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How Do You Like to Do Your Internet Fighting?

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Sometimes, kids, two blogs you like might have a falling out and say some hurtful things about each other. I understand that it can be painful to read these tings, and I know you wish that they would just kiss and make up. Just remember that you don’t have to take sides, this isn’t your fault, and that they both appreciate your pageviews very much. No matter what happens in the future, they will both still love you and you can carry on visiting them separately, even if they’re no longer talking to each other. OK?

Last week, I read an article in the newspaper that I knew would eventually get picked up by one of the blogs I regularly read. Sure enough, over the weekend that blog put up a brief blog post that wasn’t very happy with some of the content in the newspaper article. Fair enough. It’s the sort of thing I do all the time. Reading through the comments, what struck me was the number of readers who felt that the blog post was out of place. Principally, they wondered why the blog post couldn’t have been left in the comments of the original article, or even at the author’s own blog. From their point of view, publishing a critical blog post in such a way was almost as though the original author was being “called out” with less chance of a right of reply.

Now, this is interesting. I don’t deal with many trolls (this blog might be a bit too dry for them) but I see them in action elsewhere. Usually, when they complain about censorship because their comments have been moderated, it’s fairly standard for someone else to point out that nothing is stopping them from going and starting their own blog where they will be free to say whatever they want. But that isn’t what trolls really want, is it? They want to say whatever they want at that blog, and I have no doubt that for some of them, being able to whine about their free speech being suppressed is half the fun of saying things they know will be regarded as offensive or inappropriate.

In the case of established blogs or authors, however, what is the procedure for critiquing the work of others? This is especially tricky when people may have guest-blogged for each other and have previously been considered colleagues or allies. If you go over to their blog to rip their post to threads, are you trolling? On the other hand, if you take the time to put together a post of your own and then detail what you think is wrong, are you supposed to contact your acquaintance beforehand to offer right of reply or to give notice of your criticism?

In the case of the article and the weekend blog post, the waters were further muddied by the fact that the article was published by a third party, the newspaper, rather than the author’s own blog. Reader comments on the article were enabled, so it was not a question of needing to blog about it because there was no other way of expressing an opinion. Nevertheless, a number of readers were uneasy at the blog post, not only for its tone, but also because it could be interpreted as an attack. This in one of those corners of the internet where most people are friends rather than enemies and generally try to keep discussions civil.

Generally, through sheer laziness, I’m more likely to leave a comment on a blog post I don’t like, rather than write a rebuttal post of my own. Plus it means that my comments can generally be seen by others who have read the post and they can then judge for themselves whether I have any salient points to make or whether I am just a frothing reactionary. The blog author can also add clarifications, and again people will be able to see them, and that is generally how discussions work. As I don’t tend to go looking for trouble, it’s very unlikely that I’ll end up in a flame war.

On the other hand, if I do go to the trouble of crafting a blog post in response to something I have read, simple human decency demands that I offer the subject of my ire a right of reply in the comments. Do I warn them in advance that I’ll be blogging about them? Not usually. But I do let them have their say in the comments, and don’t moderate or censor them. That would be unfair, and also dishonest to anyone else who tried to follow the debate. While my blog may be “my turf,” ragging on somebody else’s work and then blocking them from saying anything here is akin to a kid who throws rocks and then hides behinds their mother’s skirts when people start looking for the culprit.

There are no hard and fast rules of discourse on the internet, and different people will have their own opinions about how to handle discussing contentious or controversial issues. One person’s dissenting viewpoint is another person’s troll. When things get heated, it can be tempting to retreat to the safe haven of one’s own space to let someone have it with both barrels, but I don’t think this achieves anything or moves the conversation forward. Better, in my opinion, to take the argument to them and duke things out on their terms. At least then they won’t be able to accuse you of fighting dirty.

[Image by Marshall Astor]

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