35 thoughts on “Blogospheric Pollution

  1. Dennis Lang says:

    It’s said that one in every twenty people on the planet has or did have a blog (I made that statistic up but I know it’s a big number). What is it in our collective unconscious that drives us to blog? Have we become so disconnected from each other that we feel the overwhelming compulsion for self-presentation in order to feel connected? Seriously, how and why do these things proliferate?

      1. Dennis Lang says:

        But ego fails to explain the anonymity of those who comment who we might expect would otherwise prefer to have an actual name attached to their revelations.

      2. Joe Loveland says:

        With my flippant comment about ego, I was thinking more about people who initiate blogs, rather than people who participated in them. Sorry, I misunderstood your question.

        For people who participate in blogs, I think your speculation is probably right, Dennis. Most just enjoy the connection and are curious about what others in their community think about things.

  2. Well – I’ll disagree. First, I’m not so romantic about the previous modes of communication – mostly one-to-many. Secondly, we’re all free to pick and choose which blogs we read. If people find you credible, they will return. Of course there is the crazy. But there was always the crazy. Maybe now that its there for all to see will make some kind of difference.

    I’m willing to put up with a lot of chaff for the expanded wheat. It’s a big change though – and it will take the collective consciousness a while to digest the changes.

  3. I’m with Rob on this one; even allowing for 99.9999 of the blogging universe ranges from neutral to pure whale dreck (and I think we’re in that cohort; I don’t think we do a lot of harm here at the Crowd but I also don’t delude myself that we’re saving the world either), that still leaves a couple of thousand blogs that are a net plus. Lot of chaff for each grain of wheat, but MOSTLY worth it.

    That said, Loveland’s concerns about anonymity and lack of responsibility are well-founded; their abuse is corrosive to our ability to conduct civil discourse. You can see it in microcosm here in the Crowd, but it’s most awful manifestation is in the comments sections of the newspaper. Some of the things that are said in those forums qualify as hate crimes IMHO.

    – Austin

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Here’s my thinking, Jon. I see people being uncivil jerks in all walks of life, but I see many magnitudes more being jerks on blogs than on other communications outlets (e.g. phone, face-to-face, TV, radio, letters-to-the-editor, etc.). Therefore, I think the expansion of that particular communications platform (126 million and growing) makes for more uncivil communications, and more uncivil communications makes the world, on the whole, a worse place.

      Caveat: My view may be skewed because I’m interested in politics and sports, and blogs on those subjects are probably rougher than most. But I don’t know, maybe people call each other vile names on knitting sites too.

      By the way, you are so right about the comment sections of the online newspapers. Creepy stuff there.

      1. But what would you DO about it, Joe? How would you restrict the free speech rights of individual bloggers? Don’t you think the many-to-many capabilities of blogs, with a low to almost non-existent cost, make for more speech? I’m curious: Do you think traditional media did a good job when it had a virtual monopoly of one-to-many communication?

      2. Joe Loveland says:

        As I said the genie is out of the bottle, and I’m not proposing a catalytic converter be put on genie bottles, or a genie air strike. This post isn’t a policy paper; it’s a comment on the world. I liked the world a bit better before blogs. That’s all.

        I think my commentary has some implications for myself and how I conduct myself, but it doesn’t have any implications for blogdom. Don’t worry, I’m not proposing a blog ban or blog police.

      3. Joe Loveland says:

        Rob, you asked if I thought traditional media did a good job. Sorry I wasn’t responsive to that in my post.

        You’ve read some of my stuff, so you know I both admire and criticize mainstream journalism. They could do a much better job feeding us the information necessary to operate a more thoughtful democracy, and that problem seems to be getting worse. Still, they do a better job uncovering the news than blogs, which is understandable given the resource imbalance.

        While their news coverage isn’t great, the mainstream media does a pretty solid job on the commentary side of things. I personally like that they don’t allow threats and dehumanizing name-calling in their commentary venues. They have pointed debates on their commentary pages and shows without letting people get vicious, threatening or intimidating. Personally, I much prefer that to what I see in a lot of blogs.

  4. I actually like the MinnPost model for comments in which you have to be identified to post a comment. I’m sure you can game it somehow, but it seems to allow a robust conversation with some accountability.

    Here’s a question: the ability to be anonymous on the internet is a result of some fundamental decisions made about its initial design. If we were doing it again, would we want the designers to make a different decision?

