Relinking to My Comment Deletions Policy
Posted on August 19, 2012 Posted by John Scalzi 30 Comments
Getting a few requests this week from folks asking if I wouldn’t mind deleting their (generally non-objectionable) comments on the site. Yes, in fact, I would mind, and here’s the explanation why.
Quick advice: Don’t make a comment on this site you don’t want to have exist for as long as the Internet exists and possibly longer.
I’ve added this advice and a link to the longer explanation to my Site Disclaimer and Comment Policy.
I differ with some of the reasoning behind reason number five in you explanation. I seriously doubt that every last comment and post made on the Internet will last “to the end of time” or even the long run. Do historians in a hundred years really need access to seventeen bajillion FB posts and tweets of “OMG, I’m taking a poop!”?
Oops, sorry, didn’t finish my thought. And all those needless posts will cause a decisions be made: either delete huge swaths of of what is o the Internet or convert all matter in the universe into storage for the posts.
I’m not suggesting they will last until the end of time. I am saying one should not comment unless one is willing to accept they might.
Also, given the numbers of papers and treatises on ancient graffiti and marginalia, actually yes, future historians will probably be delighted to have access to all this stuff (if in fact they can access it, as the digital decay rate is pretty impressive).
Textwise storing what’s written on the Internet shouldn’t be a problem. Everything ever written on this site, by me or anyone else, would fit in a corner of my hard drive. The other text of the Internet is likely also efficiently stored.
All the LOLCat pictures, on the other hand…
I wrote in, a while back, to a different SF blog. Its policy was that if one wanted to be anonymous, one should use an identifiable anonymous handle (that is, not just “Anonymous”). The comment was on one of the “fail” controversies and the backlash in the fan community, and as blog policy, I included my real e-mail. The owner of the blog published my actual info and did indeed remove it when I asked why, after an explanation that made no sense to me. I was just grateful that I was no longer identified (and being harassed as a result of my opinion). So I can understand, when that line has been crossed, asking for a comment to be removed. I don’t ever post on that blog anymore, because I have no feeling of trust. I don’t know what started folks asking for comments to be recalled, but perhaps they should just use an id not associated with anything else if they are not comfortable?
At least part of the basic theory of online reputation I’ve been operating on for most of the past fourteen years (I got online in mid-1997) has been that what I’ve been writing is open, accessible, and available to everyone who has even the vaguest interest in discovering anything about me in the entire time I’ve been online. My usenet history is out there on Google.groups (the thing which used to be DejaNews), my LiveJournal posts are readable right back to when I first started using the site back in 2002, ditto my other journals on InsaneJournal and Dreamwidth. Fanfiction I’ve written is readily available too, on multiple archive sites. So if I’ve shared details of my life, they’re details I’ve wanted out there in the open, and that I’m not afraid or ashamed of having out there in the open.
I’m well aware in this age of growing online connectivity that some of the information I’ve disclosed about myself (such as the fanfiction, or the fact that I’m very open about having a mental illness) isn’t precisely conducive to becoming gainfully employed. But quite honestly, if I’m going to be ashamed of those things, and try and cover them up now, it’s going to be about as effective as a kitten trying to cover things up on a tiled floor.
About the only thing I’m really grateful for is that I didn’t reach the internet until I was in my late twenties – so my teenaged follies aren’t out there to be perused by everyone and anyone, thanks be to all the merciful gods.
I keep in mind at all times what my grandmother told me: Never write down anything you wouldn’t want read out loud in open court. If it’s potentially embarrassing, don’t put it out there. Pretty simple, really.
I think the rationale for this is identical to that in your recent post on comment ratings; we may well conclude that we should have said something better, or not at all, but the way to express that is by words on the page.
And, since you occasionally identify and leave a gruesomely bad comment as an ‘awful warning’ to others, the nasty brigade cannot even be sure that Conan will grant them the mercy of a quick death…
I think there are a lot of cases where the “if you don’t want it known, don’t say it” school of thought can be problematic; specifically for marginalized people who use the internet to network with communities who allow them to be themselves.
That said, I do think it’s worth being aware of the visibility of our online footprints. For the longest time, I commented here and elsewhere under my full wallet name to remind myself that I was not anonymous–not because I think practical anonymity is unattainable, but because I knew that I was not taking the steps necessary to achieve it, and didn’t want to lull myself into thinking I was.
I strongly believe that people who are willing to take the steps necessary to maintain a separation between their wallet identity and some or all of their online identity should be free to do so, without getting lectured on how they’re not truly anonymous. Most savvy internet-users understand that privacy is a spectrum (for instance, I omit my surnames now to help manage my googlejuice, while also considering my presence here to be part of my wallet-name identity). But, aside from ugly behavior like malicious ‘outing,’ I do think it’s everyone’s individual responsibility to maintain their desired level of separation between identities. And since Scalzi welcomes ‘nyms here, he’s already doing everything that can be reasonably expected of him. People who want that option should avail themselves of it.
