Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Can blogging be made less abrasive ?

Updated Wed 11th at 12:30

"Bloggers urged to help clean up the web" is the title of an article by Toby Harnden and Sally Peck in today's Telly.

I had spotted this item in the Guardian this morning, and quickly resolved to make it the subject of the next post. Come 10 am I was halfway through writing it. But it all became too depressing for words, arguing for a few ground rules. Why ? Because I could hear the howls of protest. Who needs censorship ! Protect our freedom of speech ! The blog is a free spirit, not bound by the constraints of the printed page ! Away with you, Stalin/Hitler/ Attila the Hun (delete as appropriate).

It's some high-profile bloggers in the States who are pushing for a code of conduct, backed up by an easily recognized "kite"symbol that signals you have entered a zone of civility, policed by a blogmeister who has signed up to the scheme. Beyond that, it all got very technical and wordy, and I was frankly not inclined to take in all the detail. But rescue was at hand in the form of a "wiki", which invited one to contribute one's own ideas, which go into the melting point along with everyone elses. Well, that sounded like the soft option, so here's what I quickly bashed off to "Blogging Wikia" , sending a copy, natch, to the Comments under Toby's article.

Toby's really going to have to slow down. This shadowing of Telly blogs is getting to be hard work when he's around !

"I suspect that attempts to simulate an MSM level of moderation/censorship in personal blogs are doomed to failure. Most folk feel the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, and are prepared to tolerate a bit of hassle and occasional victimisation. It's sad but true.

Being myself the victim of chronic low-level harassment, verging occasionally on stalking behaviour, I've tried to read the mind of the perpetrator, and to think how posting might be made a little more difficult for that individual.

I know that I myself from time to time take a dislike to certain bloggers who post remarks that are predictable and banal, and feel tempted to get in with an instant riposte. But that's hardly grown up, is it, to become a kind of bull at whom someone waves a red flag, and off one goes at full gallop ?

Here's my remedy: there should be an understanding that all comments added to a new blog post must be comprehensible to someone visiting the blog for the first time. There must be no obscure references, in-jokes, wind-ups etc that would require the visitor to go searching back through the archives to find out what it was all about. Put more simply, one must not bring baggage to a new blog posting.

But what of the situation in which a fellow blogger has been banging on incessantly about a particular obsession, and is getting everybody's back up. In other words, "single-issue man/woman". Simple: if you want to raise it as an issue, then do so directly. Summarise, in a few well-chosen words, the source of irritation, rather than engage in sniping. That way the newcomers are quickly apprised of the problem, and can offer an opinion, thus opening up the perceived problem for general discussion."

Summary:Never bring baggage to a new blog posting. If it's your blog, prevent others from doing so.

In a few words, clamp down hard on "carry-over" of unresolved disputes.

Update: Wednesday 11th, 09:30 There's a must-read on this topic by Jonathan Freedland in today's Guardian with its reference to "point-scoring males" (aka survival of the loudest)

See also Shane Richmond's latest blog post ("Let the Internet look after itself") which appeared yesterday. He makes the interesting point that blogs can be self-regulating, to the extent that people will vote with their feet if a clique of boorish individuals monopolize a particular site. He chose not to illustrate with an example that springs readily to mind, which is perhaps understandable, but a pity all the same.

Oops: I could be accused of breaking my own rule there - dropping heavy hints that leave newcomers wondering who is being got at. So let's not mince our words. The blog to which I refer is Colin Randall's "Salut!". It gets plenty of hits each day, probably 4 times as many as this one, but there are long periods when it attracts few if any comments. Yet look at Colin Randall's
recent appearance on the Guardian's "Comment is Free". That attracts dozens of lively comments, so one cannot argue that Colin's prose has lost its charm - far from it.

There is a simple reason, or rather two, why people read Salut!, but decline to leave comments. They are called "Bill Taylor" and "Richard of Orléans". They fit Freedland's description of "point-scoring males" to a tee, although I could add a few extra tags myself.
One of them - the journalist- can write well, and has a good line in wit, but only when he has cleared the blog of all perceived rivals, and is then free to hold court.

I'm not saying anything I have not said already. Late last year I advised the resident rottweilers to take a three month holiday from Colin Randall's blog, by way of letting in some new blood in the Comments section . Advice ignored - and the result is plain for all to see.

Moving on, I guess it's everybody's duty to be on the lookout for humbug, and be prepared to become whistleblowers when they find it. Here was my good turn to the blogosphere yesterday re maintaining a respect for truth and transparency: it was sent as a second contribution to the Harnden/Peck thread referred to above:

"On my blog I have the option of publishing or rejecting any comment that visitors post. I do not publish objectionable comments. - No problem... (o:"

Posted by Margarete on April 10, 2007 1:32 PM

I have just visited Margarete's blog. There is not a single comment attached to her last 36 posts no less (that's where I stopped scrolling down). In fact it's not a blog at all - it's a shopwindow for her theory that obesity is caused by excessive salt consumption, and that what we thought was fat is actually just water(!). I've posted a negative comment, but it "will not appear until approved by the author ". One is not holding one's breath ...... Posted by Colin Berry on April 10, 2007 6:53 PM

No doubt she would accuse me of hypocrisy if making a cursory visit to Dreams and Daemons. But just a reminder: I have had most reluctantly to close down the separate Comments section due to harassment by a pair of ill-disposed individuals ("point-scoring males"). The option of deleting abusive comment is not workable if said individuals then leave comments on other blogs to the effect that I am authoritarian, an enemy of free speech blah blah blah. Thanks to those of you who have used the email facility.

Update Wed 12:30 pm. I have just submitted the following to the comments facility underneath Shane Richmond's article:

Fears about curbing free speech are a red-herring, one that distracts from the real issue, but which gets referred to only once in the above article.

The real issue is one of harassment, which sometimes leads by degrees to stalking behaviour. Harassment is at best tedious, but in the example quoted, is decidedly sinister.
Targetting and harassment of fellow bloggers is, I believe, often a manifestation of obsessive-compulsive behaviour. As such, it's unhealthy, and ought to be recognized and addressed.

I share peoples' concerns for the sanctity of free speech. But if each time I stepped inside my local, the same guy jumped out, grabbed me by the lapels, berated me for being personally complicit in some subject dear to his heart, let's say the Slave Trade, and then began calling me all the names under the sun, I would expect the publican to step in on my behalf. That's because the haranguer is abusing someone else's hospitality, ie it's not his pub.

And it's the pub's trade that stands to suffer if allowed to go unchecked.

Update 16:15 No comments have appeared (the above one having been found wanting, it would appear !)

Update 15:50 Resubmitted the rejected piece to Shane Richmond's blog on the same topic, prefaced with the following preamble :

Title: Maybe the ground's less stony here ?

Comments were invited at the end of Shane Richmond's article in the main body of the paper, but so far, none has appeared, including this one that I made earlier. Maybe the blog moderators are a little less pernickety, so here's a copy:

And guess what ? It appeared almost immediately !

Update 18:50 : Have just added the following to the end of Colin Randall's blog on the Guardian's Comment is Free:

"Great bunch of comments, everybody. Have you considered posting to Colin Randall's Salut! blog ? Infusion of new blood urgently needed there in the Comments section!"


Comments invited: emails to sciencebod01@aol.com