March 25, 2009

Isn't shutting a person up the same as shutting them down?

If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all. ~Noam Chomsky

If you can't annoy somebody with what you write, I think there's little point in writing. ~Kingsley Amis

And no, that first quote is not directed to anyone in particular. I am just saying that I would no more tell Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity to shut the hell up than I would Andrew Sullivan or Jon Stewart (although, admittedly, I would love to tell Ann Coulter AND Rush Limbaugh to both shut the fuck up already because the word "despise" does not adequately even begin to describe the degree to which I feel about them.)

So, what is this all about? Last week, I was hesitant to write about a controversy that exploded between two bloggers (both gals with far larger audiences than I have.) I did end up writing about the controversy, but what resulted was a watered-down version of what I was really thinking....really feeling..... I am still dissatisfied with that post and will forever be unhappy with it because it does not truly reflect what I thought about the whole thing. I am also disheartened because I wrote the post and then? Received emails about it. In fact, I received more emails than comments. Why? Because folks were not comfortable talking about it in public and thus, having their name associated with it. A few folks were flat out scared to even have their names publicly associated with it.

With permission, I am quoting a friend from one her emails (I repeat, with her permission. I would never, ever post a quote from someone without receiving express consent!) regard to her unwillingness to comment publicly on my blog (a little-known, little-read blog at that!) my friend said this:
"What does that say about the blogging community at large? That I'm afraid to comment on a post that you were hesitant to write? I don't believe that the majority of the blogging community are vindictive snipes. But it really only takes one or two to ruin it for someone, especially if that one or two has a following of 30,000 folks.

I'm not sure what my point is, only that I'm a little shaky after the thought that we are starting to become self censoring because we fear a backlash from folks we don't even know."

Is this in our heads? Am I the only one afraid to talk about potentially controversial topics that may or may not concern popular bloggers? It is sad, but some folks are nervous. And not necessarily about the bloggers themselves, but about their crazy fans. And some of those fans are ready to leap with teeth bared and talons unsheathed if anyone remotely disagrees with their beloved blogger or dares to hurt that blogger's feelings.

It seems that some of us are scared of those bloggers with a larger audience and perhaps, there is some validity in that. Piss off the wrong blogger and their legions of fans with virtual torches and buckets of tar will hunt you down.

Is it just me, or does it seem there is a group of bloggers with large audiences who can take unmitigated swipes at others with little to no consequence? Am I imagining this? Am I crazy?

Wait a moment. Don't answer that last one.


jennster said...

it's such a tough subject because there truly is SO MUCH to say on it. the bottom line is though, that people are AFRAID to say what they really think and feel. AFRAID. of fucking what?!?!? your email quote was great- afraid of backlash from people they don't even know.

it's not imagined. it's definitely true. you speak out, or have a different opinion, and people go batshit on you. i don't know when we turned into a community that tolerates so little difference of opinion. or maybe it's all in how it's voiced?

take the site poop on peeps, right? she talks a lot of shit- albeit anonymously. and she has a shit ton of commenters who speak their mind, albeit 95% anonymously. people are afraid to voice their TRUE and harsh opinions out loud, with their real names.

on one hand, you could say it's all chicken shit. but on the other hand, is there a larger, deeper problem at hand here? a site like that, just kind of encourages bad behavior because it isn't done nicely. right?

say for example i voice my difference of opinion on someone's blog- hell, i've done it. on dooce's husband blog, right? did you read that? i thought that i expressed my difference of opinion quite well. i wasn't trying to be fucking mean at all, and i was simply trying to point out my thoughts on the matter. thoughts that did not coincide with his thoughts. i got NUMEROUS emails and other private means of communication telling me that they agreed with my opinion and how they backed what i said, but they were afraid to agree publicly. afraid to agree on dooce's husband site- for fear of retribution. i will say here for the record, that the only people who had anything negative to say to me about that comment of mine was dooce's husband (he commented back in his post) and dooce herself. she sent me a fucked up email. that's a whole different sort of example of how people are one way in public, and another in private form, such as email, direct messages, etc.

anyway, this is a very long comment basically telling you that you are not imagining this. that there is a fear. it is a problem. and it's mostly sad. sad cause see, i don't give a fuck. i say what i mean and then occasionally i take the heat for it. whatever. but lots of other people DO care. they don't want to be put in that position. there is a lot of hypocrisy that goes around our community and i truly and whole heartedly do not think certain people see it.

i think that situations only become relevant when they become personal. i think it's very easy to express opinions on something when you are NOT the something the opinion is based on. so it's really easy to say you'd do this, and we should act like that, and etc and so forth... but the moment that YOU become the person in the middle of the chaos, it's like all bets are off and we see things in self defense mode, or something.

anyway, i'm shutting up now.

no really.

Backpacking Dad said...

I think I don't agree that (1) there is a group (except in an artificial way, similar to the way in which a stick, a bucket, and frog can all be a group if we imagine them to be one). And I think I also don't agree that (2) there is something about having readers that makes you immune to the consequences of your actions. I doubt that anyone involved felt, really, unharmed by any of it. I suppose the consequences someone might like to see are in the same domain of discourse as the successes, though: a loss of readership; a loss of writing jobs; a loss of ad revenue. That is, personal or emotional consequences appear to be less significant. I don't agree. I think the costs were significant.

