To The Blogger Ethics Panel!!!
Here's a situation that's worthy of The Ethicist (or at least Social Q's):
- Awhile ago some anonymous person left a spammish comment on my martial arts blog advertising a particular online MA supply store.
- In response I wrote a post accusing them and/or their web design firm of being the scoundrels responsible for the desecration.
- Later, I received a comment from the web design company I originally implicated indicating that they weren't responsible but that it was another web design company also employed by the store.
- I updated the original post with a correction and wrote another post going after the newly-fingered culprit.
- After that I received yet more comments:
- One from the owner of the second web design firm denying any involvement at all.
- Another, ~25 minutes later and presumably from the same person, indicating that there may have been some involvement via a third-party contractor.
- Lastly, I received one from someone managerial at the third-party contractor claiming responsibility.
Everyone following so far? Good. Also, everyone who's chimed in wants all the associated pages to disappear. So, what's my duty in this situation?
So this is an interesting conundrum regarding Blogger specifically and the Intertubes as a whole. If I wanted to I could erase all of the related posts and, presuming the Wayback Machine or similar effort hasn't picked them up, effectively remove the conversation from the annals of Internet history. I think that does a disservice to society as a whole: it increases the malleability of history and absolves everyone involved (both myself and others) of any moral burden imposed by the episode. So the answer, for those who have requested that I make everything go down the memory hole, is "No".
However, and at the same time, I don't way to be spreading untruthful information about people. Is it sufficient for me to just issue corrections, or should I alter the existing text as well? And, if I do decide to alter the original text, how should I go about noting that it's been altered?
It strikes me that, first and foremost, I should look for anything that I might have said that's turned out to be blatantly untrue or has otherwise implicated people that haven't actually done anything. Apart from myself there are four players in this particular drama:
- The Shop Owners
- Web Design Firm 1
- Web Design Firm 2
- Third-Party Contractor
What about the shop owners? In my original post I played what was essentially a nasty SEO trick on them. I don't see that as contributing to the overall discussion in this situation and, given what I understand about the sequence of events now and their level of actual involvement, they probably don't merit the SEO knock. This material has been similarly redacted. But, as for making the thread disappear entirely, that seems to me to be out of the question. They hired someone who hired someone who had a worker who spammed my blog; the truth of that isn't being contested by anyone.
Now what about the final two? Regarding Web Design Firm 2: I one post I merely asserted that this firm was responsible for the drive-by spamming. In light of what's come out that seems to be an entirely realistic characterization. They hired a "3rd party link building company" (their words) to assist in their SEO. As far as my latter statement that the design firm engages in "questionable business practices", I feel that's an accurate characterization fully substantiated by the marketing materials provided by the third-party contractor. They're guaranteeing incoming links, something which is highly difficult to do without resorting to comment spamming, link exchanges, or other dubious sources. Anyone who claims to specialize in SEO is most certainly aware of this. Does that merit the ancillary commentary about the design firm and its clients? Absolutely; the shop owners in the original post weren't aware that this was going on, so presumably the design firm's other clients might benefit by having it brought to their attention as well. The gratuitous bits at the end I've redacted, again on the grounds that they're not really contributing to the discussion.
As for the third-party contractor, they basically outed themselves; I don't have any material to change.
One other thing I wanted to do before I sign off is to respond to something that was said in one of the comments:
If you had been mature enough to to highlight this in the beginning before leaving a ridiculous post like that on your blog then maybe we could of sorted it out.When someone leaves an anonymous post on a public forum the only real place to respond is that same public forum. As far as immaturity goes... sure, guilty as charged, though I did note up front that I was being petty and vindictive.