    And, finally, one of the ironies of this thread is that – despite the fact that I am a blogger – I actually almost never read blogs except for work.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Jon, the fascinating issue you raise about Internet design is a new issue to me, and I haven’t thought through all the implications.

      But at first blush, I guess I wish they had not given us the ability to be anonymous. Humans make more responsible decisions when we are accountable. I’m not big on banning, but I am big on disclosure. And so, yeah, I guess I wish that disclosure had been built into the interweb thingy.

      I’m trying to think of another public goods where we are guaranteed anonymity. Not highways. Not housing. Not health care. Not education. There are lots of controls about how the ID information entering those kinds of systems can and can’t be shared, but we don’t get anonymity.

      1. Dennis Lang says:

        I get that being physically anonymous may unleash some otherwise sinister, unrestrained impulses, and I vaguely recall some studies from my social psychology days confirming it. But not quite certain how this translates in the instance of the Internet. Whether Newt is Newt, or Amber Johnson makes no difference does it? Most of us are totally unlikely to ever know either one.

      2. Joe Loveland says:

        Dennis, do you suppose phone prank calls — “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?” — decreased in the era of caller ID? Disclosure, and the accountabililty it brings, changes the way people communicate.

  5. Newt says:

    Nobody reads MinnPost, except its 15 freelance contributors, I mean PR hacks masquerading as reporters.

  6. I don’t understand this romanticizing of traditional media. In the post-war period its behavior has been more often than not deficient and misleading. The communist hysteria of the 50s and 60s is a good example. while the hysteria was being ramped up the communists in this country almost faded to black. By the middle of the 1950 there were like 5,000 members of the communist party. By one joke, half of those people belonged to the CIA and FBI.

    It seems the bigger the issue, the worse the failure. Media perceived the Soviet Union as a growing threat through the 1980s, even though by CIA evaluations its economy had begun to shrink by the 1960s.

    When the Neocons began to kick in they were rewarded with vital slots on op-eds, editorial boards, newspapers, radio and television shows despite being “wrong about everything.” Throughout their history they have co-opted media, beginning with Team B in the 70s, their lying about the Soviet military threat through to their lies about Saddam Hussein and Iraq to their harrumphing about Iran today.

    Traditional media also missed the Savings and Loan catastrophe and the housing bust, to mention two financial meltdowns. Something like 70 percent of stories in traditional media are touched in some way by public relations.

    The Strib and other traditional media might do *ok* when reporting on car accidents and city council meetings, but on the big stuff traditional media has been woefully inadequate. The new media environment might not be perfect, but, let’s face it, it was time to try something new.

  7. How could I forget about traditional media’s biggest failure: Their cheerleading and lack of reporting in the run-up to the war on Iraq.

  8. Newt says:

    Wrong – the MSM’s biggest failure by far was their failure to understand, interpret and report on the housing crash, which has given us the current depression.

  9. That’s a big one, too, Newt. There were voices that warned of the fiasco, including Nouriel Roubini and Joseph Stiglitz, but of course they got short shrift by the traditional media, because the TM itself was invested in keeping the game going. Of course, you could have read Roubini and Stiglitz in the blogs and alternative media, but not in the mass Traditional media.

    1. Newt says:

      Greenspan and Mudd have been on the stand this week and they’re pointing the blame squarely where it belongs – at Washington (and in particular at Frank, Dodd and Clinton).

      Still, the MSM doesn’t get it, or chooses not to.

      But that’s OK, because they have become bit players in the information age.

  10. Ellen Mrja says:

    Newt: If nobody reads MinnPost, why is it consistently cited at national conferences, in national papers and magazines and on the internet as being one of the successful models of “new” online news and commentary. I think some of the reporting on MinnPost is extraordinary; try Braublog, if you haven’t.

    Having said that, MinnPost also represents a very smart business model, one based upon a mixture of funding from private and endowed sources. Few other papers have figured out how to MinnPost their offerings.

    As for blogs, anonymity of free expression is guaranteed under the First Amendment of the United States’ Constitution. But that guarantee extends to attempts to curtail it by the federal, state or local governments.

