Self-censor, or revise?

Like elephants, the Internet never forgets. Whose fault is that? And should you be bothered?

Lots of Sturm und Drang at the moment, particularly in political circles, about comments made online affecting future electoral chances.

So much in fact that it’s getting difficult to determine who the antisemites, islamaphobes and racists really are – as opposed to the people who are just a bit clueless.

Coco Khan had a piece published in The Guardian last week, pondering whether she should delete her old tweets (and regretting deleting an old blog). Frankly, her whole column is just a one-person blog in a national newspaper, but without the depth of, say, this blog.

[Fair to say that I’m professionally jealous, although I suspect that neither of us will ever hit the vertiginous writing heights of the late Clive James, a man who took on the English language with the verve of Alexander of Macedon.]

As a Chartered Librarian and a bit of a history freak, I think that deleting old blogs, posts, tweets of whatever is sacrilegious. How are we improve our futures if we keep deleting bits of our past, in our own versions of Soviet Revisionism?

That said: over the years I’ve deleted a few posts from this site. It was kind-of smushed together from my original blog, the ‘professional’ one I started in around 2009 and then the revival of the personal one. Some of the posts simply didn’t make sense out of context. There’s a currently-live post that links to my CIPR President-Elect video pitch, which is no longer available to view. Do I delete the post as the video is no longer there, or leave the page to show that I linked to it and made some sort of effort to be elected?

In theory, if I update any of my posts I should include a footnote to show what I changed. I’ve turned ‘revisions’ off in WordPress because of the way the database becomes bloated but that doesn’t stop me highlighting any corrections. No-one does that though, except on newspaper sites.

Newspaper and magazine web sites are different again, because they provide an ever-changing record of the day’s events. You can revise a web site in a way that you never could with the printed version. The printed versions are all microfilmed (or microfiched, or kept as-is) and stored somewhere, including at the British Library.

And then, an enterprising reporter can look up something egregious that you wrote in a magazine article back in 1995, and hold it against you, almost 25 years later.

I’m against deletion – you may have guessed. If you don’t want people finding your embarrassing tweets from years ago, the simple rule is not to have posted them in the first place. Take responsibility for your own actions. Life doesn’t have a backspace-delete key.

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