Monday, July 21, 2008

To post ...

... or not to post: The ethics of hate mail: Should bloggers post email correspondence without permission? (Hat tip, Peter Gross.)

I don't publish anybody's email - let alone the address - without first getting permission. I also don't go out of my way to insult people, as Myers apparently prides himself on doing. Somehow I expect more civility from someone claiming to be scientist.


  1. Anonymous4:58 PM

    I too would not post an email on a blog. But this outrage is behind the times, as the practice is very common these days.
    The defence on this occasion is that a man logged onto his wife's email account and sent the mail, therefore she is not to "blame" for the nasty message.
    I don't buy that. How come this person knew someone else's email details? Do you know your wife's email account details? If I received a nasty, threatening email from someone I think it is fair game to post it. I am bound by professional rules not to do so, but if I were blogging as an individual, and someone sent me a nasty email, I would fee fine about posting it on my blog, because I can see no justification for sending nasty emails in the first place. It is a weak defence for the wife to say the husband did it, or vice versa. We are not living in the age of Agatha Christie.

    In this case, I've not been impressed by P Z Myers's posts, or the people on the "other side". But whatever is going on, one does not need to send nasty emails, and to those who send them, or let others send them from their accounts, I say "you deserve what you get" if the recipient decides to expose your acts.

  2. I'm with you, Maxine (not surprisingly). As I have told a number of coarse correspondents on occasion, resist the courage of the keyboard and don't say anything electronically that you wouldn't say to someone's face. Don't say from a distance what might get you a knuckle sandwich in person.

  3. Anonymous9:07 PM

    It is my policy not to post email unless I get permission to do so. Likewise, if someone tells me something off the record, I keep it to myself. If bloggers are to be taken seriously, then they must offer a safe haven of privacy so that they can maintain trust with their contacts and their readership. But then, on this point, I'm kind of old school. And, hell, at this point, I've received enough lunatic emails (and even a few death threats) that I try not to take it all too seriously. I'm more bothered by public commenters who don't have the balls to leave their real name when they're attacking someone. If you're going to say damaging things, I feel you should be held accountable.

  4. I'm with you Ed about the balls-challenged types.

  5. Hee, the age of Agatha Christie. Good one. Someone who sends a stinkbomb of an email should be prepared for some kind of angry response, although I wouldn't post a private message publicly either, not without permission. My general approach to nastiness is to freeze it out by ignoring it. (Imperiousness runs in my family.) The real question is: What's with all the anger pinging around the internet?

  6. Hi Katie,
    "What's with all the anger pinging around the internet?"
    It's easy to sound tough when you're sitting at a keyboard. I doubt if P.Z. Myers is anywhere near as tough in person as he is online.

  7. Though I would hesitate to publish an email without permission, and have never yet done so, I can at least imagine circumstances which might be appropriate - a publisher's detailed rejection, for example, in a post about such matters.

    That said, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish between nastiness and bluntness, nastiness and a salutary irony, nastiness and a differing view of courtesy (partly cultural). And of course, each of us has our own level of tolerance when it comes to being criticised.

    I've made enemies online because I have a taste for sarcasm. But I freely incur the risk - and say a lot more, not less, to someone's face!

    Katie asks the really interesting question - about anger. It reminds me a bit of drivers who act on the road the way they'd never dare to act in the office. There's an awful lot of resentment and feelings of powerlessness out there. And if I'm utterly honest, I recognise it in myself. I've chosen the indie route, and I don't regret it at all, but there are moments when I hate to read yet another encomium to a mediocre writer or I chafe at how little respect a conventionally unpublished writer is accorded.

    The social conventions of the internet are just beginning to develop, and it's worth asking how they will, and ought, differ from other ways in which we live.

  8. Oh, Lee, you make a really good point there. Many times I have misunderstood the intended "tone" of an email or other online communication and gotten my back up, as my mom would say. It's too easy to fill in the information missing from a faceless interaction incorrectly.

  9. Anonymous5:48 AM

    To make a long story succinct and to bring all those who believe publishing an over-arching sentence on their 'sites allows them to break copyright law back to earth, allow me to point out the following, insofar as the Berne Convention and DMCA go (and are very much concerned):

    " . . . [A]lmost any original expression that is fixed in tangible form is protected as soon as the file is saved to disk. This web page was protected as soon as I stopped typing and saved the .html file. As you can see, most of the items that you are likely to encounter on the 'net are eligible for copyright protection, including the text of web pages, ASCII-text documents, contents of email and Usenet messages, sound files, graphic files, executable computer programmes, and computer-programme listings."
    — The Copyright Website

    This is my online community; and, I am making both bloggers and commentarians aware of the facts concerning their intellectual-property rights transparent to protect all of us. I am the messenger, not the lawmaker. Put yourself on both sides of this argument and you will see why these laws exist, I believe; and, not too put too fine a point on it; but, ignorance of the law is not an excuse that will save your butt.

    Consider this a PSA from your friendly local professional commentarian (who learned this lesson during the writing of a book that cost a young man his life).