Taking it personally

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.

(Via Freedom to Differ and Litlove)


Filed under blogging, blogs, manners, politics

21 responses to “Taking it personally

  1. Anonymous

    You obviously studied the blogging history of one Iain Hall when you were developing your list, LE

  2. Legal Eagle

    Of course I did, and we discussed it.

    He wouldn’t be on my list if he still conducted flame wars and still exposed people’s personal details. I do not think it is legitimate to invade anyone’s privacy in that way (Mr Lefty’s, Iain’s, Andrew Landeryou’s, ANYBODY’S).

    I do not condone anyone doing that kind of thing.

    That being said, if a leopard says he has changed his spots, I give him a chance.

  3. Law Student

    “…I once made a legal debater cry by systematically destroying her argument.”

    Damn. You would have made a good barrister.

  4. Legal Eagle

    So they tell me. But I’ll have to wait until my daughter is a little more grown up; I want to spend some time with her first. I also can’t afford it right now, unfortunately. Still, it’s never too late.

  5. GoAwayPlease

    My pet hate is the nasty comment by anyone ‘Anonymous’.

    It is gutless.
    I don’t re-visit blogs whose posts and comments drip with bile and venom.

  6. Legal Eagle

    I agree, goawayplease. It really offends me, particularly where the comment is racist, sexist, homophobic etc. It’s just really stupid and pathetic.

    I check out all sorts of blogs, but sometimes I have to take breaks from blogging because I get a bit overwhelmed by it all. If I’m feeling ill reading the comments, it’s probably a sign that it’s not a nice thread.

  7. Iain Hall

    Good Post once again LE and I think that you highlight on of the problems with blogging and that is there is no etiquette 101 when people start out into this interesting and absorbing adventure.
    I certainly knew nothing of the conventions and expectations when I started and I actually took a very legalistic view of how one should behave; if some thing was illegal I would not consider doing it but if it was not then I would go for it. Given my time over I would have negotiated a settlement with Jeremy of the initial conflict but at the time I was enjoying the stoush, as you do, but subsequent events have mellowed me quite a bit and I have grown as a person and as a Blogger.
    Personally I think that much of the bad habits by commentators and bloggers alike can be put down to the easy anonymity that is possible. While I can accept that there are some people who have valid reasons for using a Pseudonym many people just use anonymity as a license to act like a total toe rag.

    My detractors are an amazingly hateful and vengeful lot and as some else pointed out at my blog they are rather cowardly as well. But I am a pragmatist and I know that as hurtful as the constant attacks are that they can have no effect on my ordinary life, away from the net, and any reasonable person who reads the disgusting personal attacks and then looks at my blogs will clearly see that the attacks are far from being justified in any sense at all.

  8. GoAwayPlease

    Sometimes Iain, it is evident that an argument is going on simply for the sake of the ‘thrust and parry’ of it all. I commend your concession statement above.

    I came back to say I also loather blogs where one must ‘register’ before commenting. The nerve of them. Usually they are not nice places anyhow, eg kitta.net and TBlair.
    a pox on ’em.

  9. -k.

    It’s interesting, isn’t it? The (relative) anonymity provided by the internet seems to make some people feel they can rip others to shreds, saying things they woouldn’t dare if the other person was standing in front of them. At least, I hope they wouldn’t.

    It’s sad and pathetic and quite often makes me feel as though I’m back at work…

  10. Iain Hall

    It is worth repeating what I have said before and that is that the Blogger system is far from the best platform for anyone who is serious about their Blogging; for instance commenters at my blog are required to provide some Bona fides but and are initially subject to an approval process but once they have shown that they are willing to act in good faith They are free thereafter to comment.

    Blogger should give people a similar arrangement but if you get tired of waiting then the solution is to Go WordPress :o)

    What I find anoying about registration required blogs like Tim Blair or Catalaxy is the necessity to remember yet another pass word …

  11. Mondo Rock

    LE – I’m a serial offender when it comes to allowing an argument to degenerate into little more than a slanging match. I will deliberately insert snide quips and provocative comments in an attempt to shame the other blogger into buggering off.

