Skepchick self-censorship?

There was (note the past tense) a post about Bristol Palin‘s recent comments regarding sex education on Skepchick this week. You’ll notice that the Skepchick link is now broken (as of me writing this – I don’t know if it will be reinstated). That is because the author, Stacey, deleted the thread. I emailed Skepchick about this and our exchange is below. First I will explain what happened on the thread to the best of my recollection. Keep in mind this is my point of view as a third party.

Stacey linked the Bristol Palin article and posed an AI question wrote a little about it – I can’t remember the wording. A reader (something soup – cloudsoup?) took issue with the alleged “political nature” of the thread. Stacey replied mostly to the perceived tone of the person posting in language that gave the impression that she was very offended and felt personally attacked.

Although I did get a sense of bluntness and disrespect for the ideas Stacey had written, I didn’t get a sense of a personal attack or disrespect of Stacey herself from cloudsoup’s comments. Also, I felt that commenting on the “disrespectful nature” of the comments rather than correcting the errors and getting the thread back on track served only to further distract from the topic. But that’s just my opinion – although I did comment as such at the time.

I checked on the thread today to see if it had progressed and saw that it was missing. I promptly emailed Skepchick via the website form at around 4:30 pm today:

Name: Kimbo Jones
Subject: Question
Message: What happened to the Bristol Palin post from yesterday (or
maybe it was the day before) that Stacey posted? It seems to have
disappeared…

Rebecca responded:

This is a good question. Anyone know what happened, or was there a blog bug?

and Stacey responded:

Sent: February 19, 2009 4:45:41 PM

I deleted it because at least one of the readers perceived it as having a political bias and was offended. Also, there was little to no discussion about the topic, so in addition to being offensive, it appeared to be uninteresting to the readers.

I thought it made a good story that Bristol Palin took a different position than her mom on abstinence and sex education, but I was mistaken.

I replied with a little more acid in my tongue:

I am disappointed to hear this. Many people contributed to that thread and because it was in a way you didn’t like you just deleted it. I do not believe that self-censorship is an appropriate response to readers getting huffy toward you or a topic getting derailed. I sincerely hope this never happens again on the website. My trust in the Skepchcks [sic] has been severely compromised by this act. It shows a lack of maturity on your part and a lack of respect for your readers.

To which Rebecca has responded:

All the Skepchicks have been having a behind-the-scenes conversation about this, and we’ve agreed that something like this won’t happen again. I’m sorry for this causing you distress, and I hope that you continue to contribute to the blog. We all appreciate your comments and would hate to see you even cut back on your participation.

On a side note, having known Stacey for some time I can say that she is a wonderful person who has the utmost respect for the readers, and I think this was just a momentary lapse.

Thanks so much for writing, and for your support of Skepchick.

All the best,
Rebecca

I replied:

I hope you don’t mind, but I will be blogging about this from my point of view as a reader. Thank you for your response.

I am absolutely appalled that an author on Skepchick would delete an entire thread simply because she felt offended. That completely erased all contributions to the thread due to the actions of one person, as if the other people’s comments meant nothing. Not only is that deeply immature (“I’m taking my marbles and I’m going home”), but it prevents anyone from learning anything from the situation.

The main reason I wanted to post about this was not to insult Stacey, but to point out that this happened. I have this urge that people need to know that something existed and now it doesn’t – because of a chilling Orwellian deletion resulting from offense.

I have strong opinions about being “offended” – the responsibility is entirely on the offendee (not the offender). Anything could offend anyone at any time. Does that mean we should all walk on eggshells? No, it means we should all lighten up. I get offended, everyone does. The difference is I try to make that my own responsibility. I’m not saying I’m better than other people, at all. I just feel people should pick their battles and get upset over what’s really important. For example, something that stifles freedom or human dignity (like deleting free speech), as opposed to say the “tone” with which someone commented on a blog thread and disagreed with something.

Like this post. Clearly I am “offended” that Stacey deleted the thread. But I’m hopefully expressing that offense in a constructive, rather than destructive, way that is entirely my own responsibility. I hope I am getting my point across.

I’m not always 100% successful in this endeavor, so other people may not be either. I get it. But to delete the entire experience is, in my opinion, way over the line and I never expected to see it happen on Skepchick.

UPDATE: There is further discussion here and also a copy of the original text (but not the comments) of Stacey’s post. Also I corrected an error above: It was not an AI, it was a regular article.

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8 responses to “Skepchick self-censorship?

  1. Kimbo, sometimes I want to crawl inside your head and grok you.

    I hope you know I mean that in a non-creepy way.

    I also noticed the post was gone, I hadn’t read the whole thing because I was busy but had intended to go back later and do so.

    And I am right there with you.

    I think once we put things out in the public (esp in a public forum) we have to be very careful about when/if we take them away again. What overall message did this send to the readers? what does it say about the blog itself?

    Self-censoring should be done in the area of proofreading only.

    (imho)

  2. I posted to that Skepchick AI, discovered the censorship and had exactly the same thoughts regarding the censorship. I inquired of Skepchick through the web-based query process and received a URL to this post, and a limp statement that this was simply a lapse in judgement by a Skepchick writer. (Oh, and the same canned response as you posted above.)

    I believe it is a bigger deal and I am disappointed.

  3. I remember that the last thing I saw on that thread was the cloudsoup comment, and I thought it was very rude, but not to be unexpected on a blog post with a political and emotional subject. Also, that was one of the few posts I had commented on in a long time on Skepchick because it was a great topic (not that the others aren’t. I’ve been insanely busy is all.) I think a number of us found it interesting!

