By interesting coincidence, considering a current theme flying about the world of blogs at the moment, two relevant articles were published in the Sunday papers about blogging. They both were on the subject of the lacking laws within this new medium, and the consequences, or lack thereof.
One was David Bullard’s column, "Name & Shame Offensive Bloggers". If certain bloggers are still seeking out how to write sarcastic, intelligent, debate-stirring pieces that critically examine a blog in a respectful manner, perhaps observe the style of this column.
The other article originates from The Washington Post, and is titled “Harassment silences some women bloggers”. It primarily examines what has taken place with Kathy Sierra, and that she now feels forced to shut her site down because of threats that hinted at reaching a fatal stage. The article then examines what such implications are for all female bloggers.
“As women gain visibility in the blogosphere, they are targets of sexual harassment and threats. Men are harassed too, and lack of civility is an abiding problem on the web. But women, who make up about half the online community, are singled out in more starkly sexually threatening terms….it’s been hard to ignore that the criticisms of women writers are much more brutal and vicious than those about men. …Anonymity online has allowed “a lot of those dark prejudices towards women to surface”.
What is the possible result of this? That the voices of women, and our creativity, our perspectives, our thoughts on such topics will be silenced within the blogosphere? Half of the world’s “connected” population will be lost, because of a small selection of sick twisted men
We might be intimidated to the point of leaving this medium altogether. Or we perhaps could start “women-only blogging networks”. But then we are forced to cut out an element we find very necessary and often lovely – the many individual voices of men. Women might soon feel a need to create a “sexually-biased” space because all of us, of both genders, have allowed the bullying by a type of man who is unable to maturely handle the free reign offered by the lawless internet.
At first, “each new online venue has been greeted with optimism because the early adopters tended to be educated, socially conscious people who believed the form engendered the community. Even as recently as 2003…it was relatively rare to find negativity on blogs”.
Recent trends have shown a change. People cannot just be allowed to enjoy their site, and now are verbally attacked and viciously criticised for what they write. The rule of “if you don’t like it, click away” no longer seems to apply. And currently people across the global blogosphere are debating the need for a Blog Code Of Conduct.
A code immediately takes away one of the attractive features of blogging – extreme freedom. One I would be sad to see go. But if 100% of its users cannot cope with this feature, then perhaps such a code is needed.
With any new pastime, people come to it in individual ways. Some people first watch from the sidelines, they stay silent until they understand the basics, and then enter when they feel they have grasped it. Others immediately ask about how it works, why, have we considered this element etc; they enquire while still immediately engaging in it. Another type of person barges in and bangs about, trying to adapt the pastime to their liking before even really knowing its fundamentals.
This last type of person seems to be unable to civilly interact with others unless there is a higher authority governing him/her. They love and are thrilled by, but are completely lost in, the amount of freedom suddenly afforded to them. It is because of such people, who seem unable to realise basic unwritten rules - common human decency, interaction through respect, mature critical analysis, and where THAT line is – that rules become installed. And then they criticise the majority of people for having to take away the brief taste of freedom that they enjoyed.
There have been debates in the last while if this has happened within the smaller, tighter SA blogging network. If one man’s posts crossed that line in what he wrote about a female blogger. I became involved (This is me, and my Don Quixote fight against disrespect against women. I also respect this woman, her influential role in SA blogging and how she has helped break ground for female SA bloggers). At first he seemed to respect my comments. Finally my argument did seem to register with him, as his last comment stated he feels no need to apologise for what he has written. I also seemed to have touched a nerve by analysing his character on his public blog, by him saying that all my analysis is completely incorrect. And he has stated that he will no longer reply to my “long-winded” and “preaching” (paraphrased) comments. I respect this to mean that this debate is now over on his blog.
He also said that if she does not like “such” criticism, then she should not venture into certain more public literary ventures that she is about to. These areas put her in the spotlight, and the spotlight opens a person up to all forms of criticism.
But, for me, this is like saying that if a woman does not like having a picture posted of her being gagged or with a noose around her neck, she should not blog. If a woman does not want to run the risk of sexual harassment or even rape, she should not wear certain clothes or visit male-dominated venues. If a person does not like to have their life’s mistakes tabloid’d across the world, then they should not choose a career of acting. And if a person does not like the level of crime in SA, then they should just leave the country.
To accept such an argument is to accept power being afforded to the ugly side of our humanity. We fight everyday for improvement in our world, surely then we should not let power rest with the links at the bottom of the progression ladder? I would prefer that we find consensus amongst the majority of the people. Which seems not only to be fair, but even a universal human right? Intimidation should not take away the rights of some of us, because we are softer targets.
It does take the debate to the point of asking, Who has the right here? The person who wants to write WHATEVER he or she wants on a site, even if it is degrading to a single other person, it is homophobic or racist (the example in D.Bullard’s column), it incites violent actions against people because of their religion, culture, sex or geographical location?
Or should the right to Safety and Freedom from intimidation and degradation be upheld?
For me, rather than “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen”, I think it is “If you cannot maturely cope with the freedom suddenly afforded to you….”.
[Update: Vincent Maher does a nice attack back at David Bullard's column. He does well, actually, in showing it up as also an unresearched defamatory load of "bull". Man, puns just crack me up.]