A Note On Post Deletions

Posted: July 1, 2013 in Critical Hit
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

So, as I’ve explained in a footnote on my Rageblogging: The Rod Rees Edition post, a thing happened today whereby, in the wake of mass criticism of Rees’s thoughts on female characters over at the Jo Fletcher Books Blog, both his original piece and a subsequent one explaining (badly, but honestly) why it was posted to begin with have been removed in their entirety, apparently without any explanatory statement along the lines of This Is What We’re Doing And Why.

And I just. OK.

I have some sympathy for Jo Fletcher Books, here.

Because, look. The fact that you publish someone’s books doesn’t mean you agree with absolutely everything they say and do as a person: you might like all of their thoughts, or most of their thoughts, or some of their thoughts, or none of their thoughts, but the bottom line is, you’re tied to them professionally because they wrote a thing you thought would sell, not necessarily because you 100% supported every single word they wrote, but because whatever amorphous combination of style, story, hook and execution they brought to the table made their story something you wanted in on*. That’s just life. We’re all different people, and most of the time, we try to live with it.

So naturally, if you run a blog associated with your publishing enterprise, and if you use it, among other things, as a platform for your authors, it makes a certain amount of sense not to meddle too deeply with regard to content. To coin a phrase, sometimes you’ve got to go along to get along, and in the context of a professional, multi-authored blog, that’s sometimes going to mean posting opinions and guest pieces that aren’t necessarily reflective of your own beliefs. I mean, that’s the whole point of having multiple authors in the first place: different opinions. Right?

Well, yes. But that also means that, of necessity, different pieces are going to get different reactions – and sooner or later, if your social media reach is strong and your contributor base varied enough, you’re going to publish something that strikes a nerve. And that means critical feedback: sometimes positive, sometimes negative, but all of it directed squarely at your little corner of the internet. Hell, this isn’t even a problem restricted to multi-author blogs or blogs with guest contributors: every time you post something, you run the risk of a big response in whatever direction, and if you’re only thinking about how to cope with positive attention beforehand, then I’m going to contend that you’re doing it wrong. Every time I finish a post, I have a little moment where I think to myself: What if I’ve fucked up? What if I’ve said something really offensive/problematic/wrong, and I get lots of abuse? How am I going to handle it? And each time, I take a deep breath and I think, Well, if I’ve genuinely done something bad like that, firstly, I want to know about it, and secondly, anyone I’ve offended is within their rights to be pissed at me. I’ve tried my best to do things right, but if I’ve failed for whatever reason and I get backlash as a result, then I’m woman enough to deal with the consequences. 

Every time I post, this is my inner monologue. Every. Single. Time. And it’s important, especially as I’m a privileged person, because the day that I forget it – the day when I fall into the trap of thinking that my opinions are perfect and sacrosanct just because they’re mine – will most likely be the day that I put my foot so far in my mouth that my shoes leave treadmarks on my trachea. I’ve fucked up before, and will doubtless fuck up again. All I can really do is try to be prepared to learn from it, to apologise for any hurt I’ve caused, and, if possible, to fix it.

And you know what that doesn’t include – what it absolutely never fucking includes, not only because the Google cache and screencapping renders it pointless, and not just because it’s the online equivalent of packing up your toys and going home, but because it is 100% guaranteed to inflame the issue further?

Deleting the post in question.

Locking the comments, particularly if they’ve grown abusive? That’s fine, though it’s generally a good idea to include a final comment of your own explaining exactly why and when you’ve done it, and if you can include a helpful link to a place where the discussion is continuing, then so much the better. Why? Because your mistake will spawn dialogue, and dialogue is useful, and while, as the owner of your blogging space, you’re within your rights to say “regulating this conversation has become too stressful, therefore I’m closing it down”, there’s still a very real sense in which doing so is going to either constitute, or appear to constitute, a silencing tactic. You are Stopping People From Talking About That Thing You Did, and when you’re the one in the wrong, for a whole bunch of reasons it’s not a great idea to act as though you’re allergic to having this fact brought to your attention. Primarily because, you know. You fucked up, and you should own it.