    This blog is none of those entities. Thus, we certainly could ask all of our commenters to sign in with authentic names. If we ever started getting real hate-filled nut jobs on this blog, I would strongly suggest to my brethren that we suggest doing so. There is nothing grosser than reading the filth, obscenity, racism that appears on anonymous, unmediated blogs.

    However, The Same Rowdy Crowd has never really had that problem. I value all of our commenters, especially people like Newt or 108 or stpaulboy or KIKI, because they give me different viewpoints. They challenge my beliefs. Or, they more eloquently express what I can not.

    I do agree overall that the anonymity of the Web has had a negative kickback: lonely, isolated persons filled with too much time and not enough life finding it easy to spew forth hate wherever they go.

    I also believe this has added to the deterioration of our discourse so that we’re now treated to freak-show antics and screaming idiots every night. On that score, Joe, I agree with you. I long for the good ol’ days.

    1. PM says:

      Could you enforce authentic names? People get different e-mail addresses all the time, they can change computers and URL’s, etc. I mean, how do we know that you are really Ellen, Ellen? I understand that it is possible to know that posts are consistently coming from the same computer, but several of us have more than one computer, and we do change computers from time to time.

      I think that anonymity is here to stay, so we just embrace it. All communities create norms of behavior (read Tonnies and Simmel)–the difference is creating norms that encourage differences of opinion.

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        I agree that anonymity is here to stay, but Jon’s hypothetical question is still intriguing conversation fodder.

        By the way, I have no problem with folks choosing to participate here at SRC on an anonymous basis, as long as that anonymity doesn’t cause them to be a jerk or jerkette. I do understand how career, safety and privacy concerns cause someone to want to participate anonymously. None of this is meant to discourage anonymous participation.

      2. PM says:

        Would it be different if someone who wasn’t anonymous was behaving as a jerk? No, of course not!

        Seriously, the issue isn’t whether someone is anonymous or not, it is their behavior. Even if we can demonstrate a statistical correlation between anonymity and jerkiness, we shouldn’t be punishing everyone who is anonymous–we should be dealing with the jerks.

        The only reason that people propose to go after those who are anonymous is because they don’t want to have to do the hard work of defining what jerk-like behavior is–it is much easier to define anonymity (clear and uncontroversial) that it is to define jerkiness.

        So let’s not be lazy and cowardly, but if we have examples of people who really are being jerks (and I haven’t seen one yet, here) let’s call a spade a spade and deal with them and their behavior, and not hide behind anonymity and other fig leaves.

      3. Joe Loveland says:

        Once again, I’m not suggesting anyone be punished. I’m suggesting that anonymity ramps up bullying, boorish behavior and that disadvantage of blogs that has made the world a nastier place.

        I agree that the issue is behavior, not anonymity. But to me there is no doubt there is a correlation between the two. Go to just about any newspaper, ideological or sports blog. You’ll find people using a hyper-aggressive, intimidating tone, and I know most don’t use that tone at the water cooler at work…because there they are identified and therefore accountable.

  11. Newt says:

    Ellen – My point about MinnPost is that it remains an obscure local news source. Solidly ahead remain the Strib, the networks, KTLK, and MPR.

    I think the Strib’s new publisher has the right formula in mind and I predict he will be throwing dirt on the dead-tree version sooner than most think.

    The Strib’s core asset is its URL. He gets that. The rest is overhead that contributes nothing to the enterprise.

  12. Ellen Mrja says:

    The Strib’s greatest resource is the pronoun “Minneapolis.” If only it would realize that. And I agree that that URL has got to be the key to the future.

    PM: Of course I’m Ellen. Just look at my picture and you can tell it’s me, silly.

    As for authenticating “persons” vs. computers on this blog, I as a non-law enforcement type can’t do it. I’m certain real tech wizards know how to do so. All I know how to do is use “WhoIs” and easy stuff like that.

    By the way, PM, and not to veer too far afield, the distinction you raise between “persons” and computers is an important one for everyone to remember when someone else tries to wow them with page views or bounce rates or other imperfect measures of online effectiveness.

    1. I’m inclined to support this shift. The Internet provides plenty of opportunities for anonymity and anonymous commentary; nytimes.com and startribune.com need not be those places.

    1. Interesting indeed. Makes sense, too: It seems as though “bumping into” new ideas, ideas different from your norm, would be much easier — easier physically or logistically as well as easier to justify to our stubborn selves — online than face-to-face.

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