairly heavy moderation, which includes going back and retro-moderating comments for various reasons (frequently including the attempt to pretend something embarrassing was never said). It’s not a trivial task if you’re the mod in question, as you’ve pointed out, but it does seem to have given a fair number of people the idea that a) it’s easy to do, b) if the comment is deleted, it was never posted. If it’s not on the yahoogroups archive, it’s gone, in their minds. The existence of, google cache, and people who read email offline from their personal mailspool doesn’t seem to register.

    I saw enough of this to do with spats in online romance fandom that I ended up writing a “Welcome to the Panopticon” rant after one particularly awe-inspiring outbreak of morning-after-the-night-before attempted censorship. Personally, I think there are legitimate reasons to ask for comments to be deleted or modified. But as so many people in this comment thread have already said, it’s usually not physically possible to remove the evidence, simply because there are so many caching services outside the control of the site where the comments were originally posted.

  76. alkali@88:
    I can also readily imagine that if were the target of a nasty comment, I’d prefer to have it removed entirely, at least in some cases.

    Yes, sort of…. I still think the better response in such exceptional situations (which override general principles) would not be to delete the comment entirely but to edit/overwrite the text somesuch:

    [something entirely nasty and defamatory was posted here, @78. [Author’sName] has since admitted no grounds and sincerely apologized, @113.]

    That also attacks the issue of propagation—rather than disappearing the comment and thus making it live on in rumor, any link or reference to it becomes attached to the retraction.

    Incidentally, in this post Scalzi doesn’t address this issue at all, I don’t think, but I just checked the comment policy linked, and he says he will edit personal attacks, etc.

  77. Gosh, my witterings will live for ever? For the sake of the children, say it aint so.

    I was hoping they’d fade away like old VHS tapes. Not so much for my sake, but to spare future generations the noise and static of this one.

    Hey, maybe the future owners of Google, Wayback, MySpace, Facebook, et. al. will just “tape over them”, so to speak with new chatter? A bit like ruthlessly clearing a house full of dated, unwanted furniture bequeathed by a dead relative. Yeah, it meant a lot to the dead relative, but nobody has house-room for it now.

  78. On disemvoweling – I saw a car today with a license plate “ND VWLS” that obviously had gotten on some moderator’s bad side…

    On Google Groups postings from before Google – I’m a relative newbie, having only been on Netnews since 1981, before it became Usenet, before DejaNews acquired significantly large archives of the contents, before Google acquired DejaNews and Googleized it. (I was probably on mailing lists a bit earlier, but had spent a couple of years mostly in mainframeland, and never had an Author account on Plato.) So on the average, for anything I might regret saying today, I’ve probably said things far more regrettable over the years, and you’re only not seeing them because my email address has changed…

  79. I don’t mind being unable to delete my comments, but I’d like to be able to edit them, even for a short time after posting. Nothing’s more annoying than the typo (invisible, of course, on preview but instantly, glaringly obvious as soon as I click Submit) which will remain in the archives to my discredit to the end of time.

  80. Wikipedia gets a lot of these. It’s been generally policy to let people erase themselves in terms of identifiability and remove things. I’m not sure I agree, but the policy is generally that if making things forgotten allows someone to move on rather than continuing to obsess, it’s a good thing.

    I was always, though, more on the side of “You were an asshole on Wikipedia for six months. Does it hurt, now? Oh well. Shouldn’t have said those things.” But it generally got voted down.

  81. I’ve just realized that I can’t remember *ever* hearing about a Joe job executed via blog comments. (“Nice little web identity you’ve got ‘ere. Be a shame if anything… ‘appened to it. Y’know, like you accidentally posting a ‘GRRM is so my bitch’ comment to Whatever…”)

    That seems to strongly support John’s hypothesis that “ZOMG Google will show embarrassing things I’ve posted” concerns are wildly inflated.

  82. Damn, there goes my idea of scrubbing my name off of the interwebs, oh wait, too late for that, I commented once on Whatever and that’s chiseled my name FOR-EV…..ER into the bones of cyber space. To the people complaining, maybe they’ll think before they type.

  83. @JohnScalzi re being hated by other John Scalzis:
    If they appreciate their anonymity, they may LOVE that their names are pushed to page 10 by others with the same name. The needle-in-a-haystack security program may not be very sophisticated or attack-resistant, but it certainly can make people who cruise themselves on Google worried about stalkers feel better for a bit.

%d bloggers like this: