Why blog commenter over-sharing is ultimately a publisher's problem

Please stop
Please stop for a second and think about who might see what you're writing online.
Publishing websites dedicated to big life stuff means that we see a lot comments that of an extremely personal nature. I'm not even talking here about posts on the Offbeat Bride Tribe, which is private for exactly this reason — I'm just talking about comments on the public blogs or our public Facebook pages — comments that are out in the open for anyone to read.

A few examples of the kinds of over-sharing comments that show up daily on Empire sites:

  • Epic family drama (Bride & Families)
  • Problems with friends (all sites)
  • Problems with wedding party members (Bride)
  • Details of nervous breakdowns (Bride & Families)
  • Medical/deeply personal information about children (Families)
  • Awful things about former partners (all sites)
  • Terrible details about roommates or landlords (Home)
  • Soap operas about how the bride was cheating on the groom with the best man and is now pregnant and the whole wedding was a sham (true story! or at least, real comment — no idea if the story was true)

While we remove comments that don't adhere to the Empire's commenting policies, we've been generally more permissive about the over-sharing comments. The one exception here is when people overshare about their children or other family members on Offbeat Families — we're just not going to let people detail their 14-year-old's medical condition, out of respect for that 14-year-old's privacy. But for the most part, our theory is: heck, it's not OUR problem if you write something awful about your Aunt Sally on Offbeat Bride and then two years later Aunt Sally Googles you and finds what you said.

But recently it's become increasingly clear to me that, as a publisher, it IS my problem. Why? Because people email us months or years after commenting, asking us to delete their comments — which creates work for my editors. One recent emailer said they were worried about a potential employer Googling them and seeing comments about wedding planning anxiety, and this reflecting poorly on the candidate's ability to work well under pressure.

[related-post align="right"]We always delete the comments (it takes us 2 seconds — less time that it would take to read repeated emails asking again and again to please delete the comment, please oh please?), but it begs the question: should we just start removing over-shares immediately when they happen? Because inevitably, one over-share encourages another. (I'm seeing this happen right now in the comments to this post — just one more reminder that content is contagious, and if one commenter over-shares about someone crashing a wedding, five other commenters will see it as a challenge to see what THEY can share.)

As a publisher, is it my responsibility to protect people from their own big mouths, because ultimately I'm protecting myself from having to do clean-up work in the future?

Let this be yet another gentle reminder to all of you who comment online: when you're writing on the internet, unless you're doing so in an explicitly private place (aka the Offbeat Bride Tribe) write everything assuming your future boss, mother, and best friend will be reading it… because I've seen it enough times to know that chances are pretty solid that they will. Hopefully you'll run into a nice publisher like me who's willing to delete the incriminating words… 'cause not all web publishers are that patient or responsive. (And truth be told, sometimes I'm not, either.)

  1. could there be a tech fix that would give people the ability to delete their own posts at any time? i assume that would require some kind of login.

    5 agree
    • I love technological solutions to people problems, but giving tens of thousands of commenters a login ain't super feasible. :)

      0 agree
    • Doesn't the comment feature give you a set amount of time to read over what you've written in order to edit /delete the comment before it's officially posted? I think that should be safeguard enough. If I were to say something out loud, I can't physically take it back ( that whole you can't unring a bell thing). You should not be responsible to clean up every comment because the poster suddenly remembered they have a conscience. I say fuck it, and let everyone deal with the consequences of their actions.

      12 agree
  2. I don't think it's your problem if they overshare, and it's not really your obligation to deal with deleting the comments, either. Heck, maybe that lady's future employer deserves to know that she doesn't work well under pressure (or makes bad information-sharing decisions.) The people participating on blogs in this day and age have absolutely no excuse for believing that anything they post is private or won't come back to bite them in the ass.

    Personally, if I shared a story about, say, my ex-friend-roommates who treated me like crap and it got deleted because a mod thought that someday I might regret that comment, I'd feel waaaay overly-big-brothered. And I certainly wouldn't expect them to delete it later- it's my problem, not theirs.

