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

By on Jan 30th

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.)