My postmodern side should be more comfortable with this paradox, but I still struggle with the ways in which the blogosphere (and the rest of the internets) can be such a beneficial and frustrating place, all at the same time. 

Finding My Tribe

For someone like me who works in vocational church ministry, the blogosphere can be a very life-giving place. Church work can be isolating and discouraging.  Over the last couple of years, connecting with like-minded friends and colleagues from around the country has carried me through tough times.

Friends from The Idea Camp tribe (#ideacampers are the best!) regularly encourage, inspire and challenge me. The ethos of collaboration and innovation, especially from within the IC tribe, have been reason enough for me to remain active in the Twitterverse.

Static Prevails

But, then, there’s the flipside…

The internet can be a very, very noisy and ugly place (perhaps that’s part of the reason Google rose to such prominence — their search engine allowed us, at least a bit, to cut through the noise).  We only need to look at the recent false arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in his own home and the ensuing noise that followed to see how quickly things can devolve.

I’ve had to stop reading the anonymous, cowardly ranting of various commenters by the the third or fourth comment of each article I’ve seen.  Any semblance of constructive dialogue about race and reconciliation devolves into name-calling, finger-pointing and other childish tactics.  This article from Sojourners makes the following observation:

Henry Louis Gates Jr. may understand the racial context of this story better than anyone else in America, but to most readers he’s just another black guy playing the race card.

Ironically, in the comment sections that follow, commenters accuse Professor Gates of playing the race card.

In the comments section to this article about the growing injustice of human trafficking, after ranting about border policies and building bigger walls, some angry commenters blame victims for the crime of human trafficking.  Unreal.

Everything In Moderation

Because of the vitriol and trolling they’ve experienced, some prominent figures have dropped out of the blogosphere in recent years. But, short of dropping out completely or (gasp) engaging in actual constructive dialogue, what can we do?

I am by no means an expert in the field of comment moderation: I just know what I appreciate from different sites I frequent, particularly sites that allow readers to filter out low-rated, off-topic or senseless comments.  This crowdsourcing approach relies on the community to separate the wheat from the chaff — everything from the strange phenomenon of exclaiming “FIRST COMMENT!” to spiteful personal attacks will be voted down by readers who are interested in the topic at hand.

Clive Thompson describes a few interesting approaches in this Wired article, The Taming of the Comment Trolls, including “disemvoweling”:

Whenever Nielsen Hayden encounters a nasty post—an ad hominem attack, for example—she leaves it up but removes all the vowels: y r fckng sshl, for example. The result is incoherent enough that it’s neutered, yet coherent enough that no one can cry censorship. The comment hasn’t vanished.

Best of all, because disemvoweling is visible, it trains the community. “You’re teaching the other commenters what the lines are by showing them comments that have stepped over the line,” Nielsen Hayden says.

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If noise needs to be brought, rather than ranting anonymously online, I recommend following Public Enemy’s lead: