I was just simultaneously reading an excellent, if not particularly revolutionary, article about blogging ethics and checking out the latest comments on the Immortal Tide (with Acti-lift!) Debate. Suddenly I found myself wishing that the author, whose essay concentrated on editing blog posts, had also addressed the issue of editing blog comments.
Unlike some blog platforms, WordPress does not have a feature that allows commenters to review or spell-check their own posts. Despite this, many of the regular commenters here have a better record of avoiding typos than I do, and I have preview and spellcheck features. When they make a spelling or grammatical error (and I notice it), I will fix it for them: WordPress allows me to edit comments. Sometimes a commenter will e-mail me personally and request an edit, and I am happy to oblige.
A while ago, one new commenter whose post was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors accused me of letting her errors stand to make her look unintelligent because she had disagreed with my original post, while I continued to edit comments that were more friendly. In her case, I actually hadn’t read the previous typo-infested comment that she was referring to, and treated her complaint as a request to edit it, which I did. But it was a mess, and I wondered then if it made sense, or was even fair, to turn an inarticulate, careless comment into a clear and persuasive one.
Today I have read several posts on the endless Tide commercial thread from a 15-year-old girl. The post is in text-speak, essentially, without capitals, punctuation or any attention to style. It is a clear comment, however,even if it is obviously the expression of a 21st Century teen. Should I edit her comment to give it more credibility, by punctuating it, for example?
What is an ethical editing policy regarding comments on an ethics blog? The options, as I see them, with their ethical pros and cons:
No editing of comments at all:
- Respect and fairness: Commenters who choose their words carefully and edit their comments deserve to have more credibility and persuasiveness than those who do not. The careful commenters are respectful to the blog and me, as well as to their fellow readers.
- Responsibility: I have enough trouble editing my own posts; right now, I am going back and trying to clean up typos I missed over the past year. It is not my responsibility to edit comments.
- Transparency: An inarticulate, carelessly written, ungrammatical comment usually indicates a lack of thoughtfulness on the part of the commenter. That is useful information to readers.
- Accountability and Diligence: If commenters know that what they post will be seen as posted, they will take more care to make sure that they have corrected errors and avoided typos.
- Responsibility, Competence, Respect and Accountability: Reading sloppily written, unpunctuated comments is annoying to many readers. I am responsible for the blog, including the fact that there is no way for a commenter to edit a comment once it has been posted.
- Fairness: Sometimes a good argument is buried in a badly written comment. This is a forum; it enhances the discussion to make a good argument more readable.
- Empathy, Kindness and Consideration: As with the comments by the 15-year-old today, a lack of writing skill does not necessarily indicate a lack of education, wisdom or intelligence. This isn’t a writing competition.
Editing all comments for punctuation, typos, and garbled syntax.
Pros and Cons
- Take the above; reverse them.
- Reciprocity, respect and fairness: If a commenter regularly contributes to the blog, makes a genuine effort to write clearly and carefully, and, as an extra bonus, flags my typos, it is reasonable and fair for me to fix their periodic errors.
- Integrity and Honesty: Commenters who use eccentric writing for effect, or because it is an accurate reflection of their points of view, should not have their words changed. On the other hand, when it is clear that the variations from standard grammar and spelling are unintentional and legitimate mistakes, my fixing them prevents readers from missing the point or discounting an otherwise valid observation.
- Fairness and Justice: rude, abusive or careless commenters have no right to expect me to make their efforts look better than they really are.
- Bias and Conflicts of Interest: Without clear standards, I may be tempted to leave comments I disagree with or find annoying unedited, while being more likely to fix comments by friendly or supportive commenters.
Considering all of this, I propose the following standards for editing comments on Ethics Alarms:
1. Gratuitous vulgarity and abusive language will be edited out of otherwise valid comments, or cause the entire comment to be deleted if there is no other substantive point.
2. Links will be left in if I deem them useful to the discussion, deleted if they appear to be attempts to attract traffic. Usually links in comments will get them marked as spam.
3. Obvious typos and mistakes in otherwise carefully written comments will be fixed if I notice them, or if the commenter requests that I fix them. I will not edit for style or syntax, except in rare situations where an important point is obscured by it.
4. Careless, illiterate or stupid comments that I judge worthy of keeping, either because they illustrate a common point of view, give me or others a good opportunity to expand on the topic, or because I think they are funny, outrageous, or otherwise entertaining, will be left as written.