Changing a particular word or phrase that someone’s taken issue with in order to fix the problem? That’s also fine – in fact, it’s something I’ve done myself on multiple occasions, several of them recently. My own rule of thumb is that flagging individual word-changes in pieces I’ve already written via an ETA or a footnote or the like is only necessary if it fundamentally alters the original meaning, or if the change is noticeable enough to raise questions from later readers. Thus: taking out problematic words from the body of the text, fixing typos and altering repetitious or poorly constructed phrases is fine unflagged, because it’s essentially just a form of editing. (Unless, of course, your use of a particular word or phrase is crucial to the argument being made against you – in which case, flagging everything is paramount. Otherwise, it looks like you’re trying to deny the problem ever existed in the first place by quietly removing the evidence, and that is Not Cool.) Changing the title or correcting an attribution, however, are flag-worthy, because they’re the sort of things that get repeated when a post goes into circulation, which makes it important to state, as clearly as possible, just why you’ve done what you’ve done.

But deleting the entire post, including all the comments? That is some salting the earth shit right there, and it is the least constructive thing you can possibly do. I can understand why people are still tempted to go there. After all, if you posted something people hated, how could anyone possibly object to your removing it? Isn’t that what your critics wanted? Well, no: what they wanted was for you not to have said it in the first place, which is a wildly different creature to pretending you never said it at all. It’s a bit like this: if I kick you in the shin, your shin is going to hurt – but if you say to me, “Hey! Ow! My shin! Why did you DO that?” and I reply “What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything!”, then not only does your shin still hurt, but in addition to having caused you pain, I’m acting like I have no idea how it happened, which is an Asshole Move of the highest order. If I kick your shin and you call me on it, the correct response is an acknowledgement of my actions and an apology, even if I did by accident. If I run away with my hands over my ears screaming “La la la, CAN’T HEAR YOOOOU!”, then I am being an asshole, and deserve to be mocked accordingly.

So, yeah. As I said earlier today on Twitter, I am endlessly sick of people going this route, whereby they say or do something stupid in public, then try to make it all go away by deleting the evidence. Not only doesn’t it work (see above, re: Google cache and screencapping), but it’s an Asshole Move, because it stifles dialogue while simultaneously ducking the issue. And in the case of the Jo Fletcher Books Blog, which isn’t just someone’s personal space on the internet, but a site that’s openly affiliated with a professional institution, it becomes doubly problematic – not only because the retroactive onus on the administrators to justify why the post was allowed through to begin with is higher, but because everything that comes of the subsequent kerfuffle is necessarily associated with the organisation itself. Thus, and as I said at the outset: while I can understand the logic of a hands-off, let’s-all-agree-to-disagree policy on contributor content, there should also have been a policy in place for what to do if and when a given piece were to garner negative attention. Regardless of its content, the fact that an explanatory post was eventually produced was a good thing, because it showed that the management were, however belatedly, paying attention. The fact that both it and the original, contentious piece were deleted without comment shortly thereafter, by contrast, is a bad thing, because it shows that the management are not only indecisive, but ultimately uninterested in addressing the problem further. (And also, you know. You can find them both here.)

tl;dr – If you fuck up in public, own it, and if you’re absolutely compelled to delete something or close comments, explain your reasoning where people can see it. Otherwise, you’re just going to look like you’re sweeping the whole thing under the rug, on account of how this is exactly what you’re doing.

*Which is, among many other reasons, why I get incandescently shitty at people who go around saying things like, “If you’ve ever negatively reviewed a book I agented/published/edited or which was written by someone I like, or whatever the fuck combination of those things applies in context, then I’m never going to blurb you/hire you/edit you/publish you, because YOU WERE MEAN TO MY FRIEND AND HATE EVERYTHING I LOVE AND OUR TASTE IS INCOMPATIBLE FOREVER.” Because, dude. The Venn diagram of “things I like” versus “things you like” is not required by law to be a perfect fucking circle in order for us to have some seriously awesome common ground. I mean, yes: if someone disses a thing you love, you are not required to like them, or their work, or whatever. Some things are more important to us than other things. I get it. But if your base level of artistic interaction at a professional level is to try and recruit only people who like absolutely everything you like – or rather, given the statistical impossibility of this, only people who are sufficiently afraid of censure and/or nice to the point of stifling their own critical opinions to keep from expressing any, whether publicly or privately – then that, to me, is exactly the kind of mentality that leads to the mass publication of problematic, unoriginal, samey-samey stories that are pretty soon forgotten. If all you want is an echo-chamber for your own opinions, go shout them loudly in a tiled bathroom. But for the love of dog, quit pretending that people can’t have meaningful critical differences in taste and still have artistic commonalities, strong friendships, or positive working relationships.

