Strong opinions, weakly held

Xeni Jardin on unpublishing

Here’s Xeni Jardin on why they unpublished some old posts after a disagreement with the person who was the subject of those posts:

This is a directory of wonderful things. If we no longer think something is wonderful, we have every right to remove it from this directory.

I’m not sure what I think of that. It’s clearly trivially true. They could take the whole site down tomorrow if they wanted to. But is it ethical to selectively remove posts as they have?

I can certainly think of cases where I’d say yes. Without mentioning names, there was once a blogger who posted mainly about Web design, PHP development, and so forth. After a certain news making event, the focus of his blog changed to criticizing members of a certain religious group (and ethnicity), and he attracted a vociferous community of readers who post even more bigoted things in the comments. Had I written any posts praising this person before the subject of their blog changed, I would have unpublished them, and I would not apologize for doing so.

I have no idea what happened in this particular case, but I don’t think there’s any kind of absolutist argument against BoingBoing’s decision to unpublish.


  1. Given what advocates of transparency BoingBoing has been, I find the move to be pretty disappointing. Of course they are free to do what they like, but I don’t think that was the point. The point is that they disappeared posts without saying anything about it or acknowledging it directly, which seems petty, childish, and contrary to the values I expected from BoingBoing.

    I am free to stop reading them and to criticize them for being jerks, too, so that is what I will do.

  2. I don’t think there’s any kind of absolutist argument against BoingBoing’s decision to unpublish.

    Absolutist? Probably not, but in general I’d argue it’s a stupid move for a blogger to make. (In particular, it was a very stupid move for these particular bloggers to make, but that horse has been flogged to death elsewhere.)

    Simply deleting existing posts, post facto, breaks things that have pointed to them. I don’t know about you, but I think about the stability of things I link to before I point to them.

    In the example you give, you could accomplish the same result by either removing the link to the offending site, or by inserting a “Update on $DATE: This site turned into raving nutjobbery post 9.11; this link does not constitute an endorsement of the current content.” or similar.

    I quit reading one of the original webloggers (he would claim the original weblogger) when it became clear that he had no problem with posting something and then later either removing it or editing it to completely change the content or tone. If I can’t read something and have some assurance it’s going to stay stable for me to point at from my weblog, why bother to read it at all?

  3. Sure, bloggers have no strong responsibility to leave their past published items untouched for posterity. We all know blogs are the product of editorialists, not historians.

    It just seems uncharitable, even Kafkaesque, to refuse to tell someone why they are suddenly blacklisted.

  4. I think in your example, it would be much preferable to leave the original post, but add an addendum:

    UPDATE 10/13/01:It has since become clear that [referenced person] is an idiot. I retract my earlier compliments.

    Thus the historical record remains intact, but your revised feelings are clear as well.

  5. Unpublishing is — for want of a better term — Orwellian in its tone. They deleted it. Do they have the posts on the database somewhere ready to republish if the offence has abated? That’s a little idiotic? And then they talk about the Wayback archive. This use of language is shoddy, at best.

    “Unpublishing” or deleting is a bad. Obviously they forgot Cool URIs don’t change . Delinking URIs that point to the offending site within the post is probably a better thing, and/or directing web-bots to noindex, noarchive. Clearly they make money on that site so they could afford somebody to do that stuff, gracefully.

  6. I don’t care to get into the details of the BB thing, but as G says here, “unpublishing” is a term only Pravda could be proud of. I prefer my media outlets to maintain complete archives and not to randomly disappear things, however big or small they are.

    That’s really the beginning and end of it for me – it’s not a concern specific to the incident in question, about which I couldn’t possibly care less. But I’m not going to go along with the idea that erasing your past publishings is just fine.

  7. For what it’s worth, I’ve never removed anything that’s been up longer than an hour or so. I have removed items that I regretted immediately.

  8. i removed the particular fellow you reference above from my blogroll and stopped reading his material after his conversion to his new hateful format, but i never explicitly went back and trimmed references to his site out of existing posts.

    in this case, it’s not as though he were a contributor of mine or anything, and while i got links from him occasionally, i never posted anything particularly complimentary of him as a person that i would have felt weird about leaving in the archives.

    obviously, it was well within bb’s rights to remove content they no longer wanted to have on the site, but it would appear that the irony of the situation in light of their position on openness has been lost on them. (as has been mentioned ad infinitum in many other posts.)

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