October 26, 2010

When Bloggers Bully

The fastest way to make friends and enemies in blogging is remarkably simple. All you need to do is create and publish a list called “Best” or “Most Popular” and you are guaranteed to be praised and criticized for your wisdom and or tunnel vision. The interesting thing about it is that it doesn’t matter whether you are an expert in a particular field or the most popular blogger in your niche because you will make waves.

You can blame it on human nature or spin it any way you want to because the truth is that with few exceptions most bloggers want to be praised for their work. Most want to have millions of readers and comment sections that are overflowing with discussions about the most recent posts.

None of this should be seen as being exceptionally profound or insightful because it doesn’t take a P.H.D. to point out that politics, popularity contests and jealousy rear their heads in the blogosphere with the same frequency as they do everywhere else in life.

However, the thing that is different about the blogosphere is that the lack of face-to-face contact provides a fertile ground for bad behavior. When you don’t have to look someone in the eye it is really easy to write a post or posts in which you lambaste them. When you don’t worry about seeing someone at the office, grocery store or school yard it can feel like you have a license to impugn their character and make nasty comments about their person, looks, blog and or integrity.

Still, that is just a prelude to one of the more significant issues that comes along with blogging…bullies. Yes, the scourge of the schoolyard has somehow managed to find his/her way into the blogosphere. It is a sad but true story about how sometimes a lack of accountability morphs into a very ugly atmosphere.

It really shouldn’t be surprising to learn that there are bloggers who engage in bullying because the sad reality is that bullying is a trait/characteristic that is all too human in nature.  

But what distinguishes the bloggers who bully from the kid on the schoolyard is their reach. A popular blogger has a reach that the schoolyard bully can only dream of.
A popular blogger can literally unleash a horde of angry people upon your and or your business.

If you are a comic book geek like me you have heard the expression that with great power comes great responsibility more times than you can count. That has never been truer than in regard to the popular bloggers. It is not just because of the number of people that they influence but because what is published online lives on in perpetuity.

Spend a little time reading parenting blogs and you will find numerous posts that discuss educating our children about this topic and why it is so very important to be careful about what we publish. It is because the Internet is unforgiving. If you find a way to act like fool or an ignorant jackass you might be privileged to share the moment again with your great grandchildren.
Another danger that stems from the popular bloggers influence is that their bullying isn’t always seen for what it is. The written word is very different from the spoken. Without verbal clues it becomes harder to discern sarcasm or attempts at humor. It is also different because those who are less technologically savvy may not always recognize just how many people are participating in the free for all.

In person it is much easier to gauge how many people are participating in a particular activity. On the school yard you can see when it is one versus many- but that same clarity isn’t so obvious online.

But that doesn’t lessen the sting of the words or the bite of the consequences.  There is no mitigating factor here. You don’t get to say that you didn’t know or you didn’t mean it. That assumes that one day you feel badly about your actions and decide that you wish to apologize for them.

The best advice that I can provide for any blogger is the same thing that I tell my children. Do your best to treat others the way that you want to be treated and try to remember that good intentions can sometimes go bad. Sometimes the best thing you can do is say you are sorry and move on. Because when the lights go out and you are left alone with your thoughts your conscience will always let you know whether you did right or wrong.

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