    I will only do this, however, once it becomes obvious that the adversary is unwilling to address salient facts, or continues to push lines of reasoning that are clearly irrational or have been conclusively demonstrated as false by me or another poster.

    I guess the alternative to this is to simply stop engaging the other poster – but I find that equally hard when they continue to insert their idiocy into a discussion.

    It’s really not an easy balance to strike.

  12. Legal Eagle

    It is hard, I agree, if someone keeps putting comments up with which you strongly disagree – that is exactly how these things degenerate into slanging matches before you even know it.

    These days, if a comment really irritates me, I try to wait at least an hour before I reply. Every now and again, I don’t take my own advice, and tend to regret it.

    The whole thing is supposed to be a productive exchange of ideas, and if I’m not having fun any more, or learning something from someone, I decide that I need a few days self-imposed time out. Or my husband comes and pulls me off the computer, saying “That’s enough, dear!”

  13. Anonymous

    For some reason I can’t post as myself (blogger won’t let me in) today. I have to confess as a dyslexic I use exactly the same password for everything except my online banking (and those are written down). Bring on voice and iris ID I have to say!


  14. Legal Eagle

    I am a numerical dyslexic (I believe that there is such a thing). I always get pin nos and the like around the wrong way – so I have to make up little rhymes to help me remember them. So if you see some crazy looking chick chanting under her breath as she types in her pin at the ATM, it’s probably me. I have been known to mix up my own phone number, and I constantly forget birthdays, including my own.

    It was particularly bad when I was a commercial litigator – once I mixed up some digits in a settlement figure – whoops! after that I always quadruple checked my figures. Funnily enough, I have no problem with algebra, which suggests my problem is number specific.

  15. Litlove

    This is a very balanced and fair post, LE. To pick up on one point you made in it, I know I don’t mind people disagreeing with my opinion if I think they have understood what that opinion is. I know I get hot under the collar if I feel I haven’t been heard, or if people are arguing against a point that is to the left of what I’ve actually said. And do you know, when people get it wrong this way, they are extraordinarily tenacious, and will not give up their erroneous point of view!

  16. Legal Eagle

    Litlove, I think that’s a very pertinent point.

    Sometimes people get the wrong end of the stick about a post. Once, early on in my blogging “career”, someone took a post as a criticism of their choice of lifestyle, which certainly wasn’t my intention. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that someone could read it in that way. And I’ve seen some blogs with a political agenda pick up a “non-political” post and put a particular spin on it which I don’t think was intended by the author.

    It is also true that when people misread a post, it tends to be because they have a certain mindset which is informing their view. To suggest that they deviate from their misreading is to challenge their entire mindset, so instead of conceding that they might have misread the post, they dig their heels in, and often get quite angry.

    Stepping back, it has been quite interesting for me to see that while I think I’ve been quite clear, someone else can understand my words in a totally different light. It’s a danger of which it is important to be aware, both as a lawyer and an academic: my job is to communicate the content of the law to others. I wish I knew more about the psychology of communication!

  17. Kitta

    GoAwayPlease: “I came back to say I also loather blogs where one must ‘register’ before commenting. The nerve of them. Usually they are not nice places anyhow, eg kitta.net and TBlair. a pox on ’em.”

    I would like to point out my blog does not require registration before commenting, I do enforce moderation on new comments due to growing amounts of spam, if you took the time to read my comment policy you would know this. And if you wanted a nice place to go, why don’t you visit Disney.com and leave the blogging to the adults.

  18. Hmmmm…. This last stoush (Kitta vs GoAwayPlease) is pouring over into my blog for some reason (in an under-construction part no less). I don’t even know about the background! I hope it’s all tongue-in-cheek.

    Still, an interesting article and glad I came here.

    I agree especially with the point on privacy and would add that when someone is quite public about violating another’s privacy or at least gets publically exposed for violating it, it raises a question; how much of this behaviour are they conducting out of the public eye?

    In order to violate someone’s privacy online, one must undertake some kind of recon in order to find those bits of info to expose. It’s usually the results of the recon that are published rather than the recon itself and there is no guarantee that with the cessation of publication, that the recon actually stops.

