Increasingly, specialty blogs are sporting posts asking whether particular practices are ethical. That is a good thing. The unfortunate part is that too many of the posters lack the tools to answer the question.
You would think the proprietor of a website called “Pro Blog Service,” for example, would be capable of at least spotting the ethical issues in his query about blogging, but no. In a post entitled “Is It Unethical To Edit Spam Comments?“, he describes the common spamming practice of sending in a comment to a blog post that expresses bland and non-specific praise for the original post in order to get a URL publicized. He asks,
“Can I, as the blog owner, delete their URL, and then publish the comment? I’m “defanging the serpent,” as it were, and not allowing the spammer to get what they want, but I still get the benefit of a semi-generic praise-ish, if falsely made, comment.”
He then states what he calls the “pro” side of editing the spam comments:
“I can argue that many of these spammers are only trying to deceive people into buying their stuff (usually porn, pills, or counterfeit watches), and as such, are not very moral people. I’m not doing any more harm by editing these comments than I am by deleting them. I’m removing the offending URL, and blocking their attempts to direct people to their nefarious websites.”
Uh, no. That’s not the pro side, because there is no legitimate pro side. The “semi-generic praise-ish, if falsely made, comment” is not genuine praise of the original post, but merely subterfuge to get the URL on-line. Removing the URL, as the author suggests, deceives the blog’s readers into believing the fake comment is a genuine one. It is misrepresentation.
The author of the post doesn’t recognize this problem, however. His “con” argument:
“This could be a slippery slope. If I edit a spam comment today, what’s to stop me from editing a regular comment for spelling and grammatical errors tomorrow? And then deleting a negative comment the next day? From there, it’s a short step to editing a negative comment into a positive one.”
First of all, there is nothing unethical about cleaning up punctuation, spelling and gross grammatical errors in the comments to posts; it is a service and a courtesy. It is no “short step” to editing a negative comment into a positive one, either: what he is proposing is editing a fake comment into one readers will think is genuine, and that is just as bad. The act of taking spam-identifying features out of spam isn’t a step on to the slippery slope to unethical conduct, it is already unethical conduct.
Yet a blog professional is baffled by this. No wonder the blogosphere is an ethics jungle.