So you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into a site. You finally made it popular. You have regular visitors who comment, retweet, like and share your stuff. You’re getting traffic and the ads are actually paying for things! Everything should be smooth sailing, right? Wrong.
You have to look at your website like a business. If you ran a business, you would be responsible for whatever crap your employees looked at on-line, how they used their phones, etc etc. If someone uses your services to do something illegal, you’re responsible. That’s why you have to sign your life away in blood. Not that anyone reads that stuff for most things, but you do agree to not break the law when you install your operating system, for example.
If someone makes a comment you (or your visitors) deem to be offensive, it’s in your best interest to quickly take decisive action. Make a choice, pick your stance, and stick by it. Don’t waver or feel guilt. This is your site, your responsibility (there’s that word again). If it makes you understand it better, this is your job. The easy part of the site is building it, the hard part is maintaining it. For those of you who just spent months getting your site to look just right, the idea that something is harder than that may be daunting.
First you put in the sweat equity to make the site. Then you spend hours researching and writing posts. You’ve already found out about how much time you have to put in fighting spammers. Now here I am telling you that you get to spend even more time and energy keeping the community of your site going. It’s okay to hate me. I actually spent more time these days keeping people in line and tending to them than I did anything else a couple years ago. That’s the real reason a lot of sites go in for moderating teams. It’s a lot of work to keep track of everything. Since then I’ve turned to what I call ‘community moderation.’ Plugins like BP Moderation (for BuddyPress users) and Safe Report Comments let your visitors flag posts for you to come back and review.
Regardless of this, there remains one person responsible for this site: Me. I’m responsible for what people who have accounts do here. I’m responsible for what I say and what they say. I’m responsible for your comments and the ads on this site. Everything here is my responsibility and I take it seriously. To carry it up a level, if your site sells a product, you are responsible for all of that product.
Recently there was a kerfluffle when Joost de Valk announced that his SEO plugin was being infringed on by WPMU Dev. Of course there was a public rebuttal by WPMUDev and a response to the rebuttal. Even WPCandy stepped in.
Before everyone gets het up about this one, I honestly don’t care who’s right or wrong for the purpose of this post. My opinion, and yes, I have one, doesn’t matter.
See, no matter what else, at the end of the day, a company is 100%, totally, unequivocally, responsible for their own products. Full stop. Everyone can agree to this (and as far as I can tell, everyone does agree on this point). No matter what, WPMU Dev is responsible for their products. No one is arguing this. The fact that they pushed a flawed product that slipped through their checks and balances is the point. They can’t blame the developer without blaming themselves for not checking his work. Regardless of if they failed to check the plugin, or forgot to tell the developer to always attribute his work, or whatever it may be, the company who hired the developer assumed all responsibility for the work which was then pushed forth in their name.
They weren’t the first people to make this sort of error, and they won’t be the last. Making the error, in and of itself, is monumentally stupid, but you know what? We’ve all been there. We all take responsibility for these screw ups. It’s horrifying, the first time you realize you’re responsible for something that you’re not in control of, but there you are. You run a company. Sometimes things go wrong in ways you never predicted and should have, but didn’t. In 2009 Microsoft yanked code they’d stolen. I know, stealing is a dirty, hot-button word, but that’s what it is. PC World says it right:
Third parties or not, though, Microsoft is responsible for making sure its software isn’t stolen, and it’s simply not doing the job. (Microsoft yanked code they’d stolen – PC World)
Think it’s just software? Think again. Last winter, a small magazine called Cooks Source lifted someone else’s work, wholesale, and put it in their magazine. The author was attributed, certainly, but not compensated. When the author found out, she contacted them and asked for a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism. She got a pretty awesomely horrible reply, and posted it on her livejournal. From there, the Internet exploded. (If you go to http://illadore.livejournal.com/ you can see the crazy first hand.) How far did it all go? Well the magazine is no more, after the Internet got their hooks in it. People called up the advertisers to tell them that Cooks Source was a plagiarist, and more than one advertiser bailed. Then it turned out they’d stolen multiple articles from multiple sources, non paid, and photographs as well. Let’s not get into the website, which had stolen content all over the place.
It’s your site. It’s your name. You are responsible. Make all the excuses you want, but it doesn’t exculpate you from that role.