The Myth of the Delete Button

Trash IconEarlier today I received an email from a reader who wondered if I had any regret about sharing a blog post whose author intended not to be read. It’s a reasonable question and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to thinking twice before posting. But here’s the deal. If the post in question reminded us of anything it’s that the delete button is a myth.  You can make information published to the Internet more difficult to find, but, with few exceptions, it cannot be permanently erased. All of us who interact on the Internet through various social media platforms must understand this before leaving a comment, posting an image and before blogging.

We must be willing to take responsibility for everything we upload to the Internet…FOREVER.

That the author of the blog intended this particular post not to be read is ultimately irrelevant since it is still accessible. In this case it was a reader who went through a very simple process of retrieval. Bloggers especially need to remember that notices are sent out via email and RSS to subscribers immediately after a post has been published. That url makes a deleted post very easy to recover. Through WayBack Machine you can read this site when it was hosted at TypePad back in 2007. That site has been “deleted” for years. [Wow, did I really really use a two-column format for widgets.]

The ease with which deleted posts, images, comments, etc. can be retrieved is something that I constantly reinforce in the classroom. Most of my students are woefully ignorant, for example, of the security settings on Facebook. However, even those who do make the effort to secure their pages need to understand that, ultimately, everything is “out there” and accessible.

We are all equally responsible for our online behavior. Hopefully, this will serve as a reminder to take extra care before hitting that publish button.

9 thoughts on “The Myth of the Delete Button

  1. Mike Rogers

    Obviously the phrase “No good deed goes unpunished” comes to mind, but your post is a reminder to always, always think carefully before posting anything of import on social media or the ‘net. Then again, without idiots on twitter it would be a much less humorous and interesting world

    Reply
  2. J. L. Bell

    I don’t think it’s accurate to say the author of that blog post didn’t want his words to be read. He posted them on a public site. They attracted many comments, some of which he responded positively to. He may not have wanted those words to be read by everybody, and he changed his mind about wanting them to be read by anybody. But he had the satisfaction of reading some people who agreed with him, and thus must live with criticism from some people who didn’t.

    A more interesting question might be any parallels between the decisions to ignore and suppress those words now that the writer has expressed regret for them and the reconciliationist approach to discussing the Civil War in the decades that followed. But that could just stir up hard feelings.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      From the beginning both publisher and author chose to take an aggressive posture in marketing this study of John Bell Hood. Regardless of the book’s quality or contribution (which I do not dispute right now) both were very clear that certain Hood authors had intentionally misled their readers by ignoring and/or distorting evidence as opposed to viewing differences of interpretation as a basic fact of the historical process.

      This aggressive posture continued once the book was published and is seen most clearly in this latest tag-team against a reviewer. It’s a pattern and it reflects poorly on both the author of the book, but especially on the publisher.

      Reply
  3. David Woodbury

    Hi Kevin,

    I saw the post yesterday, and obviously RSS feeds captured it all over the place — I think most of us by now understand how the internet works, or at least have a sense of the permanence of posted material residing on servers long after the author deleted it from his own hard drive and network. In fact there’s no reason for you to imagine that the author of the post doesn’t understand this (I would assume he does), but what else could one do but delete a post from one’s blog and hope for the best. You seem to be gloating over this as if you understand some great secret about the online world. I don’t see this as an issue of understanding how the internet works. Rather, it was a lapse of judgement, something that happens to most all of us every day in every kind of venue, sometimes in ways that cannot be deleted (conversation, traffic maneuvers).

    I had the same question as the correspondent you’re referencing here. I know you want to couch this in terms of a “teaching moment” for your classroom, and that’s all fine and well if that were the end of it. I’m pretty sure, however, I’m not the only one who gets the impression you’re relishing the opportunity to re-post the deleted material, or link to it, since you’ve done so in multiple blog entries and Facebook posts.

    Even though technologically the post is still retrievable, I don’t think most people would continue to re-publish or link to it after the author had 1) removed it, and 2) expressed regrets over it. Unless, as I mentioned, they were enjoying needling the author or twisting the knife.

    Yes, you’re right that “the delete button is a myth” — but an additional lesson for your students might be that just because something has been captured doesn’t mean they should try to recover and repost something one of their classmates decided — upon reflection — to delete after they thought better of it. That’s just common courtesy.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Hi David,
      Yes, you’re right that “the delete button is a myth” — but an additional lesson for your students might be that just because something has been captured doesn’t mean they should try to recover and repost something one of their classmates decided — upon reflection — to delete after they thought better of it. That’s just common courtesy.

      You make a reasonable point, but I don’t see the deleted material as constituting anything worse than what had been kept up on a blog that is directly linked to a company website. Where is the outrage when it comes to a publisher impugning the character of someone simply because he did not approve of a review? Seems to me that the deleted post adds a great deal to a string of posts (and even the marketing of a book) that go out of their way to challenge the integrity of others. I’ve never met Carole Emberton in person, but we have interacted quite a bit online over the past two years. I hope I spoke up for all book reviewers and those who are disappointed in the tag-team antics of Ted Savas and Stephen “Sam” Hood.

      Finally, I acknowledge your very long and close relationship with Ted Savas.

      I’m pretty sure, however, I’m not the only one who gets the impression you’re relishing the opportunity to re-post the deleted material, or link to it, since you’ve done so in multiple blog entries and Facebook posts.

      Yes, I’ve used screenshots of Facebook and other sites that I anticipate may remove the content, but I do hope you are not suggesting that I troll the Internet for deleted material. Such a claim would place you in the same company with Ted Savas. Thanks for the comment, David.

      Reply
      1. David Woodbury

        >>Yes, I’ve used screenshots of Facebook and other sites that I anticipate may remove the content, but I do hope you are not suggesting that I troll the Internet for deleted material. Such a claim would place you in the same company with Ted Savas.<<

        I appreciate the warning that you'll engage in gratuitous character assassination, guilt by association, if I don't respond just so. You devoted a whole blog post to a query about reposting deleted material. Something you said you thought twice about. I gave you my opinion on that, which your blog invited.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          David,

          I thought you made a reasonable point overall in your comment. What I took issue with is what appeared to be an assumption that I spend my time searching for deleted material to be posted on my blog. That simply is not the case unless you can demonstrate otherwise.

          I appreciate the warning that you’ll engage in gratuitous character assassination, guilt by association, if I don’t respond just so.

          This seems to me to be just a bit over the top.

          Reply
          1. David Woodbury

            >>This seems to me to be just a bit over the top.<<

            Yes, it does read that way today. That was the 2nd martini talking. And no, I did not try to suggest you troll the internet for deleted material. Quite the opposite is true, which is why I thought this instance unusual.

            Anyway, I'm finished now.
            dw

            Reply
            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              Hi David,

              I just want to make clear that I don’t mind your criticism at all. I think reasonable can draw different conclusions about my decision to post the material in question. And thanks for the clarification.

              It’s always nice to hear from you. Hope all is well.

              Reply

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