Friday, June 15, 2007

Jews Love: The J-Blogosphere

Actually, not so much love today.

Two articles have been somewhat recently published about the J-Blogosphere: one in the Forward, and one, in April, in the International Herald Tribune. Both articles cast Richard Silverstein as an injured party, a victim of the mean, uncivil blogosphere. It seems clear to me that he was the victim of at least one troll, but hey, who hasn't been?

At any rate, these two articles have caused a great deal of discussion in the J-blogosphere. Mobius re-posted some parts of the Forward piece both on Jewschool and on Orthodox Anarchist. Two contributors to Jewlicious have posted responses, The Middle focuses on the Forward's piece, while CK's later post reminds readers about the Herald Tribune's article. Both Jewlicious pieces point out that Silverstein, and some other Jewish bloggers who claim to have been victimized have, if not engaged in the same type of behavior, then something like it. These behaviors include, but are not limited to: removing the comments of those with different opinions, uncivil comments to commenters on one's own site, uncivil comments on someone else's site, and changing the text of what a commenter has written.

I have several thoughts about this:

1) As POLJ said a few months back, the J-blogosphere shouldn't BE the news. While that's a bit meta, I agree. I understand that bloggers will always have disagreements, that it is easy to "type mad" and then make a comment that you can't erase, and that something, once said can't be taken back. Really, I get it. There are a number of individuals involved in this thing we call the blogosphere, and everyone has feelings. But really, when we're being written up in the press (mainstream AND Jewish) for incivility, it feels like a chillul Hashem. Anyone can wander into the J-blogosphere, and we put things up for everyone to see. We really are representing the Jewish community. It seems to me, then, that bloggers (especially those whose blogs have a Jewish-themed name) have a responsibility to think not just about their own feelings, but how their comments/posts will affect the perception of the Jewish community at large.

2) Comparatively, the sniping and other behavior recorded in these articles and the subsequent posts is rather mild. While it isn't nice, by any stretch of the imagination as bad as what happens in the general blogosphere. Brittany Gilbert, blogger for a Tennessee TV station, in her blog post of resignation gives some examples of the comments that made her feel like she could no longer continue to blog. And they are awful. Recently, another female blogger, Kathy Sierra (who wrote about the fairly inoffensive subject of technology) had to cancel a speaking engagement due to threats of death, and rape. Again, this seems to make the J-blogosphere's controversy pale by comparison.

3) I realize that I can't have it both ways (that it is bad, and isn't THAT bad), and that I have engaged in writing about the J-blogosphere, and that I sound somewhat preachy. I know. I don't mean to discount the hurt feelings that people have as a result of trolls, and I understand the desire to respond, but really, can't we be grown-ups? If someone leaves an awful comment, don't respond to it. Why engage with them? If someone on the streets of New York City said something awful to you would it make sense to confront them? No, you keep walking and try to put it out of your head. Or, complain ad nauseum to your "real" friends. But why do we need to air this dirty laundry on the blogosphere?


sarah said...

On a sort-of bright side: at least we're not in Russia.

montana urban legend said...

The IHT's piece recounts proposed "rules" that blogfather Andrew Sullivan addressed a few weeks back, as if banning anonymous comments or "delet(ing) threatening or libelous comments" were some kind of new, as-yet-uninvented innovation. Hello! Has anyone heard of blog/website ownership and comment moderation? I'm not sure what more seals of approval would add to the function, but maybe that's why the IHT piece strayed away from such speculation, given the naive and shallow manner in which those original opening tidbits were addressed in the first place.

Being unfamiliar with l'Affaire Silverstein, I checked out the Jewlicious entries as well. Vitriol is not a nice thing, and there are existing laws concerning actually threatening behavior, but I am skeptical about the expressed need to create what amounts to an insult-free blogosphere. As we can see, many people will confuse criticism with insults, which can only really be defined in the eye of the beholder. This is not a society generally beholden to deep, objective displays of critical thinking - let alone self-criticism, and thankfully the blogosphere more readily allows for that by providing long, retrievable entries that can be analyzed in part or in their entirety during the course of a debate or any other exchange. Civility is something to strive for, sure, not just because it can improve debate in many instances, but I'm a firm believer that virtue cannot be enforced - (if it is, it ceases to be a virtue) - and that people with fragile capacities for critical thought will claim such a wide emotional shield that it will be used to shield their words and thoughts from criticism as much as it will their feelings. And the fact that this Silverstein person is lumping the two together is a prime example of that.

