Friday, August 03, 2007

on blogging and civility

A while back, I was reading a few items online about blogging and civility. I bookmarked them, with the thought of writing a post on it, hoping that there would be no pressing need to address the issue. Unfortunately, things have gotten a lot worse since then.

I wouldn't go so far as to advocate a formal set of rules, as some have done. Across the blogosphere, this idea has generated discussion and more discussion. I agree with its general intention, but not with all the details.

During the initial 49th ward aldermanic campaign and the run-off, many of us have said and done what we thought necessary to work for change and a fair election on 4/17. I've occasionally had second thoughts about how I've phrased postings or comments. None of us are perfect. That being said, I'm disappointed that the dialogue between the various Rogers Park blogs has continued to deteriorate, getting uglier each week. I wouldn't have thought it possible after how ugly things got during the election campaigns.

While I do not agree with everyone's viewpoint, I'd rather agree to disagree than make personal attacks. I'd prefer not to say something unless it's something I would consider a fair criticism if directed at me.

I'd like to take a short break to think on the subject. Meanwhile, I'll offer more reading on it. The Well is one of the oldest online forums. Their moderator guidelines are here. Here's another response about the draft blogger's code, with links for additional responses, and a San Francisco Chronicle column that makes some relevant points on the topic.

Why is it necessarily for some folks to personally attack each other in order to express their views about what is happening in Rogers Park? Is their need to vent so compelling that any consequences of their words become irrelevant? Remember the "broken window" theory? Well, we've got a whole lot of broken windows on the RP blogs right now, broken with words, not stones.

There is often a fine line between criticism (constructive or otherwise) and attack. Saving one's posts or composing comments offline, waiting a while (a few hours, a day, a week), then reviewing them before posting, can act as birth control to keep hasty, angry words from hatching into hornets.

What motivated you to start blogging and/or commenting? Are you still motivated by the same reasons, or has that changed due to your experiences on that blogs? Please do comment.

I'll be back soon.


Craig Gernhardt said...

Because it seems you're blogging about me and my blogging style - I'm going to make me a milkshake instead of saying something right now. How's that?

Jocelyn said...

Things are always changing. I myself have gotten more "involved" on the blogs and feel the need to defend myself when attacked. I think I am pretty successful in not attacking people (unless they insult me and then I will not just roll over for that.)

I think I may be getting a little desensitized to some of what goes on because I am not so phased by things that probably would have given me pause before.

Since you don't mention specifics, it's hard for me to know what was most upsetting to you. I would guess the Tom Westgard fiasco or the Marcy Sperry one. Or maybe the recent fight between ms and progun?

I think it's good to bring it up and for us all to think about what role we are playing online.

Toni said...

> What motivated you to start blogging and/or commenting?

I couldn't believe what I was hearing and seeing so I started blogging. And when the truth in photos lands the coverups begin. Or perhaps I should say the attacks begin.

We can't be sloppy at work, we can't always cover our fannies at work, there are too many ways to track the perpetrator of the mistake, the bungle, or the lie. Yet neighborhoods such as NOH just kept dragging along, one meeting after, one year after another with no end results that were quickly visible.

In the real world there are real deadlines or heads roll...after all, there is money involved, integrity, honesty and reputations... In the world of neighborhoods, its easier to label the truthsayers as 'racists, elitists, and snobs'. It's the easy out and it covers the fanny - for awhile. Those who may have the audacity to ask 'is this true?' will get the coverup response.

What's the use of caring about one's property values if the risk of being shot through one's own window from stray bullets is higher than the thought of selling 'some year'? Because people have that right.

What's the point of creating a great divide that implies all people in Group 4 are rich and own and all people in Group 5 are poor and rent?

There are Group 4 & 5 homeowners on both sides of my street and if asked, I'm sure the attackers would find that safety is higher on the list than the dollar sign on a future sale to both groups.

To expose the way things were done, are still being done, and will continue to be done is irksome to those who wanted to keep the game plan in the back room.

As for blogging etiquette, it's a good concept, but there will always be a commenter or blogger who will perpertuate the coverup, attack and twist the truth (even in photos) and drop labels. It's easier to say 'don't feed the trolls' then to actually do it. When mistruths hit the screen, people have a right to state the truth. Unfortunately, even the trolls feel they have this right. They believe their lies to be their truths.

Al Iverson said...

I'm all for more politeness in blogging. I didn't read all of the stuff about the code, but I've been around long enough (just not in RP) to deal with this before.

I'm a long time anti-spam activist. Like a lot of activist communities, they're filled with people who have strong opinions. People who are fed up, so maybe they're less likely to be polite.

That's seemingly the case with many blogging communities, and certainly with most of the group here in RP.

So, how does the code of conduct help there? Or, how else can it be addressed? Not an easy question, no easy answer seen.

RP4Life said...

You bring up some valid points. People tend to shoot from the hip, no pun intended, and not think of how their actions affect other people. Unless you are a writter, tone is not conveyed very well through words. On these blogs people seem harsher that they actually are or they have a hidden identity and can be as nasty as they want to be. I myself remain anonymous because I do not want my family to have to deal with all of the wacko's in the world. I love commenting on blogs and will continue to do so. I am only harsh to people that are harsh.

Kheris said...

I started some time ago with a message board and dealing with Star Trek fandom. I quickly learned that stuff gets nasty very quickly when people are no longer able to speak to the facts or ideas being presented. They start attacking the person presenting the idea, rather than the idea itself. It's very depressing to watch, especially when others chime in. I've seen it happen, and then someone realizes a big 'oops' has been made and out come the apologies and commitments to do better.

