Redaction of comments

I have a page wherein I ranted about Carphone Warehouse. It attracted lots and lots of comments, most of which were just randomly obscene for the sake of it. Eventually, Carphone Warehouse themselves contacted me and asked if I’d remove comments that they found offensive, and I said I would. They sent me the following missive:

I refer our discussion over the phone a week ago in regards to the webpage of your website which is/was about The Carphone Warehouse (CPW). Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying. As discussed, we believe that numerous comments posted on this page are defamatory. These statements are not true and are not supported by any facts. The fact that they are posted by alleged CPW employees or former employees makes the matter even more dangerous, and readers of these statements may believe that they are a true reflection of CPW’s workplace, and more importantly, CPW’s work ethic. We noted for instance comments implying that if your face does not fit you cannot progress at CPW. Other statements implied that CPW was only driven by money with no concern for its customers or employees. These statements are intolerable and we would appreciate your willingness to withdraw them from the webpage. The webpage contains 246 comments, which are numerated. For convenience I will only refer to the numbers appearing in front of each statement. For clarity, the statement number one is the one that was posted on 25 February 2005 at 11.05am. Please remove the following statements: 7/ 18/ 10/ 15/ 17/ 20/ 21/ 23/ 25/ 26/ 35/ 36/ 37/ 41/ 107/ 121/ 130/ 134/ 151/ 153/ 156/ 157/ 158/ 163/ 165/ 170/ 177/ 178/ 179/ 183/ 184/ 188/ 198/ 209/ 213. Furthermore, we have also noted statements that were insulting and degrading. It is totally unacceptable that our employees’ names are disclosed in the comments. We therefore, demand that you remove these statements as well: 13/ 18/ 28/ 29/ 31/ 38/ 120/ 161/ 162/ 166/ 185/ 186/ 187/ 217/ 219/ 222/ 232/ 235. As explained on the phone, we accept that people are entitled to express their views about CPW. However, there are limits to this freedom. Certain comments are extremely insulting and degrading and have caused shock amongst some of our employees. We would prefer to see the entire webpage closed. I am looking forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your help in this matter.

I’ve redacted practically all the comments on the page. On the one hand, there is the voice in my head telling me that I should fight the power and that this is an abrogation of free speech. On the other hand, I just don’t care enough to be bothered about defending a group of people who are clearly just looking for a place to vent. A brief history: I closed off comments on the post some time back, after it got up to 250 comments. Someone emailed me and left a comment on another post asking me to open it back up so conversation there could continue, because it “was helping a lot of people”. I took, and still take, the view that this site is mine, and I run it for my benefit; it’s not here to provide people with a general discussion forum. There’s other examples of that here too; I’ve closed off commenting on a post I made being amused about Schroedinger’s Cat because it became a discussion forum for people whose cats had died, and on my how to be rich and famous post after it became a place for people to post their phone numbers looking for talent agents. So, I said that if the Carphone Warehouse employees set themselves up another place to talk about this, I would add a comment directing people to that new place, which seemed to me to be a reasonable compromise. They did so, and I did so. However, I just checked that forum, and it no longer exists. I believe that you should fight the power. This has been something of an ethical dilemma for me, primarily because, well, first they came for the people who complained about Carphone Warehouse and I did not speak out because I did not complain about Carphone Warehouse. I don’t mind holding the torch and standing up for my beliefs. I think, though, that my desire to do ethical good ends where I’d be maintaining a fight on behalf of a bunch of people who are clearly not interested in doing it themselves (they created some other forum and let it lapse) and fighting for a position (whether CPW are a good firm internally) about which I have neither information nor interest. Have I caved in to the Man? Should I have done things differently? Answers in comments, because I have comments on all my posts until they prove to be a liability. Incidentally, my emailed response to them said:

I’ve removed most of the comments on that page, including all that you specified. I’m a little concerned, though: we seemed to have a reasonable conversation, in which you made a request to which I agreed, and now I receive an email containing phrases like “we therefore, demand that you remove these statements”. Do you not feel that using heavy-handed legal terminology and making demands of people who have already agreed to help you will be counter-productive? It certainly made me consider going back on our agreement because you did not feel you could be gentlemanly about it.

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