Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Bully on the Pulpit

Yesterday, I wrote a cautiously pro-blogging post. Today I’m so disgusted with the whole business that I am tempted to close down my blog and skewer the entire enterprise in my blog paper. What happened?

My husband, who lurks in corners of the blogosphere that I don’t tread, found a blogger who tore apart (for a second time) the survey we sent him. This blogger was insulted that we should ask him questions about his blog, when we could quite simply read through 3 years of his archives and the archives of the 70 other bloggers we surveyed. He said that we were lazy.

He had other questions about our methodology as well. But instead of e-mailing us his questions or calling the phone number we provided or simply throwing the thing in trash, he blogged and sent us the link. The post was unfair, insulting, uninformed, and arrogant.

If he had written or called, we could have provided polite answers to all of his questions. Our survey was extremely standard, vanilla political science. Nothing sexy at all. And we’re not total research rubes. Together we have over twenty-five years of experience doing this sort of thing. I have experience not only in survey research, but with random interviews, elite interviews, and focus groups.

I sat in bed last night thinking about how I should respond. I couldn’t comment on his blog, since he didn’t have a comment section. Even if he had comments, my response would have probably never have been read by his readers anyhow. The damage was done on the front page of his blog.

I thought about writing him a very polite letter explaining our methodology and hypotheses, but there would be no guarantee that he wouldn’t print it on his blog. He could unfairly edit it and add further sarcastic comments, which I could not respond to.

This is truly a downside to blogging. Each blog is not a democracy. It is operated by the whim of its owner. Most of the time that is all fine and good. It is interesting to get different people’s perspectives on the news of the day, their views on the latest movies, and even what their kids said at breakfast. The personality of the blogger is definitely appealing.

But when bloggers personally attack others, who are not public officials or celebrities just private citizens trying to go about their work, this undemocratic creation is deeply troubling. Especially since there is no opportunity to satisfactorily respond. Perhaps if I had a more important blog, I could respond in kind (and provide a link to his blog), but I don’t. My co-author doesn’t have even a little blog like mine, so she has no voice whatsoever.

Another nasty side effect of blogging is that hit counts can go to your head. Occasionally, hit counts can inflate egos creating not only the so-called pundits, but a hundred little bullies. Blogs are not soap boxes for speaking your mind, because bloggers don’t have to respond to hecklers in the audience. Blog readers don’t have the opportunity to hear responses to posts and weigh differing points of view. The heckler has been effectively silenced.

Occasionally, I see references in other blogs to the usenet. I was never involved in the usenet, but it sounds more democratic than blogging. People could discuss matters as equals. There was no central operator to control and regulate conversation. Loren King has a good post about his preference for the usenet.

So, now what, Laura? I’m going to check what’s on TV tonight.

UPDATE: See a response by Liz Ditz

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