Why blog?

February 7, 2008

Over the past few days I’ve been watching a comments thread blow up into this massive derail where eventually people just starting really freaking out and saying really awful things to each other. I’ve refrained from commenting myself, despite the strong urge to pipe in (for no good reason, I might add), but I’ve been watching it all unfold like a really slow trainwreck. And even though I didn’t end up personally hurt or offended by jumping into the fray, nonetheless it’s gotten me thinking again about whether this whole blogging thing is really worthwhile.

I mean, at its worst, blogging can be really alienating. Internet anonymity can truly bring out the worst in people, from vicious slurs to crazy site attacks to threats that spill over into real life. And I sometimes wonder if all this venom going back and forth can do anything but get in the way of productive discourse. Are we really all just sitting around at our keyboards, wasting life away while we pwn each other from afar?

But then I think about how I started reading blogs. If it weren’t for Feministe and Feministing I might not identify as a feminist. Because I’m not a big news consumer, I never would’ve found out about a lot of things going on in the world. If I hadn’t started reading Dooce I might not have wanted to blog myself, and I never would’ve been linked by one of the bloggers I admire and respect the most.

There isn’t really a Grand Point to this post. I wish there were a little more kindess in the world, and a little more civility online. I hope we’re actually engaging in coalition-building. I know that every time someone comments here, I get a little thrill. I love knowing that someone somewhere far away is thinking about the same things that I am, even for just a moment.

(Yes, this is the “I love you guys” part of the post, and I haven’t even been drinking. This entry has officially jumped the shark.)

You, sir, are an ass basket.

June 1, 2007

So. I’ve been bad at blogging lately, for a variety of reasons–allergies have totally knocked me out, I’m now the sole owner of my NetFlix account and bumped up to four movies at a time, and I’m back to 35 hours at work. I assume my modest readership isn’t too put out.

I have been reading a lot lately, though, so expect something about Nobody Passes and Whipping Girl soon.

In the meantime, though, I’ve been thinking about blog civility. After wading through ridiculous reviews of The Feminist Mystique for a paper, the Sig Fig asked me how I can handle reading comments on the various blogs I frequent. It’s a fair question; internet anonymity really lets loose the hounds of hell, and a lot of them seem to share my taste in blogs. But just as I was able to stomach conservative talk radio in high school, somehow I can stomach even the worst of blog commenters. (Although I don’t spend as much time yelling “YOU IDIOT! SHUT THE &%$# UP!” at my computer as I did at my radio.) Sometimes you just want to get really riled up. I truly believe that getting really, really angry can actually help clarify one’s own beliefs.

On the other hand, it does really bother me that so many people seem perfectly willing to be rude, threatening, and downright abusive online when they would probably never consider saying the same things face to face. I don’t want to say that these people are overwhelmingly conservative, because I mostly read progressive blogs; I’m sure there are some outstandingly rude liberals who frequent conservative blogs. Regardless, here are three of my least favorite commenter tactics:

1. “You misplaced a comma/used the wrong homonym/misspelled a word. Learn to fucking read, asshole.” Now, I admit that occasionally I run across a comment that is so poorly written as to be nearly indecipherable. But the bulk of comments that get criticized for grammatical or syntactical errors are usually full of pretty common mistakes, and it’s really rude to accuse someone of illiteracy just because s/he uses the wrong “their”or something. (Not to mention insensitive to the issue of actual literacy and learning issues.) And if a comment is generally understandable but has a few typos or whatever, responding only as the Grammar Police rather than to substantive points (or a lack thereof) stagnates discussion.

2. “You’re a total asshole, so I’m not even going to listen to you. Asshole.” Now, really, what does this accomplish, Mr. Pot? I absolutely think we should call people out for being racist, homophobic, misogynist, and on and on–but resorting to name-calling, rather than clearly spelling out why certain views are despicable, really only adds fuel to the fire. If someone already hates on women, for instance, having a woman call him an asshole is only going to confirm his belief that women are bitchy. I’m not trying to be a prude or anything, but insults without substantive criticisms attached are pretty useless.

