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When should a blogger delete a comment or thread?

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Arthur Przebinda, from winesooth.com and redwinebuzz.com, sent me the April 15 post from Dr. Vino concerning the brouhaha (I love that word) over at eRobertParker.com (and this sentence gets the award for the greatest number of URL links ever contained in a Heimoff statement).

In brief, the situation is that a Slate columnist, Mike Steinberger, got into a spitting match with Mark Squires, who moderates the Parker site. Seems Squires deleted a thread, based on a Steinberger column that had been mildly critical about Australian wine. (I’ve read it, and Steinberger didn’t say anything that many others aren’t saying.) That caused Steinberger to go ballistic and complain to Squires, which caused Squires to say things back to Steinberger, such as “Your arguments here are as bad as your article, which was a regurgitated…” etc etc.

Meow!

Somehow (hmm, I wonder how?) Dr. Vino got hold of the exchange and ran it under the clever headline, “The X’d files: an exchange not seen on eRobertParker.com.” However, the deleted thread itself, which caused Squires such angst, has not been published, nor will it ever be, because it has literally been deleted. (Can’t the Dept. of Homeland Security recover a deleted thread?)

I’m not going to comment on the specifics of the situation, or on the state of Australian wine, but I do have two things to say.

1. I wish somebody would leak juicy emails to me!

and

2. Here’s what I think about deleting already-posted comments on a blog or, in this case, a bulletin board. It shouldn’t be done. Period. I’ve never deleted a posted comment and I never will. (Well, I accidentally approved some computer-generated spam a while back, and when I realized it was spam, I deleted it. But that’s different.)

Now, having said that, I have deleted 2 comments (i.e., didn’t approve them in the first place), out of 2,065, since my blog started last May. (First birthday coming up! Yay!) One was a rant from someone against my magazine, Wine Enthusiast, that I thought was rude and hysterical. I explained this to the person, and he/she has subsequently commented on my blog many times.

The second time I deleted a comment was when someone made a crude, insulting remark about a California winery. I explained to the person that I don’t mind thoughtful, constructive criticism, but I won’t tolerate hateful slurs. The person emailed me privately, apologized, rephrased his criticism, and the comment went up immediately.

I don’t read eRobertParker with any regularity, so I haven’t formed any opinions about Mark Squires. But I do have to say that, reading the exchange in Dr. Vino, he comes across as a pretty nasty guy. Also, a little pompous: “I have a degree in journalism, summa cum laude”“I’m both a pretty good debater and awfully knowledgeable about every aspect of the subject matter, in general and in specific.” His concluding remark to Steinberger was “I have no interest in talking to you about anything at any time.”

Blogs and bulletin boards are supposed to be back-and-forths, right? I mean, a New Age kind of thing about participatory journalism, a digital conversation between bloggers and commenters, no more top-down Voices of Authority, but instead a dialogue of equals. Right? Or so I’m told. When a blogger or bulletin board host slams the door in a commenter’s face, that seems more Old Journalism than New, a digital version of Never make war against someone who buys ink by the barrel. Shouldn’t be done. Makes the site look like it has something to protect. Not “transparent.”

  1. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the nod(s).

    Should email exchanges be published?

    It’s private communication and I have a Privacy Notice under my signature. This is not so much to protect me fro what I might say but a show of my intentions to those who may have something to tell me that they would not want seeing the light of day.

  2. Arthur, I guess it’s a judgment call whether private emails should be published. I think sometimes it’s warranted. Anyone who sends an email should do so with the expectation that it WILL be made public, so they need to be careful about what they say.

  3. The question about posting emails is an interesting one. First, is there really any such thing as “private email”? The answer is a very simple “no,” and if you operate under a different assumption, you need to change the way you operate.

