Earlier this month, I was reading Grimmtooth’s excellent post: The Art of Disagreeing. I encourage anyone to go read it in full, but to make a brief summary, Grimmtooth talks about the value of debate and gives some suggestions on how to disagree in a mature and profitable manner.
In the comments of Grimm’s post, a now-private blogger named Xeppe made a longish comment that I am going to quote here:
(Coming briefly out of the shadows.)
Your view on conflict (and mine) are culturally bound. And not the same. The internetz is a big place, with folks from many different countries and socio-religious backgrounds both playing WoW and blogging. I don’t find peace boring at all.
The other dimension worth noting is the power disparity that exists when a ‘big’ blogger chooses to deprecate the work of a ‘little’ blogger. And of course I’m writing from my own pain-point here.
I wrote my blog for myself, and for family/friends/guildies. Yes, I could have issued them all passwords – but who wants to remember passwords for a gazillion blogs? I never registered with Blog Azeroth or any other blog listing, and I never pursued any of those strategies which are intended to increase readership. Miss Medicina and Tam had both linked me and I’d picked up a small number of regular readers from those links. I posted a total of 82 posts, and until ’10 things that Keppe wants to do before Cata’, I’d had a total of 2 troll comments, and happily averaged around 40 hits a post.
When a big blogger holds up the work of a smaller blogger to ridicule, my experience of what happens is that a whole lot of the readership of the big blog go across and leave comments on the smaller blog. Not necessarily friendly ‘thanks for making me think about it comments’, but comments of a stronger tenor than the original, already-deprecating post.
A whole lot of people who have no idea of the context of the post, who’ve never read anything else I posted (and didn’t read that one very carefully either).
No, I was not grateful for the traffic. I was totally surprised (as the blogger in question hadn’t let me know her post was coming), appalled at the aggression on display, and in tears. And definitely feeling unreasonably persecuted.
Some bloggers want to increase their readership and love any kind of publicity. It’s fine to want this – but not every blogger does. I just wanted a quiet corner to post cathartic stuff for me and informative stuff for people I play with. And that got taken away. No, I’m not going to ’toughen-up’ or suddenly change the way I feel about conflict. Is blogging only the right of those from one particular value-set?
So when you’re taking that 10 seconds, remember that my shoes might be very different to your shoes. And yours may not suit me at all.
(And now I’ll go back behind the password-protection on my guild website. Thank-you for your post, and the opportunity to rant a bit on this topic.)
I didn’t see any of the original post or comments in question and would not have had any idea who the bigger blogger was if she had not come by and unapologetically outed herself. Without getting into the middle of the particular set of events that triggered that comment from Xeppe, I want to take a look at the response from the bigger blogger, who is Larisa from Pink Pigtail Inn.
I’ve tried to stay away from this discussion, putting scotch over my mouth as to shut up but bah… I can’t.
So: I’m the big evil blogger who scared Xeppe into silence. Yep. Yours truly. And I still don’t see that I did anything wrong to be honest! Sure, in one way I regret linking to her, since there were a ton of similar posts out there; it could have been any of those and they probably wouldn’t have been upset like Xeppe since most bloggers write for a public and not just for their closest friends. How on earth should I know that? It was just random that I linked to that post. However: as I linked I followed my blogging ethics – which I believe are rather strict. So no apologies from my side to be honest. If this makes me a horrible blogger, so be it. I can live with that.
Sometimes we disagree on things – oncluding blogging ethics. And it’s not dangerous; it’s allowed to have different opinions.
It’s not the end of the world that another blog disagrees with yours – even if that blog has a bigger audience than your own.
I don’t think a comparatively big audience should be a hindrance for bloggers to express their views.
Mmkay. Well, here’s what I think about that.
Blogging ethics, Don’t Be A Dick and the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory
Blogging ethics is an interesting idea and one that I think most bloggers would do well to spend some time purposefully mulling over if they haven’t already. I knew I had my own guidelines for how I behave online and in my blog, but honestly hadn’t ever put any of that into words. As I have been thinking about this, my blogging ethics boil down to what is popularly termed the Golden Rule:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Honestly, it doesn’t get any easier than that. Do I like it when other people use their blogs that are ostensibly about WoW to cram their political views down my throat? Nope. So you won’t find my political opinions here. Have I enjoyed having commenters who only come by to complain about something that they clearly do not at all understand? No. I keep my feedback mostly positive and make sure I know the person who I give more negative feedback to pretty well before I give it.
