Friday, April 2, 2010

Censorship in the Digital Age

Last week Acronym Blog, produced by the American Society for Association Executives (ASAE), added a thought-provoking post titled, "Consultant Wasteland," with the first sentence reading, "Why Consultants Suck."

The content of the post wasn’t scandalous, but the dramatic title and first sentence struck some people as offensive and the post was quickly removed -- but not before several regular association bloggers had already read and commented on the post (and not before the post arrived in various feed readers, which saved the post in spite of it no longer being available on the main website).

ASAE eventually responded in the mounting list of comments to their replacement post explaining the deletion, but that did not seem to quell the conversation's hungry spirit. Association bloggers and ASAE members connected by social media networks continue to debate and discuss the reasons behind the retraction of the article. To be honest, there hasn’t been much of a debate as most of the people talking seem to agree matters were handled poorly in this case.

But what should ASAE have done? Several suggestions have been made, some of which include:
1. The post should have been reviewed before it was posted so that a phrase like, "Why Consultants Suck" wouldn't have been released in the first place.
2. The post should have been edited after discovering the parts that angered people, and had those parts removed.
3. The post should have remained "as is" and ASAE's official response been made in the comments or as a follow-up post.

In reading up about other blog censoring issues, I ran across the Washington Post case from earlier this year involving a controversial stance and some pointed phrases being eliminated from a piece about DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

What the Washington Post example showed me was that even if the article had been altered to have “watered down” language, the response would have remained the same. 

People are having issues with not being allowed the chance to review and comment on the post and with the very real possibility that this instance may cause people to self-censor potentially important controversial subjects that need to be discussed in open with other association professionals.

Many voices from the ether seem to be saying, “We are adults. Allow us to deal with these subjects on our own.”

Times have a'changed, folks.  We can't make something like a controversial blog post just disappear, so we have to approach it in another fashion. We have to smartly address issues head on and in public (gasp!) and not be afraid to anger the people who rather shut uncomfortable conversations down than see unpleasant words on their association blog.

There are two sides to every story. Ultimately, we need to recognize that from this particular situation there is obviously a need to discuss consultant-client relationships and expectations AND a need to identify procedures for controversial public blog posts in an age when nothing disappears.  

What do you think?


NOTE: Somewhere in the thick of the conversation, someone asserted that this wasn't a case of just to be clear - 

Censorship is the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material, which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the government or media organizations as determined by a censor.
Censorship. (2010, April 2).

In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:44, April 2, 2010, from


  1. It never has been easy to un-publish something, but these days it is harder than ever. I think it's best just to be double-triple sure when clicking 'Publish' - and then live with it. Rather like when sending email - it's very difficult - almost impossible to 'un'-send. I feel we should be used to it by now.

    So much for the formalities of publishing. Censorship of ideas and discussion is a much more serious matter. Your country does well to have the right to free speech - but here in Canada we have the added concept of punishing hate speach. You cannot say or write anything designed to incite hatred towards any identifiable group.

    I'm not sure I agree with that because quite often valid criticism, even balanced discussion, can be labelled as hate speech by some unelected representative of said group.

    Thinking about it - this means I cannot legally write hateful words about neo nazis. I find that odd.

    Most recently this lead to Ann Coulter being in our headlines during her tour (I like as much of what she writes ('flying carpets') - as I dislike (giving god credit for evolution) - but should anyone censor anyone? For now I still think not - but that's probably mostly down to my own fear of one day being persecuted for being a scientific atheist :)

  2. Thanks for your comments, Kam. You raised valid points and even surprised me (you like Ann Coulter's work...even a little?) ;)

    But all kidding aside, I agree that we should be used to dealing with the consequences of releasing material we wish we hadn't. I think organizations big and small should be prepared to deal with this kind of issue. I guess there should be scenario discussion at ASAE's next Annual Meeting to help association executives learn how to think through and prepare for cases like this one, which will certainly come their way eventually.

  3. I still don't think we really know what the issue was that led to the post being removed: the provocative title (gosh, I hope not), complaints form consultant members (if so, who and how many), the stated reason that it went after an entire category members in a disrespectful way (perhaps).

  4. I'm with Jeffrey on this one. While ASAE's Peter Hutchins tells why they removed the post, it sounds like there was something else at play. What's not being said is louder than what is being said. It's such a sad thing to see the leader for association's model such poor and inappropriate behavior.


Thanks for your comments!