Monday, July 30, 2012

The Online Civil War

Within the blogging world, there have always been two types of bloggers: those who allow anything, and those who have rules.

I think everyone starts out open to everything. Then, you get your first determined asshole who won’t leave you alone, you get the insults, the death threats, the rape threats, the threats against your family and pets… and most people buckle.

As a blog gets more traffic, the odds of it picking up some psychos (or wanna-be psychos) increases. This ultimately drives the conversion from openness to restriction, because people generally blog for a reason. They want to share their ideas, to reach out to people, to fight for a cause, to find people they can relate to, to entertain people, to engage in philosophical debate, or to just have fun. I don’t know anyone who blogs to get hate mail.

It seems simple, but here are a few twists to keep in mind…

Through talking with other bloggers about it, I hear you get far more violent hate mail from “Anonymous” sources if you put up restrictions, especially on comments. Many bloggers have the experience of banning someone, and then “mysteriously” getting a lot of angry e-mails about what someone “wishes” would happen to such an evil, evil censor.

Then you also have people who legitimately censor ideas, not just uncivil remarks, all under the guise of “maintaining a *insert lame adjective* environment.” I’ve seen comments deleted that contained no insults, no vulgarity, no sarcasm, no… anything but polite and direct disagreement. This kind of behavior gives those “civility censors” a bad name, because it’s damn near impossible as a partially informed observer to distinguish between the two at times.

If you’re like me, and you oppose any sort of comment moderation or censorship, you have to deal with a few realities. One is that some types of people won’t comment on, or even read, your blog anymore. It’s unfortunate, because my goal isn’t to alienate anyone… which is why I don’t censor anyone.

I don’t understand what is so hard about laughing at an asshole. If someone says something mean to you… who cares? I mean, Jesus Fucking Christ, people… it’s the internet. The odds are the other person is probably twelve years old, mentally handicapped, or a trained chicken. If “Mr. Fartcheese” thinks you should “fuck a cactus,” take it for what it is: hilarious. It’s nice to have a little comic relief when talking about such heavy topics.

While I think it’s pointless to try too hard to have a serious discussion online (it can happen, but there’s no sense in trying to force it…), I don’t think suppressing any opinion – no matter how “offensive” or “rude” – can be part of a serious discussion.

I understand the other side. I get that they want to avoid having the same arguments. No one likes doing laps around the same fallacies week after week after week… but if you’re bored by the opposition, maybe you should make the effort to say something unique. If you keep hearing the same replies, maybe it’s because you need to say something original.

While I would like to think I’m right, I’m not really hurt by what other people censor on their personal web space. If someone wants to be a little Inquisitor, that’s their business. Those who do censor their blogs should know that people like me do still see it as more than simply black and white, though.

I can see the difference banning someone who persistently insults others and banning someone for persistently disagreeing. I can see the difference between banning a person for making death threats and banning a person for being “obtuse” (true story…).

Ultimately, I can also see when rules are selectively applied. If someone you agree with is allowed to call a person “dumb,” but if someone you disagree with calls someone “stupid” and gets banned… I can see the difference, and so can everyone else.

What I have noticed is a strange trend of people who publicly say they’re against “bullies” or “uncivil behavior,” but then their actions indicate that they defend bullies and uncivil behavior, so long as it is in the name of their chosen cause. I’ve seen it from Christians, atheists, people who oppose homosexuality, the LGBT community, gun owners, gun control advocates, liberals, conservatives… it’s really the only thing all these groups have in common.

No matter what you support, there are those who are liable to let their agenda warp their ethics and compel them to apply “principles” in a very selective manner. What’s more, these hypocrites give everyone else a bad name, especially those who restrict speech on their sites in the name of courtesy.

But the worst is a strange phenomenon of people who clearly don’t get what “blogging” is really about. If you want to spit angry vitriol and not allow anyone to say anything in opposition… write a fucking book. Online writing is enriched by the give-and-take dynamic, and treat the internet as your own personal pulpit (as opposed to a soapbox we all share), then I have no respect for you, and I hope you struggle to find readers.

Still, I think it comes down to a simple rule: if you’re going to insult people in your posts or allow your friends to do so in the comments, have the integrity to open up your comment to insults.


  1. Mr. Fartcheese7/30/2012 5:34 PM

    Fuck a cactus

  2. Definitely more in line with my own thoughts. I recently had a discussion (that I need to get back to) where the person I was talking to said that there was no reason to have one set of standards that applied to all people - friends and enemies. They saw having double standards as a good thing. I think this is a lot of what you bring up - as long as "they" are on "our" side, then, anything goes. But if "they" are "them" - crucify them for their behavior. I don't know whether this is a new trend that is getting more common, consistent with more polarization in our culture, or if this is old and I'm just seeing it more due to awareness.


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