05 May 2009

On Blogs and Blogging

Blogs are private creations that may have any number of designs. The Web is still very new and we are still figuring out how it works.

The nature of blogs vary. My little place is where I publish my essays on things that interest me. I have a few readers (even fewer who comment. ;-( ) Mad Priest on the other hand publishes a mix of news, music and commentary; draws hundreds of regular readers and has a fairly large community who comment frequently. Stand Firm, is a group effort around a particular viewpoint. Articles of Faith is an extension of Ruth Gledhill's work as religion editor of the Times. There are many different kinds of blogs.

There are however a few common characteristics. Those of us who publish blogs, are generally not compensated, although exceptions exist. Blogs are the property of their authors and are not part of the State. This matters because it means the owners set the rules. Blogs are subject to a set of problems.

Blogs are owned and operated portions of cyberspace. I am liable to the standards of the blog provider, and subject to Illinois and US slander, liable and copyright law. I am not a government and am not subject to someone else's misinterpretation of the right of free speech.

One problem is the 'bot.' A bot is a piece of software that places comments on blogs or in emails that are unwelcome ads often for porn or for sexually oriented drugs. Lately I have been dealing with a plague of bots trying to sell me Viagra.

Another problem is the person who will show up, and attack, often in extremely long and badly written prose, something or someone. Alternately these people will send up very short, generally nasty comments often ad hominem remarks. Others will publish the same few sentences ove and over again without regard to the topic and without engaging in the topic. Generally posting anonymously, these are the folks who are labeled 'trolls.'

The etymology of the term is very simple. The perception of the bloggers is that they do what they do not to advance discussion but to get a reaction. That is they are trolling for a reaction – their words are bait. This is the basis for MP's suggestion that they are mentally ill.

On Of Course I Could Be Wrong, Mad Priest has a post with a short proposition:
Trolls are mentally ill.
How should Christian bloggers respond to this fact? OCICBW Thread

Because of my participation in the comments thread, one person has taken to sending me anonymous comments here. They have not been posted because they fail one of my two tests. I require “no ad hominem attacks” and “stay within musket shot of the topic.” I point out that I am 'judge, jury and executioner.' That is the nature of blogs.

So how do I reconcile that with my comments in “Words” my post immediately below? I guess the best answer I can offer is this. My blog, and I think many, are intended to promote, sometimes in different ways, community and the marketplace of ideas. My rules and I think others whose owners have been involved in the thread are intended to advance the resulting conversation. I and I think the others who manage their blogs are not trying to stifle discussion, we are trying to advance it. That is different than simply letting any person scream. Bedlam is another place.

I don't 'scream about trolls' as my anonymous poster put it. I simply enforce my very few rules. On the other sites where I participate, I at least try to obey the owners' rules. Some days I fail and my posts either do not appear or disappear as may be the case.

In my view, blogs are the last best hope of the marketplace of ideas. Would be censors who know what is good for us, abound and seek to fix us. Ranging from the prime minister of Italy, the Rev G. Fraser, to the archbishop of Canterbury there are a plethora of people so conscious of their own moral rectitude and superior intellect that they are prepared to make others and their blogs shape up. Fortunately, as fast as they try, new web developments (cf. Facebook, Utube and Twitter) arise. Bad news oh self-anointed superior ones; progressive or traditional, we are not gonna shut up.

But(!) at least some of us try to keep some sense of civility and some sense of reasoned discussion a part of cyberspace. I am one of those, even when I fail. So, this blog wont publish comments that fail my very few rules. In a real sense I suppose this only matters to me as my readership is pretty small. But none-the-less it is where I am. It is also my best answer to why I am willing to write negatively about those who troll as well as refusing to publish them.



Anonymous said...

Jim, I think you are a good and kind man, from what I see here at your blog. I have had a blog for about 3 years and have had about 7500 visitors.

But I think you are being used. You do not fully understand what is going on. The only blogs I have ever commented on as anonnymous are all three connected with MP. I don't think MP knows what he is doing. He and his community have violated, at times, the 'rules' of fair play and, yes, "Christian" action.

You should see, Jim, that those who violate the rules of fair play, as Mp and his community have done at times, cannot expect those who have been the victims of such 'unfair' play to not use "annonymous" at times.

Anyway, it is complicated to figure out, to be sure. Your analysis is good; but not complete. But best wishes.

JimB said...

I let this comment onto the blog because it does indeed meet my rules. It is not ad hominem, and it does indeed fit the topic.

That said, I don't agree with significant parts of it.

First, I t'aint all that good or kind. ;-)

Second, I doubt I am worthy of 'being used' in any unfair sense. If my minor talents can be used to further the ideas of the marketplace, equity and justice, I am I for that use.

