Playing the Role of Online Reputation Manager

Over the years, I’ve received requests from people wanting their comments removed from the site. I recently received a request from a reader that I remove a comment they made three years ago because it was showing up in Google search results for their name.

Normally, I ignore these requests as it makes me feel like I’m their online reputation manager. I asked my followers on Twitter what they would do if they received the same request.

The Tavern doesn’t have a privacy policy. It’s a blog that allows commenting where readers can choose to provide their name, email address, and URL. I don’t like deleting comments as it alters history and can make conversations look awkward.

Although there are privacy policies such as, the Right To Be Forgotten and GDRP, there are other things to consider that can help determine if removing a comment is the right thing to do.

  1. Is the comment spammy?
  2. Would removing it alter the conversation?
  3. Is removing the comment the only way to maintain their privacy?

I initially decided to trash their comment but discovered that removing a parent comment with replies also removes the replies. While this makes sense, this means that removing one comment can turn into removing many comments or an entire conversation.

Instead, I recovered the comment and removed their name, email address, and URL. This keeps the conversation in tact while giving back their privacy.

Many people who responded to my question suggested that comments shouldn’t be indexed by search engines. After giving it some thought, I’m conflicted. We’ve never had an issue before and we don’t receive so many requests that it’s a problem. We also highly value our comments and feel they should be discoverable like our content.

What are the pros and cons to blocking comments from search engines? What would you do if you were running the Tavern?

32 Comments


  1. Mostly, I just ignore these requests because I simply don’t want to take the time, especially if they don’t link me directly to the comment in question. And, yes, I’ve had requests on 500+ comment posts to remove a comment without linking to the specific comment. I’m not going to search for you.

    Outside of that, I look at things on a case-by-case basis.

    If I want to keep the comment (maybe for nesting purposes, for example), I replace their name with “John Doe” and delete their Web site while keeping the content.

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  2. I believe that when a user comments on a website, he is “giving a gift that he can not ask for back”, once commented, the comment belongs to the Tavern. If there is public concern, you should think before you comment.

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    1. Well said Mauricio. If you didn’t want to say it, you probably should not have done so publicly. I have little sympathy for those trying to be someone they are not and would like to rewrite or eliminate their professional history. Knowing about other people is an important part of human decision making. If we make everything erasable we encourage dishonesty and abet the con artist.

      Kudos to Jeff to keeping historic context alive. While Jeff isn’t that fond of my perspective and has banned me at times (unfairly from my point of view, fairly from his), I applaud him for not removing comments from context is extremely important.

      Jeff works hard to be nice and was kind enough removed the person’s name. I’m not sure I’d be that generous.

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    2. I agree that you give away your rights to the content. BUT what about people masquerading as others. Most comments don’t verify the email.

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      1. In the case of a claim that the comment was posted by someone else, then it is a different issue than the one Jeff originally posted about. And in that case I agree that the policy should be different.

        In that case there should probably be something that says the named comment author has claimed they did not make the comment instead of deleting it.

        That said, I wonder how often that actually happens, except for with public figures?

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  3. Jeff, we have an actual policy, published at our corporate site (pc-vip.com) and carrying to our brand sites: you leave a comment, it’s part of our content and belongs to us.

    From whichever direction you see it and on whichever of the points made above you’re inclined to approach the matter, it ends there.

    SERIOUSLY: if you say something on TV or (wherever), at what point would you have the nerve to ask that it get unsaid?

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  4. People and their views can change over time and some people also tend to do stupid things in their youth (just have a look at some Facebook profiles). I think if the internet has archived something disadvantageous that could affect that person’s life, it shouldn’t be a big deal to remove it or alter it in a way that it doesn’t cause issues (if technically possible). We’re all human!

