Jun 142010
 
 June 14, 2010  Featured News, Online

Like many blogs, this one uses a WordPress platform. And like many bloggers using WordPress, I’ve configured it so that when someone tries to submit a comment, I get the submission by e-mail from the blog and can then decide whether to approve it, delete it, or spam it.

But can I then argue that I can e-mail the commenters in reply to their submissions because they e-mailed me first? Believe it or not, that’s how at least one blogger treats comment submissions.

I would argue that commenters submitting comments to blogs are not knowingly e-mailing the blogger and that the blogger should not be replying to the individual by e-mail unless the commenter has specifically requested a reply by personal e-mail or unless the blog’s stated privacy policy cautions site visitors that if they submit a comment for moderation, the blogger may, at his or her discretion, respond by e-mail.

Why do I mention this now? Because occasionally I hear from people who submitted comments that were critical of the author of another WordPress-based blog and who then found themselves receiving unsolicited and unwelcome e-mails from the blogger. Having been sent examples of the blogger’s unsolicited e-mails, I can understand their distress. They submit a comment that disagrees with the blogger or is critical of the blogger and then find themselves on the receiving end of e-mail from the blogger calling them ignorant, hateful, etc. The blogger reportedly does not post her reply in the Comments section of the blog, and may not even have approved their submission, and now they find themselves in a nasty exchange of e-mails.

I hope that the blogger in question is just uninformed and doesn’t realize that comment submitters using an on-site comment submission form are not directly e-mailing her. But if she does now understand that, will she now respect her site visitors’ privacy by not sending unsolicited e-mail or will she continue to send them verbally abusive e-mails? One individual, who forwarded such e-mails to me, told me that he had to actually change his e-mail address to stop her from e-mailing him. And all because he submitted a comment on her blog that disagreed with something she had said.

But what do others think? Should a blogger ever reply to a comment submission by e-mail? Is it an invasion of privacy? And if you think that there are circumstances when it’s acceptable for a blogger to reply to a comment submission via unsolicited e-mail, under what conditions do you think it’s justified?

  10 Responses to “Is e-mailing a commenter an invasion of privacy or acceptable blogger behavior?”

  1. Thank you for asking the question.

    I recently responded to a blog and got more than what I felt appropriate by the OWNER.

    I had googled a topic I was interested in, and up popped the blog. I read this person’s idea on the subject and responded.

    This person touts themselves as an “expert”, yet few respondents agreed with her reasoning.

    What happened after I responded was as comical as it was annoying. She posted my response on her web site…but then…

    I get this personal email from from her, the same person who calls themselves “Dr” and “expert”…and she has lost her cookies!

    One of her many books she hawks on her site is how to deal with people..yet, here she is sending me a personal email saying among other things,

    “shows what a hateful nasty and ignorant person you are.”

    she then goes on in a misspelled tirade and ends it with..

    “And finally my dear one, back at you- your response reveals your dumbness and ignorance and lack of compassion and self hatred.”

    How bout that for composure! I emailed her, told her I was going to foward her email to others of whom it might be of interest. She then sent about 5 more unwanted personal emails.

    To say she was unprofessional was an understatement. I then went to her website and read her so called background.

    Let me just say, in my eyes, this person is a joke, but also quite disturbing.

    I feel that if you set up a blog, you should never use the respondants home email to harrass them if they don’t agree with you.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. But let me ask you two questions, if you don’t mind:

      1. Did you feel that your privacy was invaded by the owner sending you unsolicited e-mail? And if the answer to this question is “yes,” then:

      2. Would you still feel that your privacy was being invaded if the blog owner had sent you an unsolicited e-mail complimenting you on your comment or thanking you for it?

      • I feel a complement could have been done just as well on her blog and kept it all above board.

        She used my email to say things she didn’t want to appear on her blog.

        In other words, she used it for her own personal gain, (that being the pleasure she thought she would gain by letting me have it privately but keeping her image as little miss goodie two shoes at the same time).

        I don’t think there is any question she knew it was wrong, More than likely, she has done it in the past and had time to reflect on the morals of it.

        The difference in this case, I called her own it. Something she is probably not use to.

        My thought is she has painted herself the ‘expert’ so many times, she believes it.

        She gives the appearance of wanting a blog, but only if everyone agrees with her, or praises her.

        She seems to have an unquenchable desire to dominate that outweighs her common sense. (If she has any!)

        Thank you for letting me vent!

  2. I don’t think that this is a violation of privacy at all. When you give your email address to post a comment, you know who you are sharing it with, and generally you don’t know how they are going to use it, except that they often have a note saying they won’t share it.

    So it’s not violating your privacy, since you gave them the information, but a better question is what the norms are in this circumstance. I think you’re right that most people won’t expect an email from a blogger after they’ve posted a comment, but I also suspect that they won’t feel violated if they do. As you made clear in your article, the context is key. If the email is friendly, and sets the correct tone, it’s probably within the norms of the format. If it’s full of venom, then people might feel bothered by it….but that doesn’t make it a privacy violation.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I decided to go look at the privacy policies of about 20 of the blogs I read on a daily basis and discovered that only about four of them even had any privacy policy. It seems that even blogs oriented to privacy may not have any stated privacy policy. That was a bit of a shock.