    But second, and most important, it appears from the email exchange that Mr. Squires made allegedly defamatory statements about Mr. Steinberger, then refused to give him an opportunity to respond. In such a situation, Mr. Steinberger has every right to resuscitate his reputation, even if it means publishing correspondence between himself and Mr. Squires. First, please note, he asked for an opportunity to respond in the same place the allegedly defamatory statements were published, and said opportunity was denied. Given that background, yes, the publication of the correspondence was not only appropriate, it was Mr. Steinberger’s least-aggressive response. Litigation was his other option, against both Mr. Squires and eRobertParker.com.

  4. Steve:

    I generally agree with you. I don’t moderate comments before they get posted, but think I’ve deleted two of the 20,000 comments I’ve received at Fermentation. In both cases it was because the commentators wrote such nasty, unsubstantiated bile about another person I actually started to wonder if I might be named in a lawsuit by the insulted party.

  5. Steve,

    I’d draw a distinction between a blog and a discussion forum. A blog is a personal expression and while good ones engage readers — even incite readers — it shouldn’t be difficult to respect that fact that the blog is the author’s space. That’s why I give more leeway to a blogger to step in and decide what’s cool and what’s not. (Of course, some readers may chafe at a blogger’s restrictions, but as I say, I myself give the blogger lots of slack on this count.)

    A discussion forum is a little more complicated. For it to thrive, users must come to see it as THEIR space. Users start the discussions, posting unprompted observations, critiques, rants, raves, questions and answers. The users ARE the content. So while a discussion board owner — like a blogger — has every right to do what she wants, she must be very careful about if, when and how she restricts the conversation. And however tightly or loosely the board is moderated, a key to success is that it be done consistently. People need to know what kind of discussion forum they’re getting into if they’re going to be comfortable hanging out there.

    (To illustrate the point: I’m into running and triathlon and I visit the popular boards at two sites — Letsrun.com and Slowtwitch.com. The moderation of Letsrun’s board is loose, seemingly nonexistent at times. Pretty much anything goes. The result is that the site often becomes juvenile, with flame wars breaking out left and right. To my view, this is to its detriment, and I find myself visiting less and less frequently. But the site still gets hundreds if not thousands of posts every day — and those posters know what they are getting into. Meanwhile, Slowtwitch, while hardly staid, is moderated with more consideration. The moderators rarely jump in because they’ve done a great job communicating what is acceptable and what isn’t. So the discussion remains lively but rarely becomes foul. So this is where I tend to hang out.)

    Pete

  6. You write: His concluding remark to Squires was “I have no interest in talking to you about anything at any time.” Don’t you mean ~to Steinberger~…?

  7. Chris M. says:

    Steve,
    Please re-read your intro on this piece. I believe there are a few spots where Squires and Steinberger are reversed. (Middle of the 2nd paragraph and end of the 2nd to the last paragraph.)

  8. Dear Chris M, you are absolutely correct. Thanks for spotting my errors. I have corrected them and beg the pardon of all readers.

  9. Tom Merle, You are right. I’ve corrected the mix-up. Sloppy on my part.

  10. Pete, I hear you. If the moderators at Slowtwitch are doing a reputable, honorable job communicating what is acceptable and what isn’t, there’s no problem. But how do you, the reader, know that? What if a discussion group moderator makes bad decisions that nobody ever knows about, because they’re never publicized? I think the only way around that is to let everything go up, unless it’s clearly illegal, slanderous, etc.

  11. Tom, I know what you mean. We live in a very litigious society. I was just reading The Beatles Anthology (great book) and when George Harrison recalled their first visit to America, he said, “There was everyone trying to sue us…for totally made-up things. There was always this very peculiar suing consciousness. I’d never heard about suing people until we went to America.” I expect it’s worse now than it was then.

  12. I’ve set up my site to require approval of all comments. Technically I don’t have to delete, I simply don’t approve it. That said, I never post an anonymous comment, neither do I post a signed rant if I am unable to independently confirm the basis for their complaint. I do try to understand why a soul might be pissed, but if I cannot then I’ll hold on to the comment for a few days for a follow-up from the ranter. If no follow-up is sent then I delete it altogether.

