Blog Censorship: Where do You Draw the Line?

by | Nov 8, 2007

No matter what your reason, deleting blog comments after they’ve been published is rarely a good idea. And your readers will notice. Sometimes they’ll even have copies. This is what happens when they do.

Here I was planning a few posts for the week, and by the time I get back to town to tackle things, there’s something more interesting to deal with. Judy Gombita (of PR Conversations) sent out a link to a top blog ranking post on Michael Stelzner’s blog, Writing White Papers. Another blog ranking with no backing? Blah…. I commented. Michael responded. Bill Sledzik of Tough Sledding had also commented. Michael ended up deleting our comments. Uh oh… hell hath no fury like a PR scorned.

Let’s back up.

Who Cares?

I suppose the real reason Michael’s post on the top marketing blogs is under a bit of fire right now is the simple fact that every blogger and their brother thinks they’re qualified to name the best this or the best that… and of course top ten lists make them that much more bloggerific.

Not a single blog ranking list has ever been able to stand on its own two feet when coming under criticism. Either they’re subjective (like this list), they’re based on faulty measurements (like anything based on Technorati, Del.icio.us, or any other tool being radically “gamed” by the Web crowd), or they’re trying to measure something basically immeasurable (such as “influence”).

So yes, it’s a bit obnoxious to see it yet again, especially anywhere within the realm of PR, marketing, or advertising (although thankfully it’s not another one-size-fits all ranking of sorts).

Being a reader of Michael’s blog (as I’m also active in business writing aside from my PR work and Web publishing), I wanted to give him a chance to explain his ranking method before the criticism spread.

Basically, this ranking was done in contest form… nominations and then winners were “chosen” by Michael. There are obviously enormous faults with simply calling this a “best” list – older blogs have an edge based on simple name recognition over quality, it can become a popularity contest with little blogger cliques (so prevalent in the PR industry – although whew! they/we weren’t included in this one) simply nominating each other, etc.

The smart thing to do to avoid the criticism would have been to make it clear in the results post that it was subjective; based on reader interaction and opinions about quality on personal evaluation. No problems there as long as you call it what it is.

The original post didn’t make that clear however (and sure, I’m probably oversimplifying). Oops for Michael. Most of us have made boo boos in our blogging, so I’m not going to turn all hater on his ass and go crazy. Hopefully he’ll word it a bit differently in future contests / top rank blog posts.

So anyway…

Because of the whole blog ranking issue, and the fact that some of us simply must call a spade a spade, we questioned the post / rankings letting it basically be known that we (or at least I) didn’t really see any authority status behind them, therefore making the whole shebang a bit misleading to readers.

Bill and I both commented on the methods behind the rankings. Michael responded to both of us. Later on, those comments magically went “POOF!” and we were forever sent to comment limbo. Or were we?

What Was Cut?

I was able to dig up the missing pieces of the “puzzle.”

Here was my original comment:

Michael,

Love the blog and the effort on creating the list. It would be great though if the post mentioned a bit about how these blogs were chosen, as there’s already a bit of rumbling around about how it’s just another subjective list that people are taking as an authority source on blog rankings, albeit a bit misguided.

It’s certainly nice to see some of your favorites (I’m assuming that’s what we have here… if there was another process I’d love it if you clarified it for me a bit).

Here was Michael’s original response to my comment (also deleted after the fact):

Jennifer;

Since you asked:

This list was selected first based on nominations to this blog and our 20,000 reader newsletter. Something like 60 nominations came in.

Blogs needed to be nominated more than one time to qualify.

Then all blogs were critically analyzed for the value of the content and the regularity of their posts.

Hopefully that answers your question.

If a blog was not nominated, it did not make the list.

Mike

And Bill, it appears all was not lost. I’ve managed to find your post and pull it out of the big old blog graveyard – sometimes I totally rock my own socks like that. 😉 Here was Bill’s original comment:

I’ll admit I’m not a regular reader here. I was drawn in by the buzz your list generated. Mission accomplished.

I spent a good bit of energy in my PR career trying to land my clients on lists like this, but I have to say I’m finding the selection criteria a little dubious, and your response to Jennifer a bit lacking. As I understand it, a top marketing blog needs just TWO nominations (from a list of 20,000 readers)? Then they are “critically analyzed.” By whom?

The passive voice is telling here. It’s sounding more and more like someone picked their favs and posted the list. That’s OK, it’ll pull in plenty of links and traffic, and, sadly, that’s the name of the game in Web 2.0. But let’s not make this list into more than it really is.

I’m not a marketing blogger, so there is no envy here, none at all. But you did miss some really good ones!