Also, if I have inadvertently offended someone through something I’ve said and they tell me so, I will absolutely apologize for that despite whatever my intent was. I would want my feelings to be taken seriously in the same situation and apologies, to quote from Anexxia, are free. It doesn’t cost you anything, yet has so much value to the aggrieved person.
It’s how you disagree, not that you disagree
It is absolutely okay for bloggers to disagree on things without any regard for the relative sizes of your audiences. However, there are a lot of wrong ways to go about disagreeing. Mocking someone else is one of those ways. Ignoring what another person is even saying in order to push your own point is another. Bullying, I think we can agree, is never okay.
And guess what? If someone is bigger than you are, it’s really easy to feel threatened. To use a real life example, the skinny guy who wears glasses and weighs maybe 90 pounds isn’t going to get taken as a serious threat to anyone who isn’t, like, five years old or younger. The thirteen year old boy who already has a full beard, benches 150 and is built like a tank will be taken as a serious threat to pretty much any of his peers and possibly that 90 pound scrawny kid who might be several years older. All he has to do is raise his fists or his voice.
It absolutely matters in the blogging world, too. Look at Zel’s experience with a much larger blogger choosing the path of openly and fiercely attacking a post Zel made. There were plenty of other options for that blogger, including emailing Zel or leaving a civil comment with the reasons why they disagreed with Zel’s post.
Instead, it went catastrophically public. I’m sure everyone remembers. I didn’t really know Zel very well then, but I was sickened to read the comments people left on the bigger blogger’s site. They were vicious and they did not allow that someone else could make a mistake. Zel’s intent didn’t matter, nor did her acknowledgement that she made a mistake. Almost a year later, she is still getting crap.
There is no reasoning with a mob mentality and as much as I am sure they would like to deny it for their convenience, bigger bloggers do have a much greater chance of sparking, inspiring and turning loose that mentality on their smaller peers.
I did not ask for this!
Recently, I was talking about leadership principals with a few people on Twitter. In the course of that conversation, I admitted that one of my (undoubtedly many) failings as a leader is that I forget that other people will take me more seriously than I intend to be taken just because I have a title and a position of leadership.
As an example on this, I made a post just last week talking about raiding and how I was surprised at how much extraneous chatter went on over vent during the raid. I thought I was poking more fun at myself for being taken aback by that and reminding myself publicly that my own personal preferences for raiding are not exactly The Only Right Way To Do Things. And then I got approached by half of the raid team, each person wondering if I were upset at them for talking too much.
Another reminder that even though I see my GM title as being unimportant and just because I want to be able to be taken as ‘one of the team’ by everyone else doesn’t mean that everyone else will see things the same way. Like it or not – and I don’t – my words will have more weight to the rest of my guild and I have to keep that in mind. I can’t afford, in my position, to be careless.
I believe the same thing goes for bloggers with larger audiences. They might not have asked for the responsibilities of having to watch very carefully how they say whatever it is they have to say, but whether they like it or not, people out there will give them more weight. And it is easy, if you see someone you admire mocking this or praising that, to simply agree with them, fall into line and become part of the mob.
No, a blogger can’t really control how people will react to what they say, nor do I believe that in Zel’s experience Anna is personally responsible for every hateful or hurtful thing one of her readers flung at Zel. But she was careless and she did unchain that whole reaction with the way she chose to address things and plenty of people have pointed at her and at that post as being the tipping point in making a situation that didn’t need to be so ugly get so out of control.
If you don’t want the responsibility of having to watch how you say things then my advice to you is this (because I am on a roll with the stock phrases today): If you can’t take the heat, get out of the goddamn kitchen. Seriously. I don’t want to hear you bitch about it.
Kick them while they’re down, right?
