To retract; to remove or not

Recently, two of my Readify colleagues, Mitch Denny and Paul Stovell, have been faced with the dilemma of whether to remove posts from their respective blogs. My advice to Paul at the time (and what I would have said to Mitch as well if he hadn’t re-published the post in question before I even saw it had been removed) was "never delete a post".

When I was speaking with Andrew Coates today we discussed this particular situation and at the time I said something along the lines of "if the post actually breaks a particular rule or law, then it may be warranted to remove it, but in all other situations, always leave it." I realised that I had been a bit politically correct and blurring the edges of my previously black and white opinion of "never" which got me to thinking about it even more.

Here’s my current thinking: If at all possible, you should not delete a post; here’s why:

  1. Deleting a post is a negative action and will have negative connotations to anyone who has previously seen it, or finds it in some random archive (which almost invariably happens). It evokes questions like "What have you got to hide?" and people can take related comments out of context and think of things that are (potentially) even worse than your original post.
  2. Deleting a post is an interruption of the communications mechanism you’ve chosen to use to get your message out to others. You can’t do this with a phone call, a face to face conversation or even a written letter or email. People are used to being able to review previous aspects of a conversation or dialogue and removing a particular post leaves a gap that can provoke confusion.
  3. Deleting a post loses you an opportunity to follow up with clarifications, apologies, or even more points to a particular argument or discussion. Accepting that you’re human and you have failings can actually be an attractive thing to readers, as they are more likely to accept the other things you post as being "real" as opposed to being fabricated or artificially constructed.

There are more points, but this topic is already long enough, so let’s run with this for now.

Let’s take three scenarios and think about how they fit into this thought process.

  • Paul’s post – when he originally posted to his blog about the experiences of being a consultant, several people gave him feedback that was negative enough that he pulled it. Doing so means that readers now wonder what he said that was so insulting when in fact, it was more just a phrasing of words that was confusing than a particular slur. It also means that he couldn’t easily follow up with a secondary blog entry, clarifying his points and helping his readers "get" his point. That covers at least points 1 and 3 above, and I wish he re-published his post (hint hint, Paul).
  • Mitch’s post – this came out as a result of a misunderstanding, and while Mitch was fully intending his blog post to be humorous he realised that some people, may take offence so he removed it. Again, given that this post got a lot of readers before he pulled it, removing it leaves a negative space where people wonder what he said. It also meant that he couldn’t explain the situation further without referring to it, and apologise for any confusion. Leaving the post intact and instead posting a follow up post would have (and does) work a lot better because people can see that Mitch is human, and that the relationship between the parties in question remains positive.
  • That review – I recently blogged about a negative review my book had received on Amazon. The review was racist and slanderous at worst, and ignorant at best. A number of people, including the publisher, lodged complaints with Amazon about it and it got pulled. The thing is, there is now another review that is still there, that references the now absent review. People visiting that page on Amazon no longer have context and cannot see what the discussion was about and why people were up in arms.

This last scenario has added complications. Amazon has a published code of conduct for its member-submitted reviews and this particular review violated that code. Because of this, it was pulled. It also falls under the control of a company as opposed to the individual nature of a blog. This means it could affect the perception of the company (Amazon) and so they have to consider what is in their best interested. For the record, I believe the text of the review should have been left, but with perhaps its rating removed and any associated links. Also, Amazon could have possibly posted a message informing readers that the post was deemed inappropriate and so therefore is locked.

I admit it is a grey-er area than my original "never" but it’s still a good set of points to think through when considering a blog post you’ve posted.

I was listening to Honky Tonk Women by Rolling Stones (from 100 Greatest Guitar Solos) when I started this post, but by the end of it, I was listening to Whatever I Fear by Toad The Wet Sprocket (from Coil).

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One Response to To retract; to remove or not

  1. Rob says:

    A good rationale.  Additionally, consider that if you had a reason to be conflicted over whether to pull a post or not, it might be beneficial for people to see an explaination as to why you felt that you should have retracted your original post.  This allows people to understand your thinking, and also gives people the opportunity to give their feedback for either case. 
    In summary, if you felt you had something worthwhile to post about in the first place it must have had some premise – removing it is, as pointed out, a negative function since it removes information.  Instead, clarifying a point adds information which might be beneficial in place of nothing at all.

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