3. “Apparently you ladies have learned nothing from the Duke lacrosse case.” This just happens to be the most salient example, but I see people pull this all the time with other incidents. “Ohmigod! I have this friend who really loves gangbangs. How can you say porn is demeaning and unrealistic?” “Ohmigod! I read an article about a Jewish country club. Racism is totally dead!” “Ohmigod! Giraffes! Bananas.” The third one I haven’t actually seen anywhere, but the first two seem pretty common. It’s a simple equation: Irrelevant or exceptional example + smug superiority = stop talking about this thing, because it makes me uncomfortable. Also, it’s just really annoying to keep bringing up Duke Lacrosse as some kind of shining example.

On blogging and anonymity

November 4, 2006

After reading the ridiculous Ann Bartow saga over at Feministe (count me as a diehard zuzu supporter, and one who really hopes to see her return soon and in good spirits), I started thinking about the idea of anonymity in blogging, and how I feel about it.

When I’m reading other people’s blogs, I really like it when commenters and posters clearly identify themselves. Somewhere like Cambridge Common, this is particularly helpful because I’ll recognize a fair amount of the names and be able to contextualize them somewhat (you know, recognizing one of the Harvard Republicans I met at a somewhat bizarre dinner, seeing a post by that one guy and knowing it’s probably not worth reading, and so on). Other non-Harvard blogs seem to have a more equal mix of full names, pseudonyms, and totally anonymous commenters.

Full names, in my experience, tend to be linked either to prominent figures (like Althouse, or other bloggers who blog under their real names, often on blogs sharing that name) or to commenters who don’t blog at all, but comment regularly and have no problem putting their names out there.

I enjoy pseudonyms, too. They’re often entertaining (Raging Moderate is still one of my favorites, though I often don’t agree with the comments attached to it) and once I’ve seen the same one comment a few times I get a pretty good idea about the beliefs behind the name.

I have mixed feelings about totally anonymous commenting, though. On the one hand, I understand that people blog from work or school and have very good reasons for not wanting their employers or colleagues to attach them to certain topics, blogs, or comments. I also understand that very personal comments leave a person vulnerable, and it would be a shame to miss out on the insights someone might have to offer because they don’t feel comfortable sharing their identity along with those comments. There’s also the question of The Crazies figuring out who you are, stalking, harassing, or assaulting you. Scary possibility, and one that unfortunately has become reality in some instances. (I don’t have links off the top of my head; people who know of specific cases should feel free to comment and I’ll update the post.)

Here comes the but…

…But I wish everyone could feel free to identify with their own statements. Now, I’m not one for outing, and I’m not one for deriding folks who stay anonymous. It’s not my place to judge someone else’s situation, or demand that everyone just pony up and identify themselves. But I do wish everyone could feel as comfortable as I do sharing my identity.

And speaking of my identity… it probably isn’t very apparent on this blog in particular, but anyone with a little initiative could easily follow the trail to who I am. The only reason I don’t have a full profile up on this blog is that I’d like to limit my stalkers to the really dedicated folks who go to the trouble to do the research. On other sites I comment using my initials (the name I prefer) as my pseudonym, and my details are pretty fully available in places like Facebook. I’m not afraid of being connected to anything I write online, although I will admit to cleaning things up a bit from Isn’t This the Ladies Room? for a few reasons–in case my parents stumble across it (doubtful), because I’ve had some problems with discretion on various online journals in the past (I try to use pseudonyms for those who aren’t my intimate friends, and I would gladly do the same for them if they asked), and because I just don’t think I need to be blogging about my sex life, at least not in particularly specific terms.

Here’s the other thing about anonymity that bothers me, though. Well, not so much anonymity as electronic communication, which I think is sort of anesthetizing in nature. As someone who belongs to a couple of email lists, I know that having extensive conversations exclusively online can mean that things get ugly in a hurry. Even when words are attached to a name and an email address, they’re still not really attached to a face. It’s so much easier to attack someone in an email than in person. It also means, I think, that you feel a sense of involvement without actually doing the work to build community.