On Ethics and Blogging

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1 Response

  1. This clearly is a very sensitive matter and it’s helpful to see an integration of “hyphen-ethics” into a larger ethical fame. I’d like to raise a concern regarding the retroactive removal of material. It strikes me that the act of erasing “halachically or ethically problematic material” and material that, “chas veshalom causes damage to anyone,” is a form of making teshuvah. But teshuvah usually is a response to actions that cannot be undone, and tocheicha and teshuvah do not imply the erasure of those actions. Yet erasure — deletion/removal from the blog — is exactly what you contemplate here. Putting the blog into the context of a larger ethical frame, one cannot erase the “damage,” as it were, of posting problematic material and/or of causing harm to someone — one can only erase the evidence of that damage. [JB – My purpose was not to offer a form of teshuva (although, in fact, teshuva can, indeed, imply erasure), but to indicate that I don’t feel bound by any “bloggers’ rules” which supplant ethics. There will be times when it will be necessary to indicate what transpired in various ways, including, possibly, the ways you indicate. But, for example, I see no reason to leave posted false information, or even true information which is hurtful to another and has no real to’eles in being made public. The longer that material is on the web, the more people read it, the worse the damage and the greater the sin. The act of leaving such information out there is an ongoing problem, not a past damage.]

    How, then, to accomplish removal or alteration — even when one indicates that material has been removed or altered — without appearing to perpetuate a cover-up? One way is to issue apologies, corrections, and/or retractions, rather than to delete the offending material. Another way, using blog technology, is to strike out the material. A third might be to describe in general the material that was there without restating it. I would not presume to tell you which approach to take — but I think it’s not as simple as simply deleting it or writing “[deleted]”. In my view there needs to be at least some acknowledgment of what was there, even if it’s been removed. [JB – As I say, these all may be appropriate in various circumstances.]

    A current example: the drubbing that Aish HaTorah is taking in the blogosphere for removing all references to and publications by R. Slifkin and Professor Schroeder seems to me to be a case in point. If you attempt to visit a known link to one of their articles, the URL immediately returns you to a main section page, with no admission that there once was something there. This strikes me as somewhat disingenuous, and it lends its to the perception, accurate or not, that Aish is trying to cover up any evidence that it ever endorsed these articles. Far more appropriate — as I think Aish briefly did at the beginning of the controversy — would be to take the reader to a page saying, “There was an article here by so-and-so, but in light of recent concerns we have removed it pending further review.” At this point it might be sufficient to indicate, “The article you have requested no longer is available from this website.” Such an admission would neither deny the prior existence of the article nor impinge on Aish’s right or obligation to revise/remove its endorsement.

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