The consequence for me is a focus on the facts and avoiding hyperbole gussied up as passion. The outcome may not be as passionate as I really am, but I prefer that to losing my credibility because I leapt before looking.

Fargo said...

The increasing number of personal attacks and the level of anger on so many blogs and topics inspired this post. It is disturbing to see decent people get repeatedly attacked for no good reason, to the point where they get angry and feel the need to defend themselves. When good people in the neighborhood contribute so much in positive energy, worthy projects and good ideas, and those efforts are unfairly attacked, it makes the situation that much worse.

I learned long ago that trashy or cruel people are not limited to any one ethnic or racial group. Same is true of renters vs. owners. There are responsible and irresponsible people on both sides of each line.

I wanted to use the "code of conduct" concept to start a discussion. I think there a lot of people in Rogers Park who are fed up with the same short list of chronic problems and Joe Moore's lack of effective response to those issues. That level of frustration can easily lead to heated exchanges. However, there is a big difference between expressing that frustration and attacking potential allies in solving those problems.

It is a lot easier to say "don't feed the trolls" than to avoid doing it 100% of the time. I'll do my best NOT to feed the trolls. If people can be civil on this blog, they are welcome to comment here.

There is a significant difference between debating ideas or words vs. attacking a person's character. I'd rather not post something that I'd likely regret later. That's an individual choice that we all make every time we sit down to write on the blogs.

This online community has evolved from Forum 49 to a multitude of voices and ideas interacting in many forums every day, at any hour. Most of us have to work regular full-time jobs outside the neighborhood and have limited time and energy to devote to activism, blogging, and neighborhood improvement. What is to be gained by devoting that time and energy tearing each other down instead of building up the community?

I hope that we can keep an open dialogue on this subject and keep building community. Just my $0.02....

Golden Pheasant said...

I know a number of people who care a ton about the neighborhood who have given up going to "the blogs" because they are so over the top. Not to say that Tom Paine style rabble rousing is always bad, but leadership is about attracting people, not turning them away. (for an example of how not to lead, see the definition of Springfield, Illinois, summer 2007. Thanks for having a different kind of forum. The reality is that most viewers ignore the comments and just read the front story. One blog, for example (not you, Craig) has been banned from my computer because of the freakish negativity that's always there. And -- miracle of miracles -- I don't miss it at all.

But I do think there are things going on in the neighborhood that should be published and discussed without an ad hominem firing circle.

Thomas Westgard said...

Blogging civility always seems to be brought up in the context of telling other people what to do, rather than in the context of meeting one's own standards. When I was looking into this most recently, I found a lot of stuff from various viewpoints, but very little about personal bloggers setting standards for themselves. That's both a strength and a weakness of one-person blogs: all the decisions are made quickly and easily, without dispute. Personal bloggers don't let other people tell them what to do - it's why they blog.

Where the topic of blog civility gets most fervently discussed is in the context of a commenter not liking what the blogger wrote. But the fact is that there's not a lot that a commenter can do about it, and the blogger put the stuff up there because it met their standards. So, the commenter complains, the blogger refuses to budge, and nothing is resolved.

As Jocelyn noted, you don't specify what specifically got you upset, though it's not hard to imagine it was related to the recent flare-up on my blog and Craig's. In theory, you could specify a statement that you found troublesome, or you could specify a rule that you feel should be followed by everyone. In response, we could all state our positions on why the event was bad or good, or why the rule is bad or good, and whether a particular blog transgressed it, but I think it would all be for naught.

Bloggers blog, commenters comment. In the end, bloggers will do as they wish, and readers will read whatever makes them feel happy, or sad, or angry, or whatever experience they're looking for. The flame wars work because large numbers of people enjoy flame wars, for the same reasons that Jerry Springer was so popular a few years ago, and reality TV and drunk-driving starlets are the popular magazines and shows of the current day. If Howard Stern was a shock-jock, Craig Gernhardt is a shock-blogger, and they both justify their actions by the number of people who pay attention to them.

The opportunity for control, and thus improvement, is as another commenter said. You just stop reading the things you think are not worthy of your attention. For my part, my most recent focus is toward looking at the blogs as being a distraction from real life. In the space of one week, I had one friend tell me that he went through other city parks and saw that they were far better maintained than ours, and a second friend, in a completely unrelated conversation, said exactly the opposite. That's an interesting contradiction, and not one that's going to be answered honestly by reading (or writing) a blog.

Fights on the blogs can seem so terribly important, but they become a tempest in a teapot if you get away from the computer now and again. But nothing I say is going to make people think the computer is more or less important. Everyone has to find their own way into cyberspace, and back out again.

Fargo said...

You missed two key points that I made in my comment above.

There was no one post or exchange that was the proverbial "last straw." It was the increase in the venom content of many posts and comments throughout the Rogers Park blogosphere. The Craig-Tom hatefest has been a major source but hardly the only one. When I found hate on nearly everyone's blog, that was my "last straw."

Also, I said in the previous comment that I would prefer to avoid making posts or comments that I would regret later. That's my rule for myself.

I'd rather not see people attacked unjustly, but I can't control what individuals post on their own blogs or comments they make on others' blogs.

I ask for civility on my blog. I appreciate the fact that folks have usually respected that request. Your blog - your rules.

That is my path, grasshopper. Yours may be a different one.