There are ways of dealing with trolls, both electronically and rhetorically. But only the latter allows us to even begin to separate and define the line between criticism and insult and to therefore maintain a sense of integrity between the intellectual and the emotional - without losing the ability for each to flourish. There are examples of forums where people are more adept at doing so - (i.e. using rhetoric to maintain intellectually honest points without yielding an inch to emotive detractors), even in the blogosphere, so let's not give up hope.

Intent matters as much as the faculties of both commenters and website owners do, and the moment we forget that, we will lose an important mechanism for striving for quality writing on the web. Equivocating between the emotional and intellectual resources of bloggers, etc., and their personal detractors obliterates that distinction and removes that very incentive from the picture - as underutilized as it is.

Anonymous said...

I wish it were just about trolls. Although I wrote about the hypocrisy of the Forward's article, I could have written that I've received some significant insults over the Internet. I do mention the most important ones, being called a racist is an example. The idea is that in order to deligitimize Israel, some people, including many who support the terrorism against Israel's civilians, call Zionists or supporters of Israel "racist" or "Zionazi." This isn't trolling, this is far worse.

Second, The Forward's writer didn't know her the histories of the debates. The insults and backhanded treatment are generally the result of strong disagreement over political views. Since most of the discussions revolve around life and death matters in the Arab-Israel conflict, as well as the legitimacy of Israel and its history, or the Arab history in the Middle East, the discussions can become quite heated. Also, some people get extraordinarily angry and self-indignant to the point where they absolutely explode at the person with whom they're debating. Well, after a while, you don't need a debate, you just need somebody to write a single line reminiscent of a previous harsh debate to lash out.


richards1052 said...

Yr. discussion shows you are entirely unaware of my experiences. I do not merely have trolls as you do. I have a fake blog describing my alleged sex acts. I have Jewlicious stealing one of my images & posting it w/o my permission. This image in turn is linked at that fake blog w. Jewlicious' permission. I have 2 threats of defamation suits by right-wingers who wish to silence my voice. I have Kahanists wishing cancer of the rectum for me & describing alleged sex acts performed bet. me & ARab terrorists. Do you think it is justifiable for David Abitbol to persist in labelling me as anti-Israel when I have made clear that I am a progressive Zionist who has as much claim to love Israel as he?

Do I moderate comments & delete ones I find offensive? Sure. What's wrong with that? I don't delete comments merely because people disagree w. me. I delete comments that contain personal hate directed against me. I delete comments that claim I support Arab terror. What's wrong w. that? Go visit my blog & see that the majority of comments disagree w. my views. I publish thousands of comments that disagree w. me because I want to engage my audience, not silence it. But I will not engage w. those who lie about me, steal, or call me vulgar names.

Do I edit some comments? Sure. Links to anti-Semitic & Islamophobic & other hate sites are edited. And snark that just plain pisses me off gets edited sometimes. That's my prerogative.

If you think any of my behavior justifies what I described in the first paragraph of this comment then you are deeply unfair.

ck said...

Oh Richard. Jewlicious didn't "steal" your image. We made fair use of it as per the Fair Use doctrine. For God's sake, stop the slander already. Look, it is in my humble opinion that you are in fact anti-Israel, that the ideas you promote will result in harm to Israel and the Zionist experiment. I know you don't think so. I know you sincerely believe that you are a Progressive Zionist with only the best of intentions. But I sincerely disagree, as it is my right to do so. That doesn't make me a liar. It makes me someone who disagrees with you.

What really gets me though is what a hypocrite you are. You point fingers at others for alleged copyright infringement when you yourself have done the exact same thing. You bemoan the vitriol aimed at your direction when you yourself are one of the leading producers of such vitriol - you have called me "one of the snarky, smug and more objectionable figures in the Jewish blog world" you have stated that "I consider him to be an annoying, lying SOB" (what has my Mom ever done to you?) and you have called me an "oaf" a thief, "sleazy" and a liar. And that's just in the last little while. And that's just me. You've done similar things to others as well. I suppose what goes around comes around...

Richard Silverstein, you are an incredible hypocrite. It's too bad the Forward didn't do their homework and figure it out for themselves.