Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Blogging and Protecting the Innocent

I often find that interesting ideas arise in discussion with others. But this suggests a possible tension between three prima facie legitimate interests:
(1) Blogging about interesting ideas,
(2) Giving credit where it's due,
(3) Privacy interests.

I tend to assume that prepared talks (e.g. conference presentations) are considered 'public', so there it's unambiguously appropriate to identify the speaker by (full) name -- much as if I were discussing a published paper.

But I think unprepared or 'off the cuff' remarks (e.g. questions from the audience, informal class discussions, etc.) come with the reasonable expectation that they will not be attached to one's "permanent (Googleable) record". So I tend to balance 'credit' and 'privacy' in such cases by using first names only, or perhaps merely initials. That way anyone who was part of the original discussion can easily follow along (and I suppose an interested reader could probably make an educated guess as to the identities involved), but it's protected from the all-seeing eye of Google, and so from third-party general searches.

Does that seem like a reasonable default practice to follow? (To anyone I've mentioned before: please let me know if you have a different preference, e.g. to be identified in full, or for that matter to be fully anonymized.) I guess to be completely safe I could explicitly ask each such person their personal preference, but that seems kind of a hassle and mildly awkward to boot. It would be worth it nonetheless if anyone's likely to be significantly bothered by my above policy, but I find that hard to imagine. What do you think?


  1. I agree that giving credit where credit is due is a good thing to keep in mind when holding a discussion.

    I have the fortunate/unfortunate dilemma of having a very common name— which makes it difficult for those who want to find "me".

    I think that it all depends on how much someone wants to find something about what a person has said— so making the person do some work to find out who made the comment makes good sense (especially if that person may not know that they are in the public eye).

    I personally do not mind being identified, but others may not.

  2. Interestingly I just had an encounter with this issue. I was on a mailing list and someone brought up an interesting quote I quoted at my blog. I wanted to give credit so I mentioned who had mentioned the issue. However some seem concerned that such correspondence was private.

    Now in such a case it was probably my fault since I could have slipped an email to the person. But it seemed fairly innocuous - like mentioning that someone had said something in a discussion.

    There does tend to be a tension between privacy and credit. Although I think there are some topics that there is a lot of political heat about so people don't want to others to know their perspective so that they don't end up with reprisals. I confess that on lesser issues or when there seems no possible connotation some would find disparaging that I don't understand the concern.

    You mentioned class, but is it really reasonable to expect a student to be unable to mention what was taught in class?

    It's an interesting question. I suspect the real problem is that emails and posts have a habit of popping up years later at inopportune times. But maybe the real problem is that despite giving lip service to academic free speech we recognize that we're a long, long way from such speech. And the idea that people's views change and evolve is also given lip service.


Visitors: check my comments policy first.
Non-Blogger users: If the comment form isn't working for you, email me your comment and I can post it on your behalf. (If your comment is too long, first try breaking it into two parts.)

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.