Sunday, May 11, 2014

Blogging, privacy and ethics

I love blog comments and emails from readers. I love it when people share their thoughts and opinions, and often those give me inspiration to write more in response to what people write to me. Often, I include other people's thoughts in my posts, but I have a pretty strict policy regarding this. 

If someone leaves a comment and I decide to address it in a separate post, I allow myself to re-post the comment without asking the original author's permission because, after all, the comment was public to begin with and I'm only copying it for reference. 

If someone sends me a personal email, I can sometimes extract a thought, question or idea from said email and address it on my blog - without giving details of the person in question, or publishing the full email. For example, if someone tells me about her life journey and her family, and concludes by asking, "do you think I could manage if I got a part-time job while the children are in school?", I might convert this into a theoretical question - "what do you think about part-time jobs for mothers whose children are in school?" - and post it on my blog without giving personal details. 

If someone sends me a personal email which I find especially interesting, and I want to publish it on my blog, I will only do so after asking permission. I will email the person in question and ask for their authorization to publish what they wrote. If they have a blog too, I will also ask them whether they want their email to be published anonymously or with a reference to their blog/website. 

I have always done things this way, and I assumed everybody else did the same. 

That's why I was so shocked and angry when the contents of my personal email, complete with my name and reference to my blog, were published without permission some days ago. 

The lady in question is a blogger whose writing I respect, though not always agree with. Now, it's OK to disagree, but this lady allowed herself to make a public statement which was, in my opinion, bigoted, unjust and hurtful. I sent her a long and heartfelt email, explaining why I thought it was so. To illustrate my points, I gave her some rather personal information about my family background. 

I will not post a link to that blog because I do not wish to give it more traffic, but I will tell you that she is a well-established blogger with intelligent, respectable content. She is also pretty sensitive about the subject of ethics and morals. Therefore, it never occured to me I'm putting my privacy at risk by emailing her. 

So... I waited for a personal response, but it never came. Instead, I got a link to a post, where I was horrified to see my email published, almost in its entirety, and my identity given as the author of this blog (which can be easily Googled). There it was, all of it - private thoughts and information which I never intended to share in public, bandied about between the blog author and her readers, with some very hateful comments generated in between. 

There is no excuse to such conduct. It would have taken her about a minute to email me and ask, "can I re-post what you wrote on my blog?" - which she never did. She just went ahead and published. It is dishonest, immoral and unethical. It is also illegal, though I do not see myself attempting to take legal action against her at the moment. 

I emailed her at once, demanding to remove what I wrote to her privately from the public space of her blog. I also asked her to remove other reader's comments on what they were never supposed to read in the first place. Also, for the first time in my life, I demanded a public apology. Not anything too profuse. Just something along the lines of, "I have taken down my last post because it contained a private email I mistakenly published without the writer's permission. I am sorry about what happened and promise to do all I can to prevent such mistakes in the future."

Of course, even if she does what I asked, some damage has already been done. Hateful people have read what I wrote and know to reference it to this blog, which also contains my email. I do not want them to know who I am and I do not want to get hate mail. 

So what is my advice to you, bloggers and readers of blogs? If you write a personal email to a blogger, do not assume they know the difference between a private conversation and a public discussion. If you don't want your thoughts to be published, say so in your first email. If you only allow them to publish your email anonymously, specify that. 

And if someone writes to you, please be mindful of people's private messages. Do not turn them public without explicit permission.

Update: I'm glad to say the blogger has removed my never-meant-to-be-public comments and apologized. 

7 comments: said...

Good grief. This is rather shocking and very inconsiderate.
I hope said post has been deleted by now.

Julie said...

So sorry that you had this awful experience! I always find your blog to be so full of peaceful inspiration .

Anonymous said...

It looks like rules of etiquette need to be updated in this technological age! Though it seems like most of etiquette is just plain common sense.


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry this happened to you. I'm glad the other blogger removed the post and apologized - we all make mistakes.


Anonymous said...

So sorry about this!
Thanks for sharing about this experience. In these days, we all need to be careful about how we interact with others in order to preserve our privacy.

So glad she responded to your request that she remove the post.

Damaria Senne said...

Oh wow! I knew in theory that could happen, but I hadn't put safeguards in place about what I email people. I know I am careful of what I say in emails... it's so easy for the recipient to forward it to other people whom I may not have intended to give that information!

Brandi Comeaux said...

I have been reading your blog since 2008. I have admired the respect you have given others. You always give credit where credit is due and when arguing against a point, I feel you always do in the most respectful ways.

I have started up a small business and have decided to start a blog to gain more traffic to my website. I came to your blog as a reference point to begin my blog. I respect you Mrs Anna T!

Much love from Louisiana, USA