It costs a lot to speak your mind and to know you are going to provide fodder for bad behaviour.

Cagey said...

As you know, per our emails, I agree with pretty everything you have said. And thanks for the reminder on what you said last year on Jon's site - I had forgotten about how you got skewered on that! A great example of what I was trying to get at.

Like I have told you , I really respect your big brass balls - you say what you want to say and you mean it. :-) That is getting harder to find in our community.

And regarding Poop on Peeps - sadly, that gal is 80% pure, evil mean-spiritedness, but she has a 20% valid point. I am very torn on that site because of the 20% and the fact that she unfairly attacked a personal friend of mine. She claims to only be after the professional bloggers yet my friend is NOT a professional blogger and does not get a DIME for her site.

jennster said...

also, just to be clear- i was speaking very generally and not with any one person(s) in mind. i am not sure about the group of bloggers who can say whatever they want and then get away with it- but i do think that there are certain situations where people can say what they want and people jump on that bandwagon like they're giving out free 100 dollar bills. i partly think that i can't comment on the "group" thing because i simply don't pay that much attention.

i think that there are others who are truly dedicated readers to certain people, and follow them, their comments, their commenters, twitter, facebook, etc- so they might perceive certain things, where others who don't follow so dilligently would be completely oblivious too. you know, like me.

Cagey said...

Backpacking Dad,
I am not saying that bloggers with large audiences are immune to the consequences to whatever he/she wants to say. However, it is much easier to say whatever you want when you know that legions will follow you to jump to your defense. Believe me, it is much harder to speak honestly when you have a small readership like I do. As it is, I feel I took a risk writing all of this. Let's be realistic, small bloggers such as me who have approached this before are usually accused of stirring the pot to garner higher traffic.

Anonymous said...

I think you are entirely right here. For whatever reason, there seems to be a group (for a lack of a better word) of bloggers who seem to be setting themselves up for coronation. I rarely, if ever, comment on these blogs, mostly because it feels like I crashed the party, and the "cool kids" probably don't want my opinion, anyway. Just my perception, for sure, but it seems fairly accurate.

And as for Chicken Liver's site, I personally think it's horrendous. I would go so far as to say it's 99% evil. Sure, she has a shit load of comments, but read them carefully, and it's like four or five women who are contantly commenting, and bickering back and forth. Chicken Liver herself is awful, and in it for the glory and the eventual bucks she hopes to make.

If someone could prove to me that CL actually cares about these kids SHE'S now exploiting, and isn't just the jealous, petty witch I think her to be, I'd cut off an arm.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I don't have any hard and fast rules on this. For instance, I wouldn't hesitate to politely tell a troll to stuff it were they haranguing a friend on their blog but I draw the line on such things as "kick your ass" etc.. I mean, if I really like the blogger and they've opened comments it seems like it would be okay to say "Poster X, I disagree with your comments" without being a mean girl. In any case, I solved this problem at my blog by not approving super-trollish comments (my god, the number of people upset over my bamboo sheets post!) although I'll allow comments that disagree with me (for instance, on my post about education).

I think overall it's pretty immature to direct your supporters to a blog that publically disagrees with you so that your supporters can be awful to the other blogger in their comments. I think it's sort of disingenous to say "oh, mm, I didn't know that was going to happen but I have a right to blog about it because it concerns me, mmkay?" Or "kthxbai" or whatever trite slingo everyone is ending their posts with these days. Of course the big poster has a right to post about it but I think people could be a lot more clear about how it's not okay to go on the other poster's blog and hope their eyeballs melt or whatever. To HBM's credit she did do that, and didn't even link to the post in question, but then allowed her commenters to point people to the post in question. Which, you know, from a glinty-eyed perspective I applaud as a way to get what you want while keeping your hands very clean...

The HBM thing was the 2nd time I saw this drama play out-the other time was with All & Sundry over some sleep thing. Honestly? I sympathised with Sundry in that instance and I wasn't squicked out about HBM's cross-nursing-I also get that people are very emotionally invested in their blogs and what they put out there (biggest reason why mine has gone downhill) so it might serve the blogging community well to have some sort of public dialogue on how to handle this issue.

At the end of the day I'm pretty happy that I'm not financially invested in blogging. Not that there isn't drama in the working world, but on average it pays a lot better.

meno said...

Didn't read about the kerfuffle when it happened, but i've seen enough of them to know the drill.

What's amazing to me is just how vicious people can be when they think one of their favorites has been maligned. I mean, really vicious, death threats, threats of bodily harm, for god's sake, over WHAT?

It's easy to understand why people would be hesitant to put themselves in the way of that tornado.

But you are right, it's sad.

Nice post.

Leah said...