    3 agree
    • Personally, if I shared a story … and it got deleted because a mod thought that someday I might regret that comment, I'd feel waaaay overly-big-brothered.

      Oh, the Empire's moderation policies strike tons of people as overly-big-brotherly (big sisterly?), and I'm toooootally ok with that. I'd rather be accused of being too controlling with my blog's comments than host vitriol and nastiness that reflects poorly on my entire business.

      Great article about this topic by Anil Dash: IF YOUR WEBSITE'S FULL OF ASSHOLES, IT'S YOUR FAULT

      5 agree
      • Vitriol and nastiness are one thing (I'm never surprised when a blog deletes nasty comments…it's always funny when someone IS pissed about that) but stopping people from telling personal anecdotes is a little bit weirder.

        1 agrees
        • It's all subjective: one commenter's "personal anecdote" about their crazy bitch ex-sister-in-law's nervous breakdown at their wedding reception is another person's vitriol and nastiness! Ultimately, as publisher, it's my job to figure out where the line is. Commenters are free to write whatever they want on their own websites, but I've always run an extremely tight commenting ship on mine. I don't expect my policies to work for everyone, but my values around constructive communication online are pretty set in stone at this point.

          2 agree
          • I wouldn't want to see the current policy loosen, by any means :-) I just don't think you should have to worry about cleaning up every little bit of personal info in case someone decides later they want to take it back (see: stressed out wedding organization job applicant.)

            0 agree
  3. This is exactly the reason so many organizations just don't allow comments in the first place–they don't want to invest the time spent reading them all and ensuring that they are in line with their site's values. For you to allow comments in the first place means that you're willing to put in the extra effort to browse them, so I think it's WAY above and beyond for you to go back weeks/months/later and remove comments for them when they did something stupid. If it were me (especially on sites that can become dramatic in nature), I'd have a blanket statement something along the lines of "due to the growing number of readers on this site, we are unable to accept requests to delete comments" and maybe something suggesting that more personal comments be made anonymously. But, that's just me, and I hate drama!

    2 agree
  4. Oversharing is something I deal with all the time in some of my classes and though we have a "what's said here, stays here" policy, I am dealing with middle school students and they don't always remember. I encourage people to use "my friend" or "bob" (everyone gets that's not a real person) or "sally". They are instructed to use them for every story they share doesn't matter the story's origin. I follow the same rules. If it is something that happened to me, I report that it happened to a friend or sally. Easy-peasy.

    Regarding Offbeat monitoring and possibly deleting posts…please don't. Part of using the internet is the acceptance that anything that you post can be picked up by someone savvy enough to search. Individual responsibility and all that. (I'm sure that even though you honor people's requests to delete comments that the post is still there somewhere on an archived page)

    3 agree
  5. You mean you want me to be personally responsible?!?! The OUTRAGE. But who will I tell about my weird rash and hatred for my mother in law and her controlling ways?

    6 agree
  6. I always assume that nothing I put anywhere on the web is going to remain private. I have definitely "anonymized" things when I thought sharing might come back to bite me.

    Perhaps this can be suggested in the "no drama commenting policy"? It wouldn't be a rule, but simply under the heading of "please keep in mind".

    1 agrees
    • Same here, I always use first names only when telling stories and never share anything I would regret coming up in a Google search.

      0 agree
    • Yeah, it's definitely something I'm planning to add to our commenting policy, just as a common sense reminder.

      0 agree
  7. I feel really ignorant asking this question so please forgive me! How would anyone know someone posted a dumb comment and be able to find them via Google search unless the commenter used their full name? It seems like most people who comment don't use their full or real name.

    1 agrees
    • People comment using their full names all the time — this was especially prevalent when we allowed people to comment using Facebook, where your full name is the default display name.