Damnit. Now all I can think of is Cher singing “If I could Turn Back Time.” Then of course I think of Sean Hayes imitating her in Will & GRace. Then I think of him in the Three Stooges.
And then I cry…
There’s been more than one situation that I’ve been witness to, on forums where users are allowed to delete or significantly edit their own posts. In one case, it was someone caught out saying they got collectibles one way, when it turned out they got them via eBay, and they made every effort to try to delete their content even as the dogpile commenced.
There is no such thing as deletion on the internet. All you can hope to do is hope no one noticed before you delete the initial instance. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of how many people noticed, and then how big the resulting Streisand Effect is. In the aforementioned example, the derailing effect of the resulting Streisand Effect (at least 20 people noticed and dogpiled) in a thread about thrift finds put me off the entire forum, if only because the mods didn’t step in before it settled down on its own, and the thread ceased to have any relevance to me.
Yes, there are times it would be nice to delete something that’s been said, even years after the fact… but overall, one needs to weigh what they say on a rate of high permanence. And that even asking for a deletion might well make what they want to disappear rise in prominence.
On another note, slightly related, one can say the same thing about so-called “private” websites. Like the internet not having a true solid ability to delete content once it’s posted, one should also assume that, even if a website is not indexed on Teh Google, and you’re not allowed to see anything without logging in, that it’s still not private, that people not logged in will be able to get in.
My rule of thumb–if you don’t want the entire damn world to know about something, don’t post about it on the Internet. Period.
That said, lest I be accused of hypocrisy, I do sometimes confine things to spaces where there is some measure of security (friends-locked posts on LiveJournal, for example) but even then I am prepared to stand by every word I said in the event that some busybody cuts and pastes what I wrote into a public space I’ve dealt with enough Internet harassment to know what can happen and conduct myself accordingly.
(It probably helps that I have a little thing called a Shit Book which allows me to spew all my rage without making an ass of myself in public. It’s kept me out of a lot of trouble, and the times I still screw up are the times that I smack myself on the forehead and say “Man, I shoulda used the Shit Book for that.”)
@Annalee I’m one of those readers here that does do some maintenance, as transgender and not 100% out in a professional context, in order to maintain some separation between my identity as a part time woman, and as someone who works as a man five days a week. I have my, as you call it, “wallet name”, where I’ve done quite a bit of stuff, have some internet weight, and wrap my professional identity in as well, and I maintain a distinct separation with my pseudonym for my transgender identity, using a different email address entirely.
Will people be able to link the two? If they hire a forensic sleuth or a private investigator, more than likely. Will they be able to do so via a Google search? Highly unlikely.
That conversation was from 2009, yet the stupid is still as fresh as the day it was (half-)baked.
The major stupid being Deeply Off.’s pseudo-entitled presumption that deletion would prevent its connection to ideas where it was mentioned, and felt it might be “misrepresented” by some sort of ignoramus notional contagion, idea cooties or whatever.
While in fact the only way to prevent such is to state openly on the forum precisely and clearly what one does believe, and what one disavows, and then stop talking.
@lynnindenver: Will people be able to link the two? If they hire a forensic sleuth or a private investigator, more than likely.
Which is why I make a distinction between “practical anonymity” and “absolute anonymity.” I don’t think it’s possible to achieve absolute anonymity on the internet–or at least it’s not possible to maintain an online identity that’s completely untraceable (and that becomes more true as time goes on– in the words of MC Frontalot, “you can’t hide secrets from the future with math”).
But most people with pseudonymous identities are not trying to keep the FBI from tracing their blog comments. They’re folks like you. Responsible internet users are entirely capable of weighing the risk that having their identities linked poses to them against the effort they’re willing to make to mitigate that risk, and proceed accordingly. People who insist that you should never put anything online that you don’t want traced back to you (and I used to be one of them) are engaging the fallacy of assuming that others aren’t capable of managing their own risk.
That said, anyone who’s leaving comments on a highly-trafficked blog under a name they don’t want those comments attached to is clearly not managing their own risk, whether or not they’re capable of doing so. And in that sense, I think Scalzi’s “no take-backsies” policy is perfectly fair.
Fine, fine. Posting permanence; your site, not mine; if you don’t want it on the Internet for your grandchildren to be horrified at, don’t post it, etc. Got it. Personally, I use the “…but Senator…” method.
On to more vital and important issues: WHERE ARE MORE PICTURES OF FERAL CAT? Among others.
I agree with your policy wholeheartedly. Ignorantia legis neminem excusat and, of course, it is your blog. But it is odd, isn’t it, how your this so perfectly mirrors reality. Those who should or may one day be embarrassed by what they’ve said often receive the mercy of editing while those who are heartily ashamed of their words do not.
“Three can keep a secret … if two are dead.” Don’t tell.
htom: They’d banish us, you know.
I have solved this problem for myself by posting in the clear. It has forced me to rethink what I say sometimes, which is never bad. But it also forces me to stand behind my drivel. You might not like my opinion, but at least you know that I am willing to stand up and say, “This is what I think of …”
It cracks me up when the politicians are repeatedly blind-sided by things which they have done or said in the past. “Why are you surprised that that photo of you at a nazi rally is now out in the open? Werent you proud when you went to the rally??”
