Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Mob Mentality in Blogging

In the post below, I stated
[Shouting people down] is essentially a low-grade form of speech terrorism - designed to disrupt and disturb the lives of anyone around it, hurting the victim of their tirades more than anyone else. It keeps the victims from spreading their ideas, and keeps anyone who wants to hear them from hearing their ideas. It restricts all dialogue. It is, quite simply, wrong.
To some extent, blogging is the complete reverse of a mob squad. Online, all voices can be heard. There is no true "shouting down" of another, which is (usually) a very positive effect. Unfortunately, though, there are some people who do practice a form of shouting down others, even on blogs. This can be done in any number of ways, all of them simply contemptful to different degrees. Some accomplish this by degrading others while in dialogue; some call people names; a few make false claims as to the opinion of another, then proceed to mock it; others simply misrepresent what the person was saying or trying to say, or spin the focus of the person's point to something else entirely. Sometimes, this is done innocently - the blogger simply misunderstood what the person was saying, and they proceeded to attack that misunderstood point - but all too often, this is done specifically to mock or degrade the other person and his/her ideas.

But thankfully, the blogosphere is quite large, and while there are those who do practice such mean-spirited stupidity, it is quite easy to avoid them. I've always liked Miriam & PsychoToddler's answers as to why they love the J-blogosphere:
It's like a place you drop in on and numerous interesting conversations are going on. You know most of the people there -- or even if you don't know them, you are welcome to join in the discussions. You can go to one table and talk about politics; another one and have an earnest discussion about religion. ...

A while back I described blogging as "targeted socializing." I can have conversations with people anywhere about topics that are actually of interest to both of us. I'm not confined to the nonsensical small talk of people I happen to come in contact with in the real world. And when the conversation becomes boring, I leave. In the real world, I'm often stuck staring at someone who really doesn't interest me.
In the blogosphere, you can always walk away whenever you want... and your voice can still be heard. Perhaps it won't ever be heard on that blog again, but that's fine - it doesn't need to be. People tend not to respect blogs which mock and show disdain for others. Those who do respect such blogs are likely not the people whose respect you'd want to look for, anyway.

I think that one of blogging's biggest strengths is its ability to let any voice be heard. Yes, there are those blogs and bloggers who have been shut down by other people knocking down their sites, by people threatening them in "real life", by dictators and governments, etc. - but even these are rare, and what cannot shut a blogger down is the mob mentality. A blogger cannot be shouted down by a group of immature morons, whether they are college students or grown-ups sitting at their desks. Blogs are a place where one can say their piece and state their opinion - clearly, calmly, confidently.

Krum (as a Bagel) wrote an interesting post on a similar subject a few weeks ago. Check it out.


  1. The internet is still a relatively new human space. The rules for civil interaction are still being felt out, still being explored. This may be a cliché, but it bears repeating: some of the internet's greatest strengths are its greatest weaknesses.

    Anonymity can give people the courage to say important things that need to be heard; but it can also be used as a cloak to hide cowards who attack with fabrication and malice.

    And the fact that everyone has a voice? For all the reasons you point out, it can be a wonderful, liberating, democratizing force. But at the same time, the 911 Conspiracy movement owes its strength to the fact that... well... anyone can have a voice.

    I'd like to direct your attention to this article:

    This incident of web rage should serve as a reminder that we can never feel 100% safe and secure.

    But incidents such as that are anomalies. And by and large, I agree fully with your post. The internet is one place where might doesn't always make right. We are the pioneers of this new space, and as we make our voices heard, try to set good examples, and police each other, we shape the culture of the internet.

    I'm relatively new to blogging myself, but it's heartening to see so many others interested in civil discourse. Great post, Ezzie.

  2. LT - Well put, all of it. Welcome to the J-blogosphere - I saw your guys' blog yesterday through Shoshana... so far, so good.

    Yes, there are exceptions. I'm just giving the overall picture. And I know that everyone having a voice gives kooks the ability to say their stupidity as well. But we also have the opportunity to ignore and marginalize those people.