I’ve read a couple of posts recently about blogging etiquette, and a proposed code of conduct (in light of some particularly unpleasant incidents in the American blogosphere).
It made me think about political arguments in my family. Different people have different thresholds. My sister always hated political arguments in a family context. For one thing, she wasn’t good at responding on the spot, and usually needed to go off and think about things before she could think of a counter-argument (which, I can tell you, is not necessarily a bad thing). But if you put her on the spot, she’d often lash out. For another thing, she couldn’t help getting upset by disagreement, and arguments would usually end in tears. Whereas Mum, Dad and I would always end up shouting over the top of one another, gleefully trying to get our points across. (I can just see my sister narrowing her eyes at this picture and saying, “Humph!”).
So, these days, I respect the fact that my sister doesn’t like engaging in such arguments, and try not to spring them on her. I believe that she reads my blog reasonably regularly – that’s a much nicer way we can have a political discussion. She can go off and think about my posts, and she sometimes gives me a call to tell me what she thinks a few days later… That’s a good thing about the medium of the blog. It can be a less confrontational way of having a political discussion.
These days, I try to be a lot more respectful of others – I used to make a practice of attempting to demolish points of view with which I disagreed. Because I’m a mean debater when I get going, I’d often do quite well, but I wouldn’t win friends and influence people…and what’s the point if you don’t persuade people that your view has validity? I am ordinarily very gentle in person, but I once made a legal debater cry by systematically destroying her argument. Not because I wanted to be mean – I just wanted to point out the flaws in her argument. Perhaps I was a little too thorough. Now I try to listen to other points of view more. Hence my varied and politically diverse blogroll.
I don’t get hurt by people disagreeing with my point of view, as long as I get a feeling that the commenter has carefully read my opinion. There are a few issues where someone manages to push my buttons, particularly where there is a personal reason behind my opinion. But I always try to think about my response, and try to think whether I am being reasonable. I’m always happy to admit I’m wrong if someone can show me why.
However, the less confrontational medium of the blog can allow people to hide behind anonymity and be really nasty towards other bloggers (in ways which they wouldn’t dare in the “real world”). One thing I dislike is personal attacks on other bloggers, as I’ve explained in a previous post. (Even where that blogger has personally attacked others, or doesn’t listen to others.) The problem is that it’s sometimes hard to draw a line between someone’s beliefs and someone’s personal life – someone’s beliefs can be intrinsic to their identity. It is particularly difficult where a blogger discloses personal details about himself or herself on the web. By making these issues public, are they fair game? Only to an extent. I would suggest that the following types of conduct are inappropriate:
- Invasions of privacy (publishing a blogger’s home address and personal details);
- Related to the above: attacks on (and revelations about) third parties associated with a blogger (particularly a blogger’s family);
- Racist, sexist and homophobic abuse (so, for example, a blogger may say, “I strongly disagree with the concept of gay marriage”, but one should not say “Gays should be exterminated”);
- Stealing a blogger’s site, or mirroring a blogger’s site to try and steal traffic (although it is legitimate to set up a mirror-site to comment on or satirize the original site, as long as it is obvious that it is not the original site);
- Pretending to be a blogger and stealing his or her alias;
- Comments which threaten physical violence towards a blogger;
- Comments which are generally abusive and do not respond constructively to comment threads or the arguments of others.
It seems to me that in the end, it all comes down to good old-fashioned manners. Respect your fellow bloggers, and treat them as you would have them treat you.