    However, I myself make unfortunate comments on the blogs of others. Some of them I would not allow posted on my own site. Ah, the human condition…

  13. I think the more interesting part of that exchange posted on Dr. Vino’s blog was the questioning of a fellow WA peer having a blow-out dinner at Bern’s with importers of brands that said critic reviews. RMP has always been adamant about following the Ralph Nader approach…I’d have a hard time seeing Nader having dinner with the folks who made the Corvair.

  14. In fact, Tyler did another post today – a veritable sticom spinoff – on just that topic, namely the ethics expected of contributors by Parker at the Advocate. More interesting reading which, of course, would never see the light of day in print.

    That to me is the most fascinating aspect of the blog/forum back-and-forths. Indeed, different cyber venues have different policies and approaches, but the overall fact is clear that true wine debates are happening only online.

    And the blogs that welcome the debates (eg Fermentation, Vinograpy, Dr Vino and you, Steve) are clearly considered among the top blogs around. Print mags, by avoiding controversy with “how bout you?” topics; by dictating/censoring unseemly threads, and generally rewarding the echoes from the faithful chorus, are going to be exposed as simply not worth of attention after a while.

    Worth taking a peek at the new http://www.drivino.com thread….

  15. Tish, much of what you say is prescient and on-point, but sometimes I think your agenda concerning print magazines is not unbiased,
    if you catch my drift. I’ll continue to approve your comments, but I hope in the future you’ll try to be more objective in your critique of print. Others who predict the end of print don’t seem to have your level of vituperation.

  16. Steve, I don’t count myself among those who feel print is doomed. Ratings are another story, and that will still take some time… WHat is important in this context is that I do believe that the last year or two has seen a major shift in the proverbial wine dialogue — away from print and to the blogosphere. Your blog is a perfect example, in fact, as your posts routinely draw far more comments and buzz than all fo the “blogs” at WE mag combined.

    Your thread here, as well as the ones over at Dr Vino, are bringing that shift toward blogs, aways from print-sponsored forums into focus yet again.

  17. <>

    People who come to Slowtwitch several times a day aren’t really “readers” — they’re members of a community. Of course moderators aren’t perfect and might make errant calls from time to time. But mutual trust has been built over the years and has survived because Slowtwitchers have seen what stays up and what gets pulled (there are far too many comments to screen them before they go live, so if something gets pulled people know about it). That’s a big part of why Slowtwitch is continually interesting and enlightening.

  18. There have been so many Steinberger articles that are a joy to read, in contrast to, in my opinion, so many rude and unimpressively narrow-minded Squires comments over the years (he is no ‘good debater’), that this recent exchange appears just as one might have imagined.

    I agree with your views on transparency and high threshold of last resort deletions, and it’s a shame the bulk of online wine enthusiasts gather on that particular forum. It’s strange to me it retains the loyalty of so many with the crude censorship that has (it certainly seems) gone down there, and expulsion of voices like those of Alice Feiring or Jeremy Parzen and who knows else..

  19. I’m with Pete here. The blog and discussion forum are different animals. Back in the day before the former, I used to spend a sad amount of time defending my then company against people who, legitimate or otherwise, didn’t like us or our product. And looking back (actually, at times I thought it then too), it was a bunch of wasted energy.

    The world wide interweb (thanks Chris Guest) may be at times the bathroom wall of our generation but what makes it great is the ability to open up forums of discussion on every subject. And as Pete says, the users are the content. Defending ourselves only made *us* look bad.

    So in this case, for Squires to take down a thread that seems to only be stating an opinion, was a wrong move IMHO and although I don’t read these forums, makes me wonder if it somehow conflicted with Parker’s own feelings on the subject.

  20. Great and interesting discussion here, but I just wanted to give a shout-out to Eric for quoting the excellent Waiting for Guffman! :)

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