Fall 2019 Tip: Removing Sensitive Mercury Posts

Here's an important tip for handling an often delicate and time-sensitive problem:

For better or for worse, the "right" way to handle a story that got posted into Mercury but shouldn't have been shared (or that was indeed authorized but you are later asked to remove) is not to delete it, but rather to edit the story and remove everything from it:

  1. Go into the Mercury interface, locate the story, and open it for editing
    • Hint: searching in the Mercury interface is non-standard: use "%" as a wildcard character instead of "*".
  2. Delete all of the content and replace it with a message like "Our apologies, but this story has been retracted."
  3. Un-map any media  (images or video) that is attached (see notes below)
  4. Change the title to "Retracted Story" and save your changes.

For attached media that needs to be retracted:

  • To retract an attached image, locate and edit each image media item, "REMOVE" the associated image file, change any text to "retracted" and re-save the item, but don't delete the media item itself!
  • Mercury does not ever store videos locally.  If a video needs to be retracted, you will need to remove it from the service hosting it (MediaSpace, YouTube, etc.)  You may still want to locate the associated video media item and remove the link from it, but the important part is removing the video from the hosting service.

Following this procedure will cause any copies of the original story and associated media to be replaced with the "Retracted Story" message when connected websites next sync themselves to Mercury.  Unfortunately, that "Retracted Story" will have to temporarily show up on websites that had the original story, but after six hours or so you could then delete the story and most sites will stop showing the "Retracted Story" in any news/events lists.  At that point, the only trace left will be if someone follows an old link directly to the story, but all they'll get is the "Retracted Story" message.

If you simply delete the original story item or image item from Mercury without fully following the process outlined above, it won't actually go away, as many websites only do a one-way sync from Mercury to the website.  Thus they get new and updated stories, but nothing changes when a story (or image item) is deleted.  So, what happens is that the story may stop showing up in recent news / upcoming events listings, but if someone has saved a link directly to the story itself, that link continues to work.  Because of that, the story and images may remain accessible through searches done against the website.

Finally, keep in mind that most websites only sync with Mercury once every couple of hours, so updates made to a story (whether to fix the story or to convert it to a "Retracted Story") won't take effect immediately.  For our school sites and those project center sites running on Drupal, syncing occurs at forty-five minutes after each odd-numbered hour (7:45, 9:45, 11:45, 1:45, etc.)

The moral of the story is, if you have any doubts, don't post to Mercury.  Instead, assemble the story somewhere else and run it by your supervisor(s) and anyone else who might have concerns.  In the end, it's better (at least in my humble opinion) to delay publishing something by a day or two then to have to go through the process of retracting a story that shouldn't have gone out.