Finally, I am utterly unable to figure out what the "three {blogs} connected with MP. He has more than one???


Anonymous said...

MP has only one blog to my knowledge. The three blogs I am refering to are bloggers that post regularly on MP. The three have gone off MP to post critical comments on unrelated blogs about bloggers on MP. I hope that clarifies what I was saying.

JimB said...


Actually no it doesn't. I think you rather violated my third rule. That particular post does not eschew obfuscation. ;-) While I list that rule I have never 'enforced' it -- I think of it as good advice.

If 3 bloggers are commenting negatively on MP, and two of them are not in a particular city in New York State, that is news to me. Mayhap I am simply not one who moves in the same circles.

On your own blog, I do wonder what your method is for dealing with trolling. It seems to me (including places where my progressive / left wing views are in the minority) are all at one time or another targets. I have seen what I think can only be called trolling on SFiF as one example. Liberal trollers exist alas.


Rev. Richard Thornburgh said...

Having arrived here via the link on MP, and being one of the regular commentators (and sometimes contributor) on OCICBW and OCICBOV, I read your post with interest. You give a reasoned appreciation of negative commentators, and clearly state the principle that our Blogs are under our control, within the general limits of the law, (both secular and religious maybe?).

My own Blog is more of a Commonplace Journal, and as such does not really give rise to visits by Trolls, but I have recently had someone trying to psycho-analyse me from a distance without any knowledge of me, myself and I at all.

If we put ourselves out here in the cyber world, then encounters with Trolls will happen. It's how we deal with them is important. Your ground rules are clear. If you can stand it, I shall regularly visit to read, and maybe infrequently comment.

(A great random word verification required for me to post this ... "codwar"!)

Erika Baker said...

Looking at this exchange it seems to me that you could expand your definition of a troll to include someone who makes wild unsubstantiated allegations and suggestions and presents them as some kind of fact.

The problem with trolls is not that their views are odious and often slanderous, but that a sensible conversation with them is not possible. They are only interested in telling you what think and in disrupting your thread.

There's only one thing you can sensibly do with a conversation that you know will go absolutely nowhere, and that's to delete it before it takes over.

Funnily, my word verification for this post is "sappe"

Morning Angel said...

This seems like a lot of to-do about nothing. Delete the troll comments and move on.

JimB said...


Drop by any time. I am always glad to see some comments, pro or con.

Erika, agreed.

Morning, except as Fr. Jon pointed out, we are talking about people and possibly mentally ill people. When, if, it is possible, I actually want to help. It is all a delicate balance.


Erika Baker said...

wanting to help is a very nice motivation, but none of us are qualified to diagnose other people's emotional state, far less diagnose it long distance, or to "help" in a meaningful way.

The best help we can give is not to feed the neurosis we believe they might be suffering from.

JimB said...


Come now. No one, including me, has suggested I could diagnose let alone cure someone. Can you name a situation in which listening and simply being engaged is a bad thing? Take your time...


Caminante said...

Mostly, if someone doesn't put down a name other than anonymous, the posting doesn't meet muster. The vestry was talking about having a suggestion box and one person wanted to allow unsigned comments. No way. If you aren't going to put your name down, how can we dialogue? On a blog it is somewhat different but still, even giving a pseudo nom is better than none.

This is the wainest of comments, as attested by word verification.

Lisa Fox said...

Jim, I appreciate your long and thoughtful essay on how to identify and deal with trolls. I won't argue with you. But I think you're working too hard.

On my blog, I use a much simpler guide. I got it from Father Jake. My blog is my house. I own it. I built it. I control it.

If somebody comes into my blog saying things I would not tolerate in my parlor or living room, then he's out. Comment not posted. Don't be mean to me or my friends. That's rule #1.

That's much easier than all the ethical questions. I boil it down to: Would I let this person shout this stuff at a party I was holding for my friends? If not, the comment gets deleted.

We are not newpapers who have an obligation to tolerate hate-mongers and bigots. We are bloggers, talking with our friends and a few others.

Don't fret so much, Jim. This is your house.

JimB said...


I suppose you are correct in that this is indeed my corner of cyberspace as Manner is yours. And yes we do indeed set the rules. My first is pretty much yours actually.

I suppose one reason to do some ethical thinking about how we deal with these people and their actions is that the blog universe is killing the newspaper business. We are becoming the newspaper. In a real sense, we are the columnists of a new age.

Thanks for the note and the support.


Anonymous said...

I apologise, but, in my opinion, you are not right. Write to me in PM.

St Laika's

Click to view my Personality Profile page