3 July 2013, ETA: With no explanation, both posts are now back up at the Jo Fletcher Books Blog. So, there’s that.

Comments
  1. jennygadget says:

    I find this reaction by Jo Fletcher books to be especially disturbing considering everything else that has gone on this week.

    The parts you/we were objecting to – infantilizing and objectifying women – are very much tied to why physical harm such as harassment so often doesn’t get dealt with properly. To first defend the original post as free speech and then later simply sweep it under the rug and pretend it never happened smacks of the same attitude that discourages women from reporting by encouraging them to blame themselves and question their worth.

    It would be a bad decision no matter the topic or the timing, but the fact that the topic is “are women adults/people?” and the timing is “the same weekend that everyone is talking about harassment at cons – by editors no less” makes deleting these particular posts as this particular time extra UGH.

  2. Bunny says:

    Damnit, spent the last few days trying to arrange my thoughts on the matter into something cohesive aaand the post is gone. Cached, sure, but still gone.

    I was thinking about the boobwatching scene and, thing is, even IF it was a plausible thing for a character to do, doesn’t mean showing it to us – and using that specific language – is at all worthwhile. I think of all the ways you can show how attractive a character is without ever describing their appearance directly, which has the bonus benefit of letting the reader construct their own image and actually FEEL that attraction rather than be coldly informed of it. A reader who isn’t into blondes might visualise them as a sexy brunette, or cutie with a shaved head. A butt person might never even consider the character’s jiggly chesticles but imagine the rear view. And both experience the attraction the writer is inferring way more directly than they would through just being told the character looks a certain way.

    Boobwatching paragraphs aren’t just unrealistic and a little sexist. They’re kind of lazy, cliché and distracting, they tell instead of show, and seriously… the first page of the first chapter? There wasn’t anything more important to try and establish about the character than that they a- have boobs and b- like their boobs?

    • ERose says:

      Showing works well on other levels too – most women I know construct their ideas of their own attractiveness as much from the ways other people react to them as from gazing at themselves in a mirror.
      Plus, the “visual description while mirror gazing” paragraphs in a lot of books just don’t ring true – I mean, do you take specific, conscious note of your own eye color, hair texture and figure shape when you get ready in the morning? I mean, personally, it’s usually “do I need mascara today?” not “I wonder if my eyelashes will frame my large blue eyes better today if I use mascara. My eyes are the color of seafoam, so black lashes make them stand out, if I’m in the mood to get attention.”

  3. […] A Note On Post Deletions (fozmeadows.wordpress.com) […]

  4. […] Meadows has reported that Jo Fletcher books has removed Rod Rees’ post from their site, as well as a followup post they did to try to explain why it went up in the first place. She has […]

  5. […] At some point before late on June 30, 2013, both of these articles disappeared from the website, as reported by Natalie of Radish Reviews and reacted to by Foz Meadows. (“A Note on Post Deletions.”) […]

  6. Both columns are once again back on-line on the Jo Fletcher blog.

  7. […] Foz Meadows also has a great post on deleting potentially controversial posts (apparently, the Rod Rees post was deleted for a while), while Angela Highland a.k.a. Angela Korra’ti responds to Rod Rees and also points out how the “Hey, let’s oggle my own breast” thing looks from the POV of a breast cancer survivor. […]

  8. […] A Note On Post Deletions This, in many ways, encapsulates why I am so against post (and comment) deletions. […]

  9. Serious question, meant respectfully: Why do people like you complain when your targets delete or hide posts, but say nothing when your allies do?

    • fozmeadows says:

      Firstly, the phrase “people like you” is an inherently disrespectful construction – as, for that matter, is the presumption that deleted posts only annoy me when people I dislike do it. Secondly, without wanting to adopt your ‘targets and allies’ binary, which again implies I don’t criticise people with whom I otherwise agree or whose works I like (I do) – I never like it when people backtrack on a claim by deleting a post. On those occasions in memory when people I respect have done so, I’ve pretty much always lamented it on Twitter or elsewhere; and in fact, you know what? I like Jo Fletcher Books – I think they’re a good company trying to publish some interesting stuff, but that in this particular instance, they dropped the ball big-time, which is why I blogged about it.