    For example imagine you heavily criticize React and the way Facebook is handling their license, you even may get emotional while doing so. This may not always come beneficial if you decide to apply for a job at Facebook some day. Mistakes happen and you, as the “Online Reputation Manager”, can help to resolve these with a few clicks. Doesn’t sound like a big deal to me. :-)

    I don’t know what this was about, but if it was something that really could harm that person, then I definitely would have altered the comment so that it doesn’t affect that person’s life. With that said, I think in that case you’ve done the right thing. On the other hand, I definitely would refuse to delete / alter comments if there are not such issues.

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    1. Or maybe human resources and the hiring manager at Facebook should have the right to know they are considering a hothead who does not have good judgment when communicating in public? Maybe they should be allowed to view the evidence that there is a good reason not to hire that person, or at least not allow that person to ever represent Facebook in public? #justsaying

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      1. Good point. However, I still think we’re all human and humans make mistakes. If that person regrets something he said years ago (which seems to be the case here – people often tend to get wiser over time) then I don’t see an issue with helping the person. Especially not if the comment and context stays intact and just the personal information gets altered.

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  5. I don’t see a reason why comments shouldn’t be indexed, quite the contrary.

    I am setting up a calendar reminder for asking you in three years from now to remove this comment. ;)

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  6. By leaving a comment, we are indeed leaving our name and a message. This is not a small thing. Commenters are like content producers who doesnt have any rights on their contents… not good.
    I think people should own the control on their comments. That’s why using external comment systems where users have access to all their comments on any blog and can do what they want with it it like deletion, editing, backup, change pseudo, infos and avatar, etc (disqus, discourse…) is better than any platform native comments, regardng the right to be forgotten or at least the right to control our own data.
    A comment is not a gift, it is juste someone who want to leave you a public message. I think discussions are unbalanced if one interlocutor is the exclusive owner ad vitam eternam of all the other people messages.
    Of course, the choice of the comment service has to be done carefully as it can also have its own privacy flows (unanonymous ads… etc)
    Good aspects of externalizing the comment system is that you dont lose time managing others comments and users may be more enclined to leave to a comment as they know they still have rights on it.
    Privacy anf right to be forgotten are major problem of the 2.0 era. It has to be handle seriously.

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    1. External systems are no different. You are just gifting the comment to a big comment service provider rather than a single site

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    2. yeh, we need big services that will spy on us and sell our info to FB and the such, that will be so “pro privacy”.

      How about a new revolutionary concept? have a blog based on wordpress and if you feel like whatever you say actually worth anything, just post at as a blog post and in the comments just leave a link to that. This way you have total full control of your content.

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      1. That being said, there’s always the chance that a comment on a site was spoofed by someone knowing the user’s email address — so they could be asking to take down impersonations. That I’d be more apt to consider than just regretful remarks.

        Or maybe just change the name from “John Doe” to “FAKE NOT REALLY JOHN DOE” idk

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  7. Why being strict and quarrel over such a thing? There are more important things to worry about… Don’t remove whole comment, but change name into John/Jane Doe and remove his/her website link. Everybody happy :-) This should also apply to the forum at WP dot org by the way…

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    1. I was wondering when the forums would be brought up :)

      We have guidelines in place that explicitly states that your posts are public and that we will not remove them, as for links, each topic creator can add a non-diacoverable link to their topic that is only visible to signed in users to further provide users tools to not post things they may not be comfortable with having indexed by a search engine.

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    2. You can’t do that! It compromises the integrity of your comments and ostensibly introduces censorship. Sure, you could do that but then none of the comments will have any value overall, placing your entire site in question.

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  8. I don’t know. Several of my comments (which were entirely within the decorum and scope of the conversation) at this site have been deleted, so why even pretend to be worried about this?

    BTW, yes I expect you to delete this post too…whatever…

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    1. You are not alone in this :)

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  9. The Tavern doesn’t have a privacy policy.

    I thought all websites are legally required to have one, even if it says your privacy won’t be protected? It has to be there to warn the user what will/could happen if they submit any personal info on that site.