I havent' really read anything but what you have to say on this controversy (though I'm sure you could guess how I feel about it given my breastfeeding opinions ;-)), but I will say that I am totally not surprised that people self-censor because of assholes. I mean I barely blog at all because I have an incredibly dedicated and persistent troll who leaves laughably horrible comments. And as much as it makes me sort of laugh at her persistence and douchebaggery, the stuff she says really stings. And I'm sick of getting slammed by someone for no reason. So I really don't see how it's different with rabid followers of big blogs who get all up in arms.

Melanie said...

as a non-blogger, i probably shouldnt give my 2 cents, but I think the biggest issue is that internet chatter gives us "balls" much in the same way as alcohol might....people dont hold back like they would if we communicating face to face. I find if flipping hard to believe that most over the top comments would ever be made if the person was facing the person they so much want to tear down (and perhaps had to witness the distress, sadness, isolation the comment caused the other person)...but we feel safe to sit in our respective homes and spew vile on others.. because really what can they do??

Are we becoming a generation of jerks just because we CAN?? (I say we loosely)......I just worry about the culture we are creating (but then again I worry about the next generations ability to spell thanks to awful text-type....UGH drives me nuts)!

WT said...

You are right, while the A-list bloggers are no more immune to writing poor (or straight out lame) posts than the rest of us, it's their overprotective attack sheeple that are the real problem.

I find it best to avoid mommy blogs as I haven't had my rabies shots (except Chicken Liver's, I do love me some bloodsports).

Average Jane said...

I actually did comment on the original post about which you wrote your post (is that confusing enough for you?). However, I do find myself hesitating to comment on certain posts and topics in the blogosphere because, a) I know they'll be around forever and, b) I don't want to draw trolls over to my own blog.

Anjali said...

Sometimes I think "Hmmm, I read only small blogs, maybe I should check out what others with bigger audiences have to say?"

Thanks for the post. I think I'll continue to live in my incredibly sheltered mini-blogosphere.

MLE said...

This is why I almost never comment at blogs with large readerships (agirlandaboy is the only one but I know her personally). I may have a lot to say about an issue but have no desire to have the sheeple come find me; I am quite content in my teeny low-readership corner of the blogosphere.

I think it's really too bad that so much of what people write or say is driven by the perception that other people will judge them negatively and might adversely affect their traffic (and therefore revenue). I won't join the blogher ad network (like they'd even want me, ha!) because I already feel like I have to censor myself from certain people who read my blog (Dan's parents and grandmother, my mom) and wouldn't want the added pressure of having to write something that would generate income. Hurt feelings and social ostracism are one thing, but if my income came from my blog, I'd feel really restricted from getting to write what I wanted.

margalit said...

I absolutely self censor. I've been on the nasty end of a couple of what used to be A-list bloggers. One was a polite disagreement and she tore me apart limb from limb, then had her posse skewer me on EVERY single comment I ever left anywhere for about 2 years. My solution was to stop reading ANY of the 'blogher' bloggers. One example of how bad it got? I was working for a corp. blog and was hiring someone to blog for us, and offered the job to a then local blogger. She came back with the nastiest, most INSANE rhetoric about how she could never work for me because I attacked a friend of hers and I went evil on her friend, blah blah blah. I didn't even have a clue as to whom she was referring to and asked her and she sent back one of the nastiest, most profane emails I've ever gotten. I then found out that she was a serious liar and has some problems with reality. Stopped reading her, and was a lot happier for it.

I learned about 4 years ago, early on in blogging, that ANY disagreement with the Queens of blogher were not allowed and would earn you serious hate on the net. Thing is, I've been on the net since 1986 and if you think bloggers are nasty, you wouldn't believe the posters on Usenet. These bloggers are really not hardcore at all, and all this bluster is freaking lame.

As for Chicken Liver, as one of her prime attackees, it's obvious that there are very few actual commenters and the same people are commenting as many different anonymous names. For the most part they are barely literate, they don't have a clue that what they read are partial portraits of families and people. I've rarely seen such a sad group of people who need to build themselves up by tearing people down. And the funniest thing? They say such horrible things about my children, both of whom keep tabs on the site. THEY are about 5000 times more toxic to my kids who are so incensed about that site, and yet they console themselves for their assholery by saying its "for the children." Guess they don't know that children read. And know how to track blog visitors.

For the children, my ass. It's for their own sick egos.

kristen said...

So I just caught up on all this controversy and like Anjali I only read small blogs for this very reason. I read my friend's blogs to keep up with what is happening in their lives and a few others that I feel I have something in common with.

I read your blog because you have a daughter the same age as my son and I love to see how different and the same our lives are. You have a different parenting style than I do but I get ideas from and quiet some of my worries by reading about your family.

The blogosphere and blogs with big readerships stuff just seems like the cheerleaders versus the drill team gossip fights from high school only more grown up and more vicious.

I enjoy hearing different people's opinion on controversial topics and I think it expands all of our minds to see different sides to a story but personal attacks are just a hurtful waste of time. Think of all the good that could be accomplished with the time that was spent trying to rip each other apart.

Okay Pollyanna moment over. I like your blog and I like when you fully speak your mind (in a non hurtful way) even if I disagree with you.