Are comment "disclaimers" necessary?

post by Pablo (Pablo_Stafforini) · 2019-11-23T22:47:01.414Z · EA · GW · 9 comments

This is a question post.

Folks who comment in this forum and who work for an EA org often append a "disclaimer" to their comments, along the lines of "speaking for myself, not my employer". I find such disclaimers slightly distracting and annoying, in part because I suspect they are unnecessary. I also fear that this practice may change commenting norms in such a way that adding disclaimers will become necessary at some point in the future ("What do you mean you were not speaking on behalf of your organization? Why didn't you add a disclaimer, then, like everyone else here now does?"). However, I realize that these suspicions and fears may not be well-grounded, so I'm curious to learn what others think. I welcome answers from everyone, but especially from those who do regularly add such disclaimers to their comments (feel free to use an anonymous account if you aren't comfortable discussing your reasons publicly).


answer by Gregory_Lewis · 2019-11-25T09:16:09.848Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I sometimes disclaim (versus trying to always disclose relevant CoI), with a rule-of-thumb along the lines of the expected disvalue of being misconstrued as presenting a corporate view of my org.

This is a mix of likelihood (e.g. I probably wouldn't bother disclaiming an opinion on - say - SCI versus AMF, as a reasonable person is unlikely to think there's going to be an 'FHI view' on global health interventions) and impact (e.g. in those - astronomically rare - cases I write an asperous criticism of something-or-other, even if its pretty obvious I'm not speaking on behalf of my colleagues, I might want to make extra-sure).

I agree it isn't ideal (cf. Twitter, where it seems a lot of people need to expressly disclaim retweets are not endorsements, despite this norm being widely acknowledged and understood). Alas, some 'defensive' writing may be necessary if there are uncharitable or malicious members of ones audience, and on the internet this can be virtually guaranteed.

Also, boilerplate disclaimers don't magically prevent what you say reflecting upon your affiliates. I doubt EA org X, who has some association with Org Y, would be happy with a staffer saying something like, "Figuratively speaking, I hope we burn the awful edifice of Org Y - wrought out of its crooked and rotten timber from which nothing good and straight was ever made - to the ground, extirpate every wheedling tendril of its fell influence in our community, and salt the sewage-suffused earth from whence it came [speaking for myself, not my employer]". I get the impression I bite my tongue less than the typical 'EA org employee': it may be they are wiser, rather than I braver.

comment by HaydnBelfield · 2019-11-27T22:59:45.189Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Oh Greg your words bounce like sunbeams and drip like honey

answer by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2019-11-25T13:39:58.907Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm in an unusual situation in that I have three different "identities" under which my posts could be categorized: I am an employee of CEA, an EA Forum moderator, and also (in some comments) a private citizen. Since these identities interact in ways that could imply conflict of interest, I try to separate out which one I'm using when it might matter (though not all the time).

I've rarely felt as though a disclaimer was necessary, but I do find them helpful in the aforementioned case of "I work for org X", since that's hard to keep track of otherwise and often lets me know to trust someone's views more than I would otherwise (e.g. if they talk about something related to their org that implies insider knowledge).

answer by Milan_Griffes · 2019-11-24T17:07:49.166Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I add short disclosure statements when posting about Ought [EA · GW].

I do this because I want to reduce the likelihood of conflict-of-interest stuff coming up. (Feels very unlikely, but could be super messy to deal with if it did happen.)

I've probably been influenced here by GiveWell's early astroturfing controversy (which almost killed the org).

comment by Pablo (Pablo_Stafforini) · 2019-11-24T18:03:16.559Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks. I agree it probably makes sense to add such statements when your posts or comments could be seen as promoting an organization you work for. The general argument for disclosing potential conflicts of interest applies here.

While I didn't make it clear in my question, the cases I had in mind are not cases of this sort. Rather, I was thinking of cases in which the purpose of the disclaimer is to indicate that the views one expresses should not be interpreted as representing those of one's organization.

Larks draws [EA(p) · GW(p)] a useful distinction between disclosures and disclaimers, which corresponds to these two different cases. I sympathize with his arguments for concluding that, while disclosures are desirable, disclaimers are unnecessary.

Replies from: Milan_Griffes, Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Milan_Griffes · 2019-11-24T18:08:57.826Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Got it. I like Larks' distinction. I also think finance & investing communities have good norms around this.

comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2019-11-26T18:45:35.809Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

If you're adding a disclosure already, surely having it be a disclaimer also isn't more distracting? I'm assuming these look like [I work for 80k] and [I work for 80k but this is my personal opinion] respectively - let me know if that's not how you think about them.

Replies from: Pablo_Stafforini
comment by Pablo (Pablo_Stafforini) · 2019-11-26T20:34:37.673Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
If you're adding a disclosure already, surely having it be a disclaimer also isn't more distracting?

I agree with this. But my sense is that only a small fraction of the comments which include a disclaimer are also comments which include or should include a disclosure. So the fact that it's not more distracting to have both than only a disclaimer doesn't influence my general thinking about disclaimers much.

There's also the separate argument that adding disclaimers runs the risk of changing expectations about what can be inferred from posts that lack them. Other things equal, I would prefer to support the conversational norm that no one is speaking in a professional capacity unless they say so explicitly, or is otherwise obvious from context.

answer by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2019-11-26T18:51:08.577Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm not that much of a fan of adding disclaimers to my posts because it feels cumbersome and assumes that I'd be writing as an employee rather than an individual, when I'd prefer my comments on the forum to be assumed to be the latter. But I tend to include them because my perception has been that people on the forum tend to appreciate precision, and this gives a better sense of what capacity you're writing in, plus I'm not sure I'd be best to judge under what circumstances people would appreciate a disclosure.

Having said that, it has happened to me that something I said informally was quoted in a more formal context and attributed to me as a representative of my organisation, which makes me feel better about commenting off the cuff on things if I can add a disclaimer to try to prevent that.


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