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  10. Comments should be removed if:
    – they mention an entity’s name and therefore infringe upon privacy or are slanderous or potentially libellous
    – if they are off topic
    – if they are profane, racist, sexist, homophobic, etc
    – if they otherwise contravene your terms of service or rules of engagement on the site
    – if they are in another language and your site is explicitly built for one specific group of localized users

    These are common sense rules. People don’t just get to remove comments if their views or affiliations change. That said, if you accept comments on your site you also accept responsibility for the content. This included your content or content generated by your community. There’s a bigger reputation at stake at all times, and that’s yours!

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  11. Hmm what about a plugin that generates a unique id per comment which the commenter receives by mail; when clicked/used the comment is automagically anonimized. No workload for the site owner, no loss of conversation/context.

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    1. Interesting idea, it would remove the need to create yet an other account and log in.

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  12. What somebody lefts deliberately to the public keeps public. This is a very basic rule people should educated in. And this is the basic rule that applies to public commentary as well.

    Because this is the way the culture works and evolves: people produce a public statement and others will build upon that. If some person decides to retract their statement this thread will be destroyed as well as the source of references that were made afterwards.

    (This means: a decision to withdraw a comment will affect the statements (and therefore the rights to express) of other people who “build” upon a comment.)

    We should not start to mix it up with *ownership rights*. Think about books, music etc. – you cannot withdraw the idea. You even can not withdraw all copies from the market when it got published (even if some companies try it to place a “better” version). Of course u might try to purge the net – but there might exist always a “cache” and “archive” where some copird survive.

    There might be some workarounds avoiding the problem:
    1. As site admin check comments before they got published to the general public of your site. This way you can avoid legal annoyances and stupid statements that might backfire to the commenter.
    2. Check that the date of the commentary is displayed correctly. No reasonable person will judge you about commentaries you did 20 years ago.
    3. Think about mechanisms to ensure and display the realness of a “person”. That doesn’t mean the obligation to leave a “real name” – but connections to profiles that hold some information (for example a commentary record) might be helpful for that.

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    1. Peter, you wrote:

      It’s odd – people self host WordPress because they recognize the merit of owning the medium instead over using a 3rd party service that removes rights. Even on twitter & FB people have the right to remove their comments and material, but some here seem awfully principled about denying that right to others while claiming full ownership of comment contributions.

      It’s a shame really because taking into account other developments, it is safer to say nothing at all on today’s web.

      There’s a reason newspapers used to print retractions. You couldn’t unprint the news. Or unprint your book. People should think carefully before expressing something in writing in a public place. There are lots of places on the internet where anonymity is encouraged. Those are ideal for trying out ideas.

      The public space is not.

      It’s surprising how unprepared the many people these days are for accountability. Accountability has been the insurance policy of humanity for millenia. I’m certainly not going to help uproot it.

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      1. Alec, that Facebook/Twitter point is actually the closest thing to a reasoned argument I’ve heard for “those comments I left belong to me”. THAT SAID: those services are set up on an account-management basis; blogs typically are not. 

        Hmmmm…

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  13. I think, that if I can register somewhere, add something … I should be able to de-register, remove, delete it when I decide. (account, post, comment, whatever …)

    Nothing will be destroyed, no apocalypse, just user – one human being will get control over own content on-line.

    The state, that I have no control over my thought online can stop me to express it.

    One will not search for user, other has some policy, another take ownership … how cool you are people!

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  14. I used a system not mentioned here, Fix Your Search Results at http://www.fixyoursearchresults.com. It was a lot less than most places, less than $200 total.

    They’re a part of a web hosting biz that does SEO, so my understanding is that they have access to all sorts of web sites where they can add positive information about a person or company, and link to other sites with the same positive info. So they can raise other pages up in search results to replace the pages that display “bad” info about you or your business.

    One important thing I learned is that *NO* one (including the place I mentioned above) can quickly get rid of bad search results listings in Google. It’s a process, and takes a bit of time. If you encounter anyone who says they can “expedite” things for an extra cost or fee, you’d probably be best to run away. It just doesn’t work that way.

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