And Michael’s response to Bill’s comment (as I believe that was axed too?):

Bill;

I think quality of the blogs on this list stand on their own.

This is a contest put on by www.WhitePaperSource.com.

I am the executive editor.

To be “considered” multiple nominations must have come in. If they did not, they were not considered.

Then the nominated blogs went through an analysis on our end for quality and frequency.

If you want to understand better how the process works, see the top 10 blogs for writer’s nominations that are coming in right now by going here:

http://www.writingwhitepapers.com/blog/2007/11/02/top-10-blogs-for-writers-20072008-seeking-your-nomination/

Mike

Damn, email comment subscriptions are nifty little buggers.

Buy Why Michael,Why?

You can see the conversation, what was cut, etc. But wait. Why did Michael risk the wrath of the feistier side of the blogosphere by daring to exercise censorship. Ohh, that’s such a dirty word, isn’t it? Let’s say it again: CENSORSHIP!

Michael did have a reason for cutting these comments:

I did not like the responses I had made to both you and Jenn’s comments. I found myself being defensive.

What was a carefully crafted list of very excellent blogs was being taken off track by a discussion of the selection process.

So I decided to delete the comments (mine and yours) and post a comment yesterday that summarized things. If you go back and look at the 3rd comment posted you will see what I did.

Whether you choose to believe the reason or think it’s appropriate is up to you. For me, being familiar with Mike in the writing community and knowing that the PR industry is a bit hyper-sensitive to this particular subject over measurement issues lately in blogging, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt… this time (and perhaps moreso if he feels inclined to re-include these comments in his original thread).

So is it Really Wrong?

As a writer, I’d love to say that censorship is always wrong. As a blogger / Web publisher, I have to say it’s not though.

As much as some PRs hate the dirty little “M” word, it’s about the marketing. As a blogger, you have to know your target market, give them what they want, build links, build traffic, etc. On top of it you do still have the whole PR side of the equation over managing your image in the blogosphere.

Certain markets will tolerate certain things. As an example of a situation where I don’t have an issue with comment censorship:

On this blog, I recently had quite the potty-mouthed commenter on my post about the royal suckiness of Facebook in a business sense. Due to the general tone of this blog as it is, my readers are (or had better be if they’ve stuck around) more tolerant of such language. Besides, it’s not every day that I’m called a “whiny bitch” on my blog, and I found it amusing. It was an interesting comment in a larger discussion (although more the discussion of how people should actually read a post before judging than the discussion about Facebook itself).

I’ve gotten some equally nasty comments on my freelance writing blog in the past, especially in its past incarnation as SixFigureWriters.com. There were a few cases where I did have to reject comments, because frankly that audience doesn’t have the tolerance that readers of this blog do.

Now, when those situations do happen, I’m not a fan of the idea of ignoring the point the visitor was trying to make, so I may re-word / summarize their point, and then address it in a comment, usually while making it clear that they’ll have to be a bit more appropriate in the future.

I do have one situation where I flat out censor comments… if someone wants to leave a highly critical comment, but they don’t have the virtual balls to include their name, I generally don’t allow them space on my site. I also do make that as clear as possible. There are some exceptions, like if they truly had something intelligent to say, but generally if your name is “anon” expect to be censored.

Now Michael’s censorship really doesn’t fit into the kind of scenario where the target readers couldn’t handle it. It did look like simply removing any criticism… especially when compared to the (gag me) flattery posts of those honored to be on the list. There’s nothing wrong with thanking someone for plugging your blog, but seriously, sometimes there’s just a bit too much ass-kissing or back-and-forth to make it productive discussion. If you’re going to pat your own back publicly, let’s limit it to once per occasion, and just a dainty little thing.

You know what? Yeah, it sucks to see your comment deleted from a blog. I disagree with Michael doing it, and he has the option of re-including them or leaving things as they are.

But do you know what the most beautiful thing about blog censorship like this is? Anyone can call your ass out if you do something stupid on their own blog publicly, very little is ever really “gone” on the Web (so if you censor something big once it’s been up it could very well bite you on the ass anyway), and the whole process is a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

So as the title asks, where do you draw the line?

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing the final chapter, Jenn. Your willingness to give Mike a pass is admirable, as he has a track record with you and you’ve found value in his work. In my case, it was a first impression — and not a good one.

    You are also so right about something else: This whole process is a hell of a lot of fun to watch! Looking forward to your feeds!