      • It is an awkward construction, but I don’t know what label people in the call-out culture like for themselves. Do you have a name for yourselves? And can you point me to any criticism of people on your side of these issues?

        • fozmeadows says:

          I don’t know? Why is there even a need to distinguish between call-out culture, whatever that is to you, and just pop culture criticism in general? Unless, by dint of the comparison, you’re somehow implying that mainstream pop critics don’t ever point out problematic stuff?

          I mean, you’re oversimplifying a lot here. I don’t know what you mean by “my side of these issues”, because I don’t know what you consider “those issues” to be. Are you talking about stuff like the widespread criticism of the all-white casting in Girls, for instance, or feminist criticism of Caitlin Moran’s response to that and other issues? I like Caitlin Moran, but she does problematic stuff sometimes, and when that happens, I’m happy to see her criticised, just as much as I’m happy to praise her when she says something powerful and true. As far as I can tell, a lot of the problem here seems to stem from a misunderstanding of what calling stuff out actually means, as though criticising a thing is synonymous with being forever and always opposed to its creator on every issue. That’s not the case at all, though; it’s fine to like problematic stuff and problematic people – I mean, human beings are so flawed, there pretty much isn’t an alternative – but it’s important to acknowledge the problematic bits openly, because otherwise, we risk eliding those issues and forgetting they actually exist.

          • Well, it’s true most, and maybe all, ideological groups will call out what they oppose, but people called social justice warriors by their critics seem to be especially fond of call-outs. There’s a nice round-up about that on Metafilter titled “privilege-checking and call-out culture”.

            I’m more interested in the issue of when someone may modify their online history and when they may not because I’ve noticed many of the same people who insist “problematic” posts must stay online will blithely change their own online history or give a pass to their friends.

            • fozmeadows says:

              Well, that’s as may be, but as I don’t really know any of the people you’re talking about – and as you’re not giving specifics – it’s a bit hard to know how to respond to what becomes, essentially, an amorphous charge of hypocrisy.

              • The first case I noticed was personal: during Racefail 09, several people, including me, were charged with “outing” Coffeeandink, who had been using her legal name in public, google-able posts on her LJ. A week after charging people with outing her, she made some posts private and altered others. But so far as I know, none of her community has charged her with post deletions or post changes.

                That got me to researching fandom’s people who cite social justice, but whose social justice work seems limited to attacking people online. I found the story of Zathlazip, who was outed by many people in that community, even though Zathlazip, unlike Coffeeandink, actually kept her identities separate. The only person I noticed criticizing the outing of Zathlazip was Pyratejenni (if I remember her name correctly). The rest of that community seemed to think their positions on how to treat others didn’t matter if the other was someone they saw as an outsider. The idea that the means justifies the end is typical of many extreme ideological groups, of course.

                I’ve been assembling information with a mind toward making it a book, which is why I’m interested in your take. I try to be fair to be all sides, because I believe that when ideas compete fairly, the best ones win on their merits.

                • fozmeadows says:

                  I don’t know anything about those examples, as I wasn’t really involved in the SFF blogging scene until post-Racefail. As stated in the body of this post, I do think there can be a meaningful difference between altering a post’s content and deleting it, depending on what’s being changed and why; I also think changing privacy settings retrospectively, while potentially problematic, isn’t the same as deletion, because you’re not erasing the material, just changing the access, but as I don’t know the specifics of the cases you’ve mentioned, I don’t feel able to comment on them.

                  • The Coffeeandink affair seemed especially egregious because the change of privacy settings hid the truth, but it’s also illustrates something about human nature which the demand to leave controversial posts on the web misses: When people are attacked, they’re torn between fighting back and retreating. On the web, retreating includes removing what caused offense. It’s also polite: if you leave a post up that had an effect you didn’t want or no longer want, your unintentional offense will last forever.

                    Are you at all familiar with Mao’s cultural revolution? People were expected to come forward and be shamed for ideological impurities. The online social justice set seems to expect the same of their targets.

