One thing to keep in mind about online communities is that they are shaped by the decisions of programmers and developers. From the Microsoft Word grammar checker that in the 1990’s began to ask us to consider using “that” instead of “which,” (which may have statistically changed the use of these two words in the English language); to the Craigslist anonymous e-mail contact system that allowed almost total anonymity of providers of sometimes predatory goods or services; to E-bay’s often changing listing and rating system; to the “Like” button on Facebook with an "Unlike(undo)" but no “Dislike;” relatively minute decisions that programmers make in the development process of website applications can make a huge impact on the nature of interaction and the products of content created from this interaction.
One of the attractive things about Open Salon is its simplicity. You feel like you have some control over your own blog space: You can add, edit, or delete your own posts, and you can moderate comments made on your posts, if only by deleting them.
However, unless I'm wrong (after about 8 months as a member) you cannot edit or delete your own comments made to someone else’s blog after you have made them.
So, there have been some conflicts here on OS recently, particularly in the comment threads, and what constitutes constructive or destructive commenting. Is flattery ever destructive? Are insults ever funny and righteous?
The point here that I’m trying to make is that people here on OS should be very careful about making comments on other's blogs, and commenting on other’s comments on other people’s blogs, because, in effect, that is where you are most vulnerable.
You can control your own posts and comment threads by editing your own or deleting others who offend (at least right now, in terms of how the software functions). However, once you comment on other's posts, you cannot. You give up your rights to that material, potentially forever. (Unless they are removed by deletion of your account...but then, there might always be an archive...etc., etc.)However, programming isn’t the ONLY thing that drives our choices here at OS... At least four other kinds of ethics that seem to be operating here:
- journalistic/intellectual goals towards excellence
- artistic expectations of authenticity and self-expression
- literary expectations of the creation of beauty and meaning
- therapeutic/social benefits of building community
I think the conflict comes in part from a lack of respect as to the original blogger's apparent intent. To judge a fiction post by journalistic standards seems bizarre; a poetry post for its political or intellectual integrity seems like a low blow; and to attack a post that is clearly aimed at building a supportive community for intellectual or personal integrity also seems disrespectful.
It’s not that I’m against constructive conflict or critical thinking: on the contrary, I think both are the drivers of discovery and positive change and do engender excellence, which we all should aim for in our own lives.
It would be terrific, however, if we could find a better model for excellence that allowed for more inclusion and diversity of endeavors. Everyone aiming for excellence on their own terms, defined by their own goals, in a open community with others committed to similar values.
But in open systems where the goals are not clear and the social or cultural conventions that frame discussions in useful ways are not firmly in place, it seems particularly destructive to make personal attacks on people’s character or intelligence or sanity or the choices of their personal lives. It seems like we'd be better off keeping comments focused on the content and intent of the original post. In the arts we called that “toxic criticism.” It was criticism aimed at silencing or dismissing or discrediting the creator, and appeared particularly in competitive systems where rewards seemed limited and/or exclusionary.
Of course one always runs the risk of being misunderstood or disliked when one writes in any forum. But in other arenas I’ve written in, like fiction and drama, particularly in face to face settings, we tried very hard to manage the expectations of artist, audience and the critics about what works and doesn’t work, that could frame a discussion in ways that did not rely on personal attacks. (“Your protagonist’s goals aren’t clear. You’re using too much exposition, etc.”) Even in the academic and technical and grant writing, there can be fruitful discussions about the intellectual ideas in material presented, and where the reasoning might be faulty, and where something valuable or relevant might have been overlooked. (“I don’t think you’re interpreting that data right. A graphic would be helpful here. I don’t understand how this point relates to that, etc.”) But these must be done with respect. (Not: ’You’re stupid and your writing is bad, and I suspect you of being a drunken fundamentalist bi-polar pedophile.”) Unless of course you honestly believe that humor might hold some little tiny grain of truth that is ultimately constructive, as jokes sometimes do...and then, please be prepared to apologize if you offend.
Part of the challenge for all of us, with these new forms and genres driven by technology, like OS, which is a social blog but a different kind of blog from Wordpress or Twitter or anything else, is that the rules aren’t clear, and they can be affected by seemingly small decisions, like not being able to delete a comment, or be notified afterwards of a comment on a comment, that are built into the technology itself. It’s a brave new world, but it’s a scary one.
I’m finding myself falling back on “do unto others as you would have them do unto you...” or “Do not do to others as you would not have them doing to you,” as the religious people might say.
I suspect we all have exceedingly different expectations and frames of reference about why we’re here and what we’re trying to achieve, and have very limited information about what others are doing and trying to achieve, and many of us may still be struggling with what our relationships with others here on OS should be or shouldn’t be. It is different now than even 8 months ago when I joined...because it seems like there more voices here, it’s harder to even get heard. But that seems to be the way of social networking. A big party that peaks, and then everyone goes home, some having a great time, some, the worse off for it.
I'm actually kind of shy, and am not quite comfortable calling the people I follow and have favorited here "friends." I do feel like I've made personal aquaintances here, and read lots of very interesting writing, and I've found almost all of the comments to be very helpful overall. There are real connections here...but they are more authorial/reader to me, than a person-to-person type.
Anyhow, I’m open to anything you have to say about this post, critical or supportive.