      I’m not sure I agree that most people don’t know how their e-mail address will be used if they submit a comment on a blog. I think many people may assume that it won’t be used at all if they are adhering to any stated comment policy and that it’s just being used for security purposes. But I could be wrong.

    • Ello,

      “But what do others think? Should a blogger ever reply to a comment
      submission by e-mail? Is it an invasion of privacy? And if you
      think that there are circumstances when it’s acceptable for a
      blogger to reply to a comment submission via unsolicited e-mail,
      under what conditions do you think it’s justified?”

      All this would be dependent on what type of blog it is, No?

      – If it’s a commercial blog, or blog for commercial or product
      gains.
      – If its a personal blog where one shares their daily or weekly
      thoughts
      – The privacy policy of the said blog

      With blogs you can either have comments on or off. Comments can be
      anon. Or they require you to register with a valid Email address
      (and tell you to give your mothers maiden name, like CanWest media
      does).

      For sure all commercial blogs, or blogs that are commercial in
      nature have a privacy policy. Well, here they do (or are required
      to). Some blogs written by the average Jane/Joe may not have one,
      but most regular folk are sensitive to this issue and do have an
      honesty/privacy statement saying what they do with your data you
      forked over.

      Some commercial and average Jane/Joe blogs allow anon posting.
      Stick up a privacy policy saying IP is recorded (or deleted), your
      post may or may not get deleted and/or moderated and that is that.

      So without knowing all the details aside from some blogger who
      deleted a post and sent a nasty-gram back, It’s kind of hard to
      judge. But I think I would tend to respectfully disagree with
      mlissner.

      If commercial websites (such as media’s websites or professional
      websites) allow only non-anon commenting, their privacy policies
      tend to state they will only Email you for important surveys, or
      similar. They don’t state we will Email you back if you comment and
      we hate your comment. That is what moderation and post deletion is
      for. Completely different in my lemming opinion. Unless of course
      this privacy policy is transparent and states we will hate you if
      post anything contrary to what we write, and we will Email you a
      verbal tongue lashing.

      Can’t say I ever came across a commercial website where the owner
      verbally attacks people disagreeing with reason (RIAA and anti-RIAA
      types aside, forums aside). I don’t think they would be in business
      long. However, I can see this happening with a personal blog by a
      newb Jane/Joe Doe who is spilling their touchy feelings on the net.

      Would the country of origin be a factor here as well if this were a
      commercial site? There is spam that goes through under the guise of
      an established “business relation”. But, heh, spamming people for
      what is posted is a bit different.

      So after having dropped my random incoherent thoughts on this, yes,
      I think this would be somewhat invasive of ones info to be used
      against them to received unsolicited spam. Did the spam have a link
      included on how to remove yourself from further spam? People post
      comments thinking they are posting it to a website.

      Obviously this isn’t any type of commercial or professional blog.

      Grup said it well, but this seems like someone going a bit
      overboard.

      Is there a way to get off the mailing list and stop the spam? Were
      you given a choice to not receive unsolicited spam? Or was this an
      auto-opt-in? If there is no visible method to stop the spam, has
      anyone asked for it to be stopped directly?

  3. What a drama:

    1. No smart person ever uses a real e-mail address in blog comments. Use a disposable one (Mailinator etc.)

    2. If a stalker sends nasty e-mails, just set up a filter in the webmail/mail program that deletes them automatically.

    • Thanks, Grup. You’re right that problems can be avoided if posters use throwaway addresses and filters, but that’s not really the point here and I see that you didn’t actually answer the original question:

      Do you think that a blogger who e-mails a comment submitter may be invading their privacy?

      I really think that most people on the Internet do not think that the email address they provide will be used to contact them directly, and that maybe we, as bloggers, should be clearer about whether we might ever use the email address to contact the commenter directly. I’ll probably wind up revising this site’s privacy policy to include some statement about that after I think more about it and hopefully get more input from readers.

  4. There’s no way in hell this can be interpreted as an “invasion” of privacy.

    1) While the link from the sender to the sender’s email server may be secured via SSL, the links between servers ARE NOT and therefore, are inherently insecure and vulnerable to eavesdropping by any computer literate person on the server’s network, up-pipe, backbone, etc.

    2) The comment was sent to the author, the commenter had to know they were submitting their email address to the author because THEY HAD TO ENTER THE ADDRESS INTO THE FORM.

    Privacy, when sending messages, isn’t a one-way-street. You are COMMUNICATING, therefore, the communication doesn’t end with you sending something, it ends when one of the parties TERMINATES the conversation.

    As much as commenters would like to have one sided conversations and expect no one to respond, that should never be the case. You should be made to ask someone not to email them in the future before it is construed as not a breach of privacy, but a breach of etiquette.

    • I think I understand what you’re saying, but the issue is not about whether communication shouldn’t be two-way. It’s about whether the commenter/sender expects any reply communication to be out in public and whether receiving a private reply feels intrusive or invasive.

      Maybe I’m just overly sensitive to such concerns.

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