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Is it Ethical to Edit Your Blog Posts?

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Yesterday, I wrote about the suspect “baiting” practices of a Gizmodo writer who offended nerds everywhere with her tell-all tales of online dating. One of the comments I found interesting was from a reader named Kelly, who wrote:

I don’t know if they are doing this on purpose or not, but if you have been following the comments on the original page you have probably noticed that as time passes the story is being edited and toned down slightly.

eg, the line ” This is what happens, I thought, when you lie in your online profile.” became “This is what happens, I thought, when you leave things out of your online profile.”  And bits where she calls him a ‘dweeb’ have been removed.

There are now comments appearing around the place where people are asking why people are so upset about the story because they can’t see anything that bad in it.  It made me wonder if the slow edits are being done on purpose for this reason.

It brings up an interesting question in my opinion – is it ethical to edit your posts well after they’ve been written?

In some cases, I think it is fine. I’m the self-proclaimed queen of typos, so I’ll often go back and edit a post to correct a spelling error or other mistake. I don’t think anyone is arguing that this practice is unethical. I’ve also seen blog posts edited after the fact to include more information – this is extremely common with breaking news stories. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that.

But in this case, a very emotionally-charged article was changed to be less offensive as the day went on, making her critics seem overly-critical. People who left comments earlier in the day read a much different article and, in most cases, were much more offended.

I think two things need to be said:

  1. It’s okay to change your mind.
  2. We all make mistakes.

Sometimes, after reading comments or others’ opinions elsewhere, I change my mind about what I’ve written. Shocking, I know! I think that’s a mark of maturity, though – to admit that the way you previously thought about something was perhaps incomplete or even incorrect. Even more shockingly, I also make mistakes. We all do. Sometimes, I write something that comes off in a way I did not intend or when I calm down and can see more clearly, I realize that I was too harsh in something I wrote.

So, yes, I think it is okay to edit your posts, updating them to reflect your true, current opinion.

I do not, however, think it is okay to do this in a sneaky way, where your readers are given no indication of the changes made since the first person left a comment.

If your post has no comments, I don’t see the harm in editing a post…but if you do so on such a popular post (hers has thousands of comments), you make your readers look stupid. As Kelly noted, a lot of the later readers were wondering why the first commenters were so upset. By editing the post throughout the day, the writer made it seem like people were ganging up on her in an unjustified way. I don’t think it was fair to the Gizmodo community.

If you’re going to edit your posts (beyond fixing typos and the like), make a note about it at the beginning or end. Explain why the post was edited and, if relevant, apologize to your readers. Don’t just ignore your first published draft. Instead, acknowledge your change of heart or mistakes or write a completely new post updating your opinion. After all, nothing can truly ever be erased online.

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