Two-Way Street

Revenge of the 'Unpublish'


I have a stalker of sorts. Actually he's a ticked-off reader who harangues me via email periodically seeking some sort of vengeance. He doesn't know it, but he serves a higher purpose ... a reminder of the growing "unpublish" quandary.

This is a problem peculiar to Internet journalism. Unlike newspapers and magazines, a Web page can be modified after the fact (handy for typos) ... or even made to disappear. Lots of folks, for a variety of reasons, would like to see some things disappear from Internet news sites. I've wailed about this before. And it's an issue that the news industry in general is struggling with (check this paper on the subject).

In the case of my stalker, let's call him JT, he wrote a snide email to one of our bloggers. Our blogger published it along with a lot of other reader comments (we used to do this feedback exercise a lot before we got technology allowing readers to leave comments.) JT's full name was on the email. So now when you Google JT's full name, his snide email comes up. JT wanted his emailed comments, or at least his name, removed. The blogger referred JT to me and I said "no," explaining that our policy is not to "unpublish" items except for cases of factual error. JT has thought of me as a miserable person ever since.

JT obviously hasn't read all the cautionary tales about bad Internet behavior coming up throughout your life ... be it job interviews, business proposals, or marital considerations. He also apparently hasn't learned his lesson about writing snide comments to journalists ... but as you can tell I'm cutting him some slack.

Nevertheless JT probably won't go away. And awkward as it is, the whole "unpublish" issue won't go away either.