21 September 2006

Comments: Bring it on!

I recently published a comment on a blog I read occasionally (I'm pretty confident that blog's owner doesn't visit my blog regularly & doesn't comment here, although I do wish she would read this). This is a blog that I usually find well-written, with a spirit of kindness and generosity. Unlike some blogs where the blogger is writing about her troubles, I don't find reading this one to be like watching for a train wreck. It's usually insightful, almost always causes me to think and to empathize, and has brought me close to tears a few times.

Anyway, there was a post several days ago that really bothered me. Although I knew its intent was to be funny and light-hearted, I found it not only unhumorous but also mean-spirited; I found it mocking and insulting. And I told her so. It was one of those times when I should have run it through the old bitchometer before I hit 'publish', but no -- I was pretty honked and I wanted to make my point. I thought that I explained my position: that if she realized how hurtful her comments could be to certain people, perhaps she would not have been poking fun as this was so uncharacteristic of everything she typically writes. In retrospect, I could have been more successful in making my point if I had extracted my emotions from it. Still, I don't think I went overboard in pointing out my disagreement, although I did say I was very disappointed in her so I guess that my judgmental side was showing a bit too much.

As anyone with more than two minutes of experience in Blogworld could probably guess, my little remarks spawned an enormous amount of comments (about 50), most of them telling me -- in words far more caustic than what I penned in anger -- how wrong I was. And not just that I was wrong, but that I was insensitive, too sensitive, stupid, self-centered, a censor, in need of a 'sense-of-humor transplant', unwelcome in this little corner of the blogosphere, and mean. Wow! I suppose I should have seen it coming, but I didn't. If I was truly insensitive, I would not have been close to tears when I checked back on this blog a few days later and read the vitriolic comments. (I did find the idea of a sense-of-humor transplant a wee bit funny though.)

The blogger posted an apology almost immediately, both within the comments and in a separate post, stating that she never intended - nor would she ever -- to make fun of someone. She wrote that she was mortified that her comments offended anyone, and I believe her. As typical of her writing, she made some thought-provoking comments about the responsibility of a blogger and how easily one can be misinterpreted.

But -- and this is what I find interesting -- all of the negative comments followed her apology. Rather than comment about the idea of community, the potential for misinterpretation inherent in the blog medium, or how much self-censoring one should do when posting, all but one of the comments were attacks on me for being candid in my response, some of them accusing me of wanting to limit free speech. One commentor pointed out that since all of the comments were opposed to me, I must be wrong. I wondered who would to dissent given the tone of the comments.

Is it really the rule of the blogworld that you don't comment unless you agree? Is it that we don't want to foster discussion and thought in our communities, but rather just want an enclave of like-minded folks? One person commented that if I didn't like it, I could 'change the channel'. It seems to me that that metaphor is not fitting in this case. While one can and should 'change the channel' on a television program if one doesn't like it, tv viewing is a passive activity. If one opens comments, one is soliciting feedback and thus making blogging an active endeavor. Do we really want only those that look just like us, think just like us, or talk like us, to participate? I don't think so.

I'd like your opinions -- whether you agree with me or not. I have intentionally not linked to the post or subsequent comments because I don't want to continue a flame war, but would like a general conversation regarding the responsibility of the blogger and commenters and the nature of building a blogging community. If you just happen to know to which blog I am referring, please honor my intent and keep it to yourself -- no links to it, please.


Kate S. said...

The accusation that the expression of a dissenting viewpoint amounts to censorship is incomprehensible to me. Surely the dissenter is exercising free speech and it is those who want to shut down the dissent who are dampening it? Yet I see this accusation levelled in a variety of contexts with disturbing frequency. To limit the comments box to a space for like-minded views only seems to me to do real damage to the vitality of the blogosphere. Disagreement, so long as it's expressed respectfully, can be very stimulating and enlightening. All of which is to say, I guess, that I agree with you!

Carl V. said...

I've had a similar experience on, of all things, a science fiction blog long ago. I kindly, in my opinion, tried to support a commentor who was being taken to task for not agreeing with the rest of the commentors and thus followed a long 'war of words' that was just ridiculous. I don't care if people agree with me or not but I don't think people should be ridiculed for having a different opinion or for being passionate about their different opinion. That is the thing with blogs though, they aren't necessarily the 'free speech' forum that their owners may proclaim them to be.

Courtney said...

I need to think on this some in get back to you, but overall I absolutely agree. I think for many of us, for THINKING people, the blogosphere is a place for productive discussion and looking at someone's world in a new way. I really don't know what I think about the responsibility of bloggers and commenters though, or honestly if there is any at all. In the end, I think blogland is like anywhere else, and you have to slog through the negativity and crap and find a place for yourself - and we all are lucky to have found one another.

Dorothy W. said...

Oooh -- I'm sorry about that! I would have been upset too if that had happened to me. I've been very lucky to far to have good experiences with blogs, but I know the bad stuff can happen to me and likely will at some point. I suppose it's a risk that's a part of the medium, and I don't see what can be done about that. Some people come to blogs with the best of intentions and others come to make trouble. I do think that dissent should be allowed and even welcomed on blogs -- otherwise, there's no conversation!

AC said...

Personally, I think that the "I agree" comments are my least favorite. They add nothing to the conversation. Even if you agree, you should add your own thoughts. That's why we have comments! Unfortunately, though, some people are easily offended. I'd rather get crap and learn from it, though. So I guess I DISAGREE with the whole comment-ettiquette thing

Bitch at me whenever you like. :)

Cam said...

Thanks for your comments. I've thought more about this since I posted a few days ago. At first, I was surprised that the blog owner had not somehow stepped in regarding the comments. But, as I thought about it, I decided I might not either. If you want to encourage debate, you have to take the good and the bad. I'm still a little torn on the ugly though! If a comment was left on my blog that was out of bounds (not sure how I would define those limits) I would consider deleting it. But, I think it more likely that I would leave it and make it clear that I didn't approve of it.

I agree with AC that comments that only say 'I agree' don't add much to the conversation. As for my question regarding the responsibility of a blogger, I guess I would define that responsibility as needing to be truthful and respectful. I don't think one should censor oneself because she thinks that someone might disagree, nor should one oppose dissent, especially if wanting to encourage discussion. While you can't shrink from what you feel is right because it might offend someone, I think that I'm still responsible to be respectful of those feelings. There is a difference between that which is offensive and that which is an opposing viewpoint. If I were to inadvertantly offend someone, I would hope that they would feel comfortable enough to point out why it was offending, as a means of helping me to understand why, but not as a means of censoring a divergent opinion.

bloglily said...

What an intelligent and thought-provoking post on an incident that must have been quite disturbing and disappointing. I think the blog host should have stepped in the instant the comments became personal and insisted that that people keep their voices level and not attack her guests (YOU). That's not censorship. It's just good manners.

I think there's a difference between disagreement and discussion. I don't think of any airing of views and explanation of differences as "disagreement" -- I see it as a conversation. But the second someone gets personal about these views and launches into an ad hominum attack on those who differ, the conversation becomes a disagreement -- and that's just plain disagreeable and unpleasant and not much fun.

I know there's a lot of brawling and pissiness and name calling in Blogland. But I don't like it and if I get a new poster who wants to do that sort of thing, I just don't let them in the door. I don't host a blog in order to host a bunch of people shouting at each other. I have enough of that going on in my own house with my children.

But, Cam, if I ever say something that's hurtful or obnoxious, I want you to set me straight -- I can't imagine you doing that in a nasty way.