      1 agrees
        • Also, if it's a site where you have some kind of username… one that is the same or close to one that you may have used elsewhere… such as a myspace or livejournal page that you don't use anymore… someone can google that username and find you. I helped a friend track down dirt about a guy she was dating that she met online, and found out some pretty shady stuff about him that way!

          0 agree
          • Yeah, my username is pretty universally my online handle. The fact that I go by my real world nickname when I post here is actually the exception and I only really do it because every other commenter seems to be using a "real" name and not a handle.

            0 agree
    • Thank you for asking! I had the same question. I am thinking a lot about my online identity these days. I find it really hard to figure out what I want 'out there' on the internet about myself.

      0 agree
  8. It isn't just here – I'm the social media product manager for NPR and we get requests for comment removal all the time. It is actually something I'm concerned about as commenting systems come in and sell themselves as optimized for Google, which will only increase the number of requests. Our current comments are not indexed (only older ones under a different system) and we'll have to decide what we want to do about it.

    0 agree
  9. oh, thank you for posting this.
    I think I went on a bit of an oversharing tangent today on offbeat bride (bride/mama drama). Feel free to delete it, I definitely won't be hurt. :)
    Now, I will know better next time and think about if I'm oversharing or not.

    0 agree
  10. I always think about what I am posting but this made me think am I assessing myself correctly.

    0 agree
  11. probably save everyone some time if they could just delete their own comments.

    *also, i have to say if people use the same email address for their business/resume as for their personal stuff, they are nuts & deserve every bit of a boss googling them.

    3 agree
  12. Heh. My new-year's resolution was to stop over-sharing. Not that I'm really an over-sharer, but some of what I say to my friends and family is just unnecessary gossip, and some (and only some) of what I say online is just unnecessary laundry-airing that doesn't really improve anyone's day in a constructive way.

    0 agree
  13. Ah, yes. I have Googled myself, and of all the stuff I have written on the Internet, you know what came up first? Me commenting on a DILF post. I believe it included the phrase, "This is the most DILFY DILF…."

    I'm able to laugh about it, but it is a lesson on how the most random of comments can be what defines your Internet presence. I'm kind of battling with how much more to restrain myself with writing about my kids online, too. They are getting bigger and the stuff we're going through soon won't be that baby stuff over which I don't feel too privacy-protective. I've been thinking about it a lot lately.

    0 agree
  14. I have actually refrained from posting recently for this very reason!!

    I'm also wishing I had chosen a user name that wasn't one I'd used previously; mostly so if I needed to blow off steam I could and not have to worry about it coming back to bite me.

    0 agree
  15. Honestly, I think it's the responsibility of the poster to be careful what they share online rather than the site. This issue of sharing personal information online is only going to become bigger in the future and I think people need to take responsibility for protecting their own interests in terms of what personal info/ events they share. We can't take back rants or over-sharing in the real world, and the internet is becoming increasingly real-world-like in that people are becoming less anonymous. Most people are aware that employers can go snooping, so it's not a good idea to post compromising stuff with identifiable info included. I think it's common sense, and if people don't engage their own common sense I don't think it's your duty as publisher to engage it for them.

    1 agrees
  16. Thinking more deeply about things, I think there's a difference between a mean/snarky/trolling sort of post aimed at the writer of an article or another person who's replying to a thread, and a ranting comment regarding one's in-laws/housemate. In the former, the commenter is attacking someone who's present in the discussion, the latter is more blowing off steam. Both are destructive, but the former is affecting someone who actually uses the site and the latter is not necessarily. In the real world one is more likely to rebuke someone who's having a rant at someone present and more likely to keep quiet if someone's blowing off steam, so I think the same rule could apply here.

    Sharing personal information about oneself online is, in my opinion, misguided, but it's up to the poster what they share about themselves. Sharing personal information about someone else is a very different kettle of fish, particularly if the someone else is a child, so I think it's justifiable to step in and delete posts at that point.