The silliest thing that the right has done is vilify people on the left for changing their positions. Flip-Flopper is used as an insult. The idea that a rational person could actually change their position seems foreign to the party line of the right (and the extremists on the left).
It seems that none of these people have read or understood Future Shock. Something which might be impossible today, will be trivial for us tomorrow.
/Someone will be able to create a trail of all your online activity for the last 10 years, with the push of a button. Not today, but tomorrow? Definitely.
@Scorpius: My nerd-fu is insufficient to have a worthwhile opinion either way, but a vanity Google provides ample anec-data that making a fool of yourself on-line it lingers like a wet, stinky fart in a stuck elevator.
wonderbink says: August 19, 2012 at 12:09 pm […] Shit Book
ABSOLUTELY DO NOT REREAD IT. Put it this way—rereading what you wrote in your Shit Book is like drinking your own vomit.
A year ago my mother died. I wrote down the last words which she ever said to me. I put them on a card. I put the card into her coffin. No one knows what she said to me. No one ever will. And I have been able to slowly forget them. I will never drink that vomit.
Thanks for putting that idea in such perfect clarity.
“Those who should or may one day be embarrassed by what they’ve said often receive the mercy of editing while those who are heartily ashamed of their words do not.”
There is irony there, but at the end of the day both have the same root mechanic: Making the comment thread useful to the people who read it.
@Annalee I very much move into the “practical anonymity” part of that, as you noted. I’m really only concerned about the casual searchers. I recognize that the much more serious ones, the ones that have more than “is this person a PR risk for us” or “what hobbies does my prospective employee have presence online” but “does this person have an alternate identity we should be aware of as a security risk,” are the ones that I can’t stop except by keeping this aspect of myself entirely offline anyway.
Fortunately, I’m in a career field that such scrutiny isn’t very common at all. And anyone else that does it, aren’t someone I want to be a friend or, or work for in a professional capacity. Not that it matters much, I’m actually out to almost everyone who knows me, except my workplace.
TOR and anonymous remailers are your friend, and readily available to the semi-technical masses.
That said, there are no certainties.
Two words: memory diamond. Archival data is like someone crossing stones in a rising river to get to higher ground…step lively.
Do not underestimate the power of seemingly insignificant behavior in profiling and prediction. Most data analysis, however, is geared toward business intelligence, i.e. know your customers, but there’s no reason to assume it will always be that way.
I’m quite happy posting any old toot under my real name because it’s very unlikely that my comments will ever be linked to me – except by people who already know me. It’s handy having the same name as one of the richest people on the planet. I’m not even in the top 5 most notable people with my name within my profession (or even in my home town), and a quick google shows that I don’t show up on the first 10 pages of results (I got bored after that).
I am more careful to avoid giving offense when using my real name, even so.
Annalee: Although you no longer put your full name here I still tend to think of you as “the person with all the nature-y names”, particularly after you married. :)
I use my real first name when posting comments on blogs, and have a couple of screennames that I use in particular communities, but the connection between at least one of those and my full name is easy enough to find. I might start using my last name here too as occasionally I’ve seen comments by another Robin which are much different from anything I’d say; then again, both s/he and I comment rarely enough that the odds that we’d be posting on the same thread are low. Though wait, that would be the disambiguitizing situation as we have different quilt-squares. Hm.
I’m in the same boat with Mr. Knight – my real name is so common that it would actually be harder to track what I say if I used it, rather than my pseudonym, plus I share it with a former Playmate of the Year. The first time I googled my real name, the first link that led to me was on page 42.
I do tend to be careful not to link my name with my pseudonym, but it’s mostly because it saves family awkwardness if my ultra-conservative parents and social Darwinist/Randian uncle remain in ignorance of just how progressive I am, not because I’m ashamed of what I post. Ironically, if I want to post something I might regret later, I’m more likely to use my real name or a variant thereof as being harder to track back to me specifically.
And this is why its best to use something other than your real name. Really people, C’mon
John Doe@August 19, 2012 11:43 pm
If someone wants to know the real name of the “John Doe”, it could be tough to figure that out.
If someone wants to know if “John Doe” is really “John Perry”, and has a number of documents written by John Doe and John Perry, it might not be that difficult to rule out or support that hypothesis. Everyone has their own writing style, and IMO unless you’re aware of yours and are deliberately attempting to mask it, it comes out. The question “Who is X?” is a much more difficult question than “Is X Y?”
Now true, that may not be sufficient evidence of a connection to satisfy a jury or a judge unless performed by a forensic linguist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forensic_linguistics.) But linking Doe’s comments to Perry even tenuously may be sufficient evidence to sway the court of public opinion for or against Mr. Perry.
Could you please delete this comment? I haven’t even finished writing it but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be happy with it by the time I do. So if you could just get rid of it for me that’d be grand. Thanks!