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A Public Letter Of Apology For A Tech Error At Women’s Web That Has Distressed Our Authors

Posted: May 23, 2016

Dear All,

Very recently, we had a post go up on the topic of Julia Roberts going barefoot at Cannes, which was published under the name of ‘Aakanksha Bhatia’, one of our regular authors. However, it soon emerged that this post has been published elsewhere by another regular author, Jhilmil Breckenridge, who also said that she had submitted it to us.

To begin with, we were unable to understand as to how the post could have been submitted by two authors, and what confused us further was that we were unable to find the post submitted by Jhilmil at our admin dashboard, where we view all posts submitted to us.

The process for publishing posts at Women’s Web is as follows:

  1. Author submits a post (and this is tagged at the backend database to her profile)
  2. One of the editorial team members reviews the post and schedules it for publishing if it meets all guidelines

There is no manual intervention in this process, as far as assigning authors is concerned. Since over a 1000 contributors submit posts at Women’s Web, we avoid manual intervention here to prevent any errors.

What happened then?

In an unprecedented situation, what happened was that at the exact moment that an editor scheduled this particular post for publishing, the server went down temporarily. Usually, this does not cause problems, since all the data is simply saved.

However, when the post was reloaded, in a very rare instance, instead of loading the name of the author who submitted the post (Jhilmil), the database loaded the name of the very first author on the database, which happened to be Aakanksha.

This resulted in the post being published under her name.

Since this situation unravelled over Saturday night, and we were unable to immediate contact the developer working on the project, we had to wait to get clarity over Sunday.

From our WordPress backend, it appeared as though the post had indeed been submitted by Aakanksha. Since this confused us, we pulled the post content off and issued a temporary clarification that we were looking into the issue. We also did the same on Twitter requesting all participants to give us time to respond, since we needed to get to the database. We also disabled comments on the post made by various people accusing Akanksha of plagiarism on Saturday night itself. We also corresponded with both authors requesting them to give us time to respond; although we could sense their pain, without the facts, there was little we could do right away.

We got into the issue closer on Sunday, and now have clarifications on Monday morning, post which I am writing this post.

Profuse apologies to authors

As a publication and team that exists to support women’s voices, we are deeply sorry for the distress caused to Aakanksha Bhatia due to the entirely unfounded assumptions of plagiarism made about her. She has blogged about it here, and her distress is evident and deeply saddening to us. It is not something we ever want any of our authors to go through.

We would like to clarify that Aakanksha Bhatia never submitted the post to us, and it was entirely a technical error that resulted in the post being ascribed to her. We understand that the allegations of plagiarism have hurt her deeply, and we are truly, from our hearts, sorry for the same. This public letter of apology from our end is intended to put a rest to all such accusations.

In such a situation, we were unable to resolve the issue entirely, at the fastest we would have liked to. However, we went into the situation completely over Sunday and do have clarity now, whereupon, I am immediately putting up this clarification.

I also apologise to Jhilmil Breckenridge who saw her post being published under another author’s name and therefore believed that her work had been plagiarised.

Please consider this our heartfelt apology to all, and we are taking steps to ensure that this remains a one-time error that does not happen again.

Update: Jhilmil has also subsequently apologised to Aakanksha for the distress caused to her. Please read her post here.

 

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas

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