    And it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day whether we found it interesting or biased, it’s Stacey’s work and there’s no reason for her not to be proud of it.

  4. ‘I remember that the last thing I saw on that thread was the cloudsoup comment, and I thought it was very rude’

    Yeah, well, we could all make up our minds on that if the comment, and all comments, hadn’t been deleted by Stacey. I found her schoolmarmly fingerwagging lecture on respect a bit hard to swallow…I wonder if she is, in fsct, a school teacher?

  5. I’m also posting this at Skepchick:

    TheSkepticalMale: If you’d like to reference the content of any specific points that I made either on Skepchick or my blog on the deletion of the Bristol Palin post I would be happy to respond.

    I understand that Stacey is your girlfriend and that given a disagreement between her and some random person on the internet, you will defend her. But as you are rather biased in this, I would ask that if you’re not going to be objective, could you at least stick to the matter at hand and to the facts?

    Fact – I don’t know Stacey. It could be that if we met in person, I would think she is a lovely human being. But that is irrelevant, because I do not have a problem with Stacey, I have a problem with a few things she has said/done. And, really, only twice. How many other posts are there on Skepchick where we didn’t have a problem with each other in the last few years I’ve been commenting on the website? Just because I had a problem with something she said 3 months ago and something that she’s done now, does not mean that I have a problem with HER. I cannot stress that enough.

    Fact – You don’t know me either. So I would appreciate if you extended me the same courtesy as I’ve described above. You know me from words – many of those are ones that I do not have the luxury of deleting if I don’t like the way they came out or the reactions they instigated. It’s entirely possible that if you met me in person, we would get along fine. So I would appreciate if you would not use words from 3 months ago to insinuate some deep character flaw to attempt to discredit my current position on the deletion of the Bristol Palin post.

    Everyone: The reason I think this is a big deal is that there have been several politically charged and “offensive” posts on the Skepchick before and none were deleted. So why this one? Further, commenters on the site do not share that luxury – maybe for the purpose of having us be responsible for what we’ve said (so a thread can’t progress and then oops the post that caused a big stink is magically gone). Also, the post was deleted after a person was rude to the author BY that very author. From my perspective it seemed like an irrational response – a complete overreaction – almost tantrum-like. That is just my original reaction, whether correct or not, from my perspective as a reader. I’m happy to be corrected or have that clarified. Although I still think the action itself, for whatever reason, was wrong.

    Skepchick has said that this would never happen again, and I am happy with that. So I kindly ask that if people are going to comment on something I’ve said on my blog, they do so on my blog. If you would like to comment on something I said on Skepchick, do so on Skepchick. Otherwise please leave me and my alleged “problem” with Stacey out of this.

    Thank you.

  6. Hey Kimbo
    This has been interesting seeing this in retrospect as I was sans internet last weekend. I agree it was a wrong headed by Stacey to delete the AI and all the responses. It appears lesson learned… . I think you hit the nail on the head when you compare the inability of posters like ourselves to delete a(or edit) a post and the apparent random decision of one of the bloggers to delete an entire thread. Anyway thanks for some explanation given I didn’t see what was apparently so offensive.
    ~James Fox

  7. Well, the entire post she deleted is freely available via Google Reader.

    Simply search for it if you’re not already subscribed, click the link and there it is:

    “Bristol Palin Against Abstinence-Only Programs – Despite her mom’s conservative views, Bristol Palin made a statement that abstinence-only programs aren’t realistic, and that she wants to be an advocate for preventing teen pregnancy.
    Bristol’s motive for providing this service to society is the difficulty her own pregnancy caused. She says, “It’s just, like, I’m not living for myself anymore. It’s, like, for another person, so it’s different. And just you’re up all night. And it’s not glamorous at all.”
    Not to mention the task of telling her parents which, according to Bristol, was “harder than labor”. “…it was just, like — I don’t even remember it because it was just, like, something I don’t want to remember.”

    Bristol’s mom’s stance on sex education has been somewhat ambiguous, but on the conservative side. Although her spokesperson has stated that she doesn’t support teaching abstinence-only, Sarah herself has said that she will not support sex education – an ambiguously strategic response from a republican with a pregnant teen at home.

    Despite her lack of eloquence, Bristol is pretty clear stating that telling kids to practice abstinence is “not realistic at all”. And additionally, she interviewed with Greta Van Susteran because she’d “love to [be] an advocate to prevent teen pregnancy because it’s not, like, a situation that you would want to strive for, I guess,”. Hm, although she concedes that “abstinence is the best option”, one might infer from her statements that she supports sex education, a surprisingly positive position, given her background.”

    it’s all there.

    Weird. It’s not as if deleting the post removes it from perusal, nor did it shut down commentary, as you demonstrated. These women just don’t think, as you said.

    But you shouldn’t think that just because you’re not one of them, that you can’t be a female who is a skeptic or avoid other skeptics. :( That would be a real shame. Just don’t take on any labels or associations you’re not comfortable with associating. Be yourself.

  8. Jap: Yes, the post itself is available to read but the original comments are gone. I had a problem with that. Further, an author deleted a post simply because she (admittedly) didn’t like the way people were participating. I had a problem with that. It was the actions themselves that I disagreed with.

    I absolutely do not think, because of one little blog post that got totally out of control because of some particularly indecent individuals, that I can’t be a skeptic or will avoid all skeptics. Nor did I ever say such a thing here. I am avoiding commenting on *that particular site*, for now, because I feel that it is futile due to the infantile discourse that often results – particularly on the AIs. If I see that things have improved, I will return. Meanwhile, I’ll go elsewhere.