                    • fozmeadows says:

                      I’m familiar with the cultural revolution, and I think that comparing “leave this blogpost up” with the horrific deaths of so many people is both a trivialisation and an oversimplification of epic proportions. There’s a reason Godwin’s Law is a thing, and given all the current accusations of fascism within the SFWA – accusations which, as Nick Harkaway recently pointed out, completely misunderstand what fascism is – it seems to me that comparing various arguments about disclosure and free speech on the internet with brutal right-wing political movements throughout history is neither productive nor appropriate.

                      It’s not about “ideological impurities”. As I believe I’ve said in my original post, I understand not wanting to be attacked further, and the need to do what’s best for one’s own state of mind. The objection here is to removing things and pretending they never existed, and to cutting off dialogue at the point that it becomes disagreement without any thought as to what that actually means.

                    • There’s also a reason humans use metaphors. We compare lesser things to greater things when they are similar in kind, though not in degree.

                      I suspect you got carried away with your rhetoric, but I’ll note that the cultural revolution was not a “right-wing political movement”. The desire to embarrass your opponents is not a right or a left trait. It just comes from a strong sense of self-righteousness.

                    • fozmeadows says:

                      I understand what a metaphor is; do you understand that particular metaphors unnecessarily trivialise tragedies while making a point that, by dint of such a comparison, is fundamentally inaccurate?

                      I never said the desire to embarrass one’s opponent was a left or right trait; I simply observed that, at present, there’s a disconcerting tendency for people within SFF who dislike being called out for their behaviour to respond by calling their critics Nazis, fascists and totalitarians, as though freedom of speech is synonymous with both freedom from the consequences of one’s speech and freedom from the differing opinions of others, which it’s manifestly not. Invoking the spectre of dictatorial regimes and saying “this is what my interlocutor does” isn’t about trying to embarrass the opposition – it’s a way to try and demonise both them and their behaviour as monsterous by actively comparing them to monsters.

                    • Metaphors do not trivialize. In this post, you compared deleting something online to salting the earth, a reference to the absolute destruction of a civilization, complete with slaughter, rape, slavery, and infanticide. Is that what deleting a blog post is? Of course not. Is the comparison valid? You seem to think so, so you’re entitled to the metaphor. The point of an exaggeration is that it’s an exaggeration. People are made uncomfortable when what they propose has been done by the worst people in history, but it’s good to make people who use bad tactics uncomfortable.

                    • fozmeadows says:

                      The phrase “salting the earth” is, despite its origins, part of common parlance, and in any case doesn’t refer to a specific attack that exists within living memory. Telling someone they’re like Mao or the Nazis invokes the spectre of slaughter and genocide whose survivors are still around and living with the consequences. Do I really have to explain why these are two different things?

                    • Of course salting the earth is common parlance. So are references to Hitler. That’s the point of Godwin’s Law: not that it shouldn’t be done, but that it will be done, because it’s a touchstone. We live in an age where few people know history, so we have to cite the bits people do know.

                      The survivors of all vicious things are still around. Do you therefore never use violent metaphors, other than ones that you think are common parlance?

                    • fozmeadows says:

                      *sighs*

                      By ‘common parlance’, I mean an accepted, established phrase within the English language, like ‘don’t count your chickens’ or ‘up shit creek’. You’re being purposefully obtuse about the distinction between that and people comparing specific atrocities to things that manifestly aren’t, and in any case, I’m getting tired of this conversation, which has veered wildly off point.

                    • I assume “purposefully obtuse” means I disagree with you? I do, on two counts:

                      1. Referring to Hitler is not a taboo, as you seem to think, because it upsets people who suffered under him. During the 1960s, there was a sitcom called Hogan’s Heroes which had several Jewish actors with personal connections to the Holocaust; I recommend the Wikipedia mention of their feelings about treating Hitler in a comedy. No holocaust survivors protested the show.

                      2. The common meaning of “salt the earth” is to completely destroy an opponent. Google “salt the earth” and you’ll see that’s so. Or are you being “purposefully obtuse” about that?

                      But you’re right that this has veered from the subject of whether your opponents should delete posts that upset people, so I’ll happily bow out now.

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