April 3, 2007
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What to do when your weblog goes wrong

What should you do if your weblog or Web community blows up? How should you respond if you find scary posts on your site, as various people did in the Kathy Sierra flap?

First: stop the damage. If people have posted scary things, pull them down. If people have said things they know to be untrue, pull them down. If people have said things you know to be untrue, rebut them. Do what you can do, quickly and ethically, to stem the problem.

Second: clean up the mess. In the Kathy Sierra case, the concrete problem was that Sierra felt unsafe because the postings could be interpreted as credible threats. The sensible response: try to ensure her safety.

Sierra was worried that one or two bloggers might be planning to assault her. That's frightening, but not irreparable. Every day, reporters for Western news outlets work in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, and they don't just suspect -- they know -- that people wish them harm. Not just one or two reckless amateurs, but thousands of highly trained and skilled professionals. They employ guards to address the problem. There are plenty of security specialists available.

Third: fix what you can fix, apologize for what you can’t. Bad things sometimes happen. In broad terms, bad things break down into two classes: things that can be fixed or replaced, and things that can’t. Prompt action to fix what can be fixed shows that you are doing what can be done. But some things can't be undone: if you woke someone up in the middle of the night, all you can really do is say you're sorry.

Fourth: move the focus on things and ideas, not people. Where the entire meankids site seems to have veered off the rails, in my opinion, is its emphasis on making fun of people. Hint: any comment about the appearance of an internet pundit, developer, designer, politician, or investor is a red flag.