    Reply
  2. I guess it’s time to chime in with some comments, as you’ve gone and named me, dear Jenn (you bad). That’s why I’ll do it here rather than on Whitepapers or Bill’s blog. (I might have done it at the source, if pre-conference work/current conference commitments weren’t keeping me hopping. Or if the expunging of those comments–now reinstated, thanks to your packrat tendencies–hadn’t been so swift.)

    Where do I/we draw the line? On PR Conversations, the intent is to let the comments and conversations flow in an organic and productive manner. We welcome debate, particularly from new sources, that add to our global conversations. Our readership is very, very diverse. And yes it continues to grow. Oh that our comment section reflected even a fraction of the various nationalities that find our targeted public-relations-targeted material of interest and use.

    We don’t employ comment moderation, because with so many contributors, all working full-time jobs in addition to this volunteer commitment and experiment, it just wouldn’t be practical.

    Outright spam gets eliminated as soon as it is detected, either by that post’s author or by our overall blog administrator, Andrea. (He also works, so a lot of his blog administration and upgrades are done in the evenings or weekends.)

    We’ve been lucky, in that there was only one incident where we were the victim of someone abusing our platform to promote (quite blatantly) his new service. We actually had some offline policy discussions about the appropriateness of the “advertisement” comment (which some labelled as astroturfing).

    The first decision was to delete the comment wholesale, with the author informed that this had happened, and an invitation issued to rewrite and repost a comment, requesting that the rewritten one actually have something to contribute to the post (PR and social media), and to respect the mandate and tone of our blog: productive discussions on public relations and related areas.

    The individual agreed to do that. But he didn’t really. Comment after comment continued to be blatant “selling,” with the self-interest and motivation quite clear. Despite that…and despite some rather combatative discourse with the perpetrator, we did let all but the original comment stand. I actually argued in favour of leaving the comments online, because I don’t like censorship.

    I welcome and like debate, provided it is done in an intelligent (i.e., backed by facts and persuasive arguments) and respectful manner. We don’t always have to agree with one another. We certainly shouldn’t be telling one another what to say, think or feel. Hanging about in little bloggy cliques, with glib and oft declarations of “friendships” and alliances just feels way too much like high school. I left high school a long, long time ago. I have no interest in an ether version.

    Given how so many social media evangelists bleat about the absolute need for accountability and ethics, transparency and honesty, what I found very offensive in this particular incident was the swift “revisionist history” tinkering to the comment section. And, of course, the revisionism was limited to anything that was even the slightest bit critical. The happy bleats of “thank you for including me on your list” (which I find to be such an annoying waste of real estate space), of course remained intact.

    I also dislike the complicity of this all. How come not a single happy camper expressed surprise, if not dismay, that comments were removed from the post. Surely that cannot be considered a “top” marketing or social media practice? Silence can also be taken as consensus with a decision.

    None of us can draw the line on “manufactured” conversations or alliances, gaming for links (i.e., mutual link love) or preceived (versus reality) authority or influence. Those things are out of our control, as long as some bloggers continue to play such games, even if they are disguised as legitimate projects.

    What People Like Us *can* do is employ the sniff test for veracity, including questioning conventional wisdom (bloggy or more earthbound). Plus just saying “phooey” to subjective “top” lists, questionable “social media research” and useless memes. Particularly when things appear to stem from personal (or profit-making) motivations and whims, lack of rigour and objectivity.

    It’s indeed both gratifying and fun to debate and expose this stuff, whether offline amongst some pals or online in the comments section. Certainly we can’t take any of this stuff too seriously, although I think this ranting could become addictive.

    Happy house hunting…..

    Judy

    Reply
  3. What a healthy discussion. Thank you, Jen for writing this up and taking a very well thought-out look at both sides of the matter. Will share it on the Now Is Gone Reader badge.

    Reply
  4. I think a lot of bloggers are afraid that their comments WILL be deleted because they may disagree with a particular post.

    I received comments from other bloggers that ended a terse disagreement with the phrase “you’ll probably delete this comment”.

    Have bloggers become so spineless that they can’t disagree without the fear of retribution?

    Jonathan

    Reply
  5. Jen et al,

    It seems to me, and I’m relatively new, the purpose behind a blog is to increase dialog and the open exchange of ideas.

    With that in mind, deleting comments for anything other than obscenities, insults or libelous statements seems to go against the grain when it comes to how the new Web community seems to work.

    Disagreement is part of life, if we can’t accept that — whether as a blogger or communicator, then we’re in the wrong field.

    Even then, on our blog, I would rather just edit the comment that may use inappropriate language and make it clear that, although that aspect wasn’t appreciated, the opinion or contribution behind the comment was and should be shared.

    Those are just my two cents though!

    Kris

    Reply

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