    Last year, after a bit of a panic, someone on the blogosphere (a commentor) divulged a transcript of a conversation they had with a blogger in order to curry leniency (when I wasn’t threatening them with anything at all.) Said conversation had the blogger soliciting them (as far as was known a minor) to try to find my grades at Uni, and showing an interest in what the commentor could find out about my sex life according to “the girls” (amongst other things).

    Now this is what they got caught out on (publically). This begs the questions; “what didn’t they get caught out on?” and “are they still up to it (recon)?”

    Is there anyway this kind of thing can be considered in your blog-etiquette schema Legal Eagle? Or is it just a bit beyond etiquette?


    PS. Nice site. May just add you 😉

  19. Legal Eagle

    I must admit that I’d never heard of Kitta’s site until it was mentioned in these comments here, although I visited it recently just to see what the fuss was about. I don’t know about the background either?

    Referring to the other allegations above, I can’t comment on them specifically. But I see no reason for bloggers to go around trying to find out personal details of other bloggers, whether to publish on their blog or for personal gratification. A blogger’s personal details are out of bounds, unless the blogger chooses to publicise personal material, and then of course commentators are at liberty to comment.

    So recently, I didn’t like the fact that a certain blogger’s dating profile was publicised on another rival blog. I went onto that other rival blog to say that, although I often don’t agree with the blogger in question, I thought it was unfair and cruel to divulge personal details, particularly as it involved someone’s marriage difficulties. Of course, I got called a wussy lawyer, but I’m used to that!

    I try to stay out of flamewars and the like. It’s not really my scene. I also try never to get personal or to take things personally. Hopefully I succeed in doing so most of the time! This blogging thing is supposed to be an exchange of ideas and thoughts. I’ll give everyone a go, and listen to all points of view. I do prefer it if comments are reasonably polite, as I like to be treated in the same way as I treat others.

    My political views don’t easily fit into a category, and sometimes I just raise questions to see what others think.

  20. Blogosphere flame wars. Don’t you love them?

    Sometimes I think that I’m going to be involved with them for the long run. Back in 2005 I argued that people needed to develop a candid dialogue (by way of good faith) in regards to the “culture wars”, so that people could be critical without having it taken personally.

    Since then I’ve read from the Epistemological Levels Research Project that most people aren’t motivated to critically analyse their own ideas, and I would expect that this extends to tolerating criticism (in good faith) from others.

    A bit of a hurdle when good faith is eroded by flame wars, prossibly leading to a positive feedback loop of increasing anger.

    My capacity for tolerating fools is gradually diminishing as well. While I’ve long since grown out of baiting people online, when someone does approach debate with a lack of good-faith, I don’t show them the charity I used to.

    I’m not above the occasional barb at people’s expence if they are being dishonest or have done something exceptionally wrong. This probably draws the flame wars in my direction especially when other bloggers are the ones on the end of the barb.

    The more shameful the deed, the more I feel compelled to discuss it. It’s sort of like flame-war corresponcence is in my blood (which is possibly not a good thing).

    I used to blog with a deliberate, engineered naivity so as to include as many people as possible, even the “flame warriors.” I left myself deliberately wide open, and more than one person took a crack.

    I guess it’s left me a bit jaded as a blogger.

    All I really want is a spot on the net where people can argue hard (no point of reason being barred) on controversial topics, while at the same time being safe from abusive net-nasties.

    It’s a harder ask that I once thought it was.

  21. Legal Eagle

    It is difficult, I agree. Initially when I started blogging, I wasn’t aware of the various currents or even what a flame war was. There was no deliberate naivety – I was naive!

    I’ve never had much of a problem with questioning ideas (my own or other people’s). I don’t mind people questioning me and my ideas either, as long as they’re polite and show that they’ve read what I wrote.

    It took me a long while to realise that not everyone else is like that. My questioning nature gets me into big trouble sometimes. Someone who asks “why?” all the time isn’t always popular. When we were teenagers, my sister once shouted at me, “Why do you have to undermine all my beliefs all the time?!!” I hadn’t thought of it as undermining, just questioning and exploring, but I guess it can be very confronting. I’m more careful these days.

    I agree – a place where there is constructive debate on controversial topics would be great. Without all the nastiness. But I suspect it is very difficult.

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