I’ve been thinking for months about writing this post because I have seen a certain amount of bullying that goes on from less scrupulous bigger bloggers to the smaller fish in the pond. Every time I started composing it in my head, though, I admit that my own status as a smallish blogger tripped me up. How could I dare to take on the big dogs or make a call for them to pay attention to the power that they do have and that they know they have even though they are all fake smiles and rapid denials when called on it?
Then DinoTam blew up in my face and I have had a lot of very lovely people come by to tell me that I was very wrong, very bad to make mistakes I had already admitted to making. Well no shit, Sherlock! But is that any reason to rub my face into it? I also made the grievous error, I am now aware, of not reading anyone else’s mind. Shame on me.
You should have known, I’ve been told, that you were making people uncomfortable.
Even as I ended the DinoTam jokes and apologized to Tam for any distress I might have caused him, that just wasn’t enough for a lot of people. They had me in an indefensible position and so came round to kick me and spit on me a little bit. No one will ever see those hateful and hurtful comments because I am not interested in seeing my own corner and my own space being used as a platform for other people to shame me.
Not only that, but the people who said they were sorry to see DinoTam go were also attacked. Because that is how bullies disagree online. If I don’t like it then you are not allowed to like it either. Conform or else.
So yeah, kick away while someone is down. That is, if you want to remove all doubt from other people’s minds that you’re a petty bully.
Being attacked – and trying to escape being a victim forever
And when you are being attacked without warning, what can you do? I can tell you from my own experience, it seems like a pretty hopeless business. In my case, I at least had the forethought to turn on comment moderation because I was aware that some pretty wild assumptions had already been made.
Even with most of the nasty comments never seeing the light of day, I didn’t really know what to do with all the vitriol that came my way. If I didn’t publish the comments, that would make me a coward, right? And if I did publish the comments, anyone who came by would be able to observe someone else shaming me. If I tried to defend myself, someone else could easily point the finger at my post and remind me I had already admitted to making mistakes so what defense did I have?
Lose. Lose. Lose.
There is not a good way to deal with an attack because attacks are meant to be vicious and the people attacking want to see you squirm. Mob mentality. No matter which choice you make, someone will think it is wrong and I am quite sure they won’t be afraid to tell you so.
For me, in the end, I decided that the mob isn’t worth it. I don’t blog with the aim that my audience should be large and would rather see my subscriptions go down if it means that I have lost people who only wanted someone to troll. (And this is my formal invitation for all such persons, particularly those of you who left me hateful comments, to please shove off. I’d be delighted to see you leave.) So I moderated. I deleted. And I added a lot of various lines to my blacklist because I think ‘spam’ is a fitting heading under which to file blind anger and holier than thou righteous indignation.
I find it’s all a matter of perspective. This perspective was hard-won, true, but that’s all the more reason to cling to it. So if you treat me like shit, expect for me to consider your opinions in the same light: worth a flush so they don’t stink up the place.
This is my call
In closing, small bloggers, I encourage you to be true to yourselves and don’t let your smallness be an excuse to behave like a raging asshole. It’s not all about size, you know.
If you’re a big blogger and you’re lying to yourself and lying to others that you don’t hold more power, then stop it. Because you do. Quit pretending that it’s numbers and not your words that made someone else bleed. Stop throwing your weight around and acting like your number of subscribers gives you the right to be above basic human decency. State your opinions, but refrain from ridiculing someone else to do so.
There are any number of big bloggers who know how to comport themselves with dignity and who have shown genuine care in cultivating real relationships with the people that make up their communities. People you would never see ridicule someone else for a cheap laugh or to make themselves feel even bigger.
Big or small in subscriptions, isn’t that the sort of blogger person you would want to be?
Am I going to moderate the hell out of this post? Oh, you bet. Play nice or don’t bother commenting. I’ve got one hand on the flusher already. And this is not meant to be an opportunity for anyone to debate who was “right” and who was “wrong” in any of the examples I’ve mentioned.
Many, many thanks to everyone who volunteered to pre-read this, who did read it and who gave me the valuable feedback that they did. This post is one meeelion times better with your assistance than it was as the insomnia-fueled post it started out as.