    I also think OleMole's suggestion of a mention in the "no drama commenting" policy is a good idea :)

    0 agree
  17. Here's where I sit:

    1) I can see your site getting dragged into family drama pretty easily. You don't need that. You don't want to put in the work to maintain that. And prevention is the best cure, etc.
    2)You have a responsibility to your community to make sure it is what it says on the package. One person's overshare could be another one's hot button for some negative feelings. This is a place where people can come to get some insight on a lot of different things, not their therapists office.
    3) Comments are a place for people to talk to the author/you and give some feedback. A certain amount of chatting with each other is normal and expected, but is someone's long-winded account of how awful their MIL is complete with bashing and over the top negativity contributing anything? 9/10, probably not.

    1 agrees
  18. Hmmm…
    I find this really interesting. I'm often horrified at some of the comments people write & leave on some blogs, in response to articles, & on the variety of social networking sites that have become the 'norm' in this day & age. It's one of the reasons I avoid reading said comments (most of the time). However, I think if one needs to vent, let off some steam or actually has some intense / personal experiences they want/need to share, there are 'smart' & grown-up ways to do it. You want to not ever have to think back on something you posted, regret it & end up having to ask someone to delete some emotive comment you made 5 years ago about your 1st cousin? 1. Don't make the comment(s) in the first place 2. Find a positive &/or mature way to do it/spin it 3. Use an online persona- TaDa!!!!
    Some of the reasons I love the sweet secret garden that is OBB include: 1. It's private 2. I *can* unload my tears & woes to my heart's content (if done within the rules & in the ways I have already mentioned) & I have sympathetic ears & possible objective solutions & suggestions reflected back at me 3. I can be who I really am with no judgment & no 'censorship'- which I can't in atm in significant parts of my real life.
    However, because of my personal circumstances & the details of my upbringing, family background etc- it has become almost second nature for me to ensure anything I want to have free-reign expression on (esp online), is far far away from being anywhere near attached or connected to my real name & the real names & identities of people in my life. That just seems like common sense to me, but I understand that not everyone has to or has had to hide who they really are from their community &/or family & therefore it's not second nature to them.
    Still, in in the manner of being a grown-up, accepting & taking on the responsibility of what one says & adds to conversation (online or not) one needs to either adopt that mode / consider it as an option (if possible) or cultivate a bit of THINK
    T- Is it True?
    H- Will it be Helpful?
    I- Will it be Inspiring?
    N- Is it Nice?
    K- Is it Kind?

    If not, work on what it is you're trying to say & THINK again x
    That way we get to keep Empire as the awesome streamlined ship it is without Ariel & her crew having all that extra work of trimmin the dirty fat ;)

    2 agree
  19. This has made me giggle a little. I tend to over analyse every status update/tweet because I'm thinking 'would I say this to my Mum/friend/employer'? For the same notions, I'm in a similar position for my own blog and commenting.
    I think, a lot of the time, people can be sat on their own, in a quiet room and the filter from brain to internet isn't always on. Then it's out there and not everyone's as lovely about taking it back.

    0 agree
  20. I just saw this (it went up when I was on book tour) and it's interesting. It HASN'T come up for us, which is crazy given the depth of our comments. We edit like this really hard on posts (and it offends guest posters, but oh well. I'm not going to let you over share on my watch on my website, PARTICULARLY about other people.) We've never allowed Facebook commenting, which probably helps. And we take down anything that's mean. Which means lots of people oversharing (by my lights, but I'm very private, oddly) but oversharing under handles. Which matters less.

    But. Now I'm going to think about it more.

    0 agree
  21. I notice myself playing the overshare oneupmanship game, which is why I've stopped posted under a regular name and why I don't post under my real name any more.

    I think twice before discussing my partner at all online, after oversharing and being really burnt by it.

    0 agree
  22. My namesake comes up as the first listing on google – she recently published a book about bottoms. Interpret that as you will future employers.

    2 agree

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