This is a topic that keeps reappearing like a bad penny.
A few months ago, a female technology blogger in California faced a lot of on-line harassment, including death threats. She suspended blogging, although she was a popular blogger. And it prompted Tim O’Reilly to propose a draft code for bloggers. Yes, you read that right. Bloggers are troubled by some readers, and we propose a code for bloggers to follow. Just like in Britain, you can go to jail for hurting a burglar who enters your property to steal from you… Anyway I had almost forgotten that I had written about it then.
Until of course, the other day, a friend pointed me to this article in the IHT: Online ‘hooligans’ cast a dark cloud over the blogosphere.
All bloggers have had their fair – and not so fair – share of readers, who do not just disagree with them but also express that disagreement through words that you “never heard in the Bible” (thanks, Paul Simon) and through argument that you will never hear if the discussion were to remain rational.
For instance, soi disant random comments hurled at Indian bloggers, working or living outside India, include ‘you are a second rate citizen wherever you live’, ‘you must face a lot of racial discrimination’, and ‘you must be one of those who think a westerner can say or do no wrong’. And this is just my experience. I am sure a few million people of Indian origin are blogging and a larger selection of random pot-shots can be seen if you choose to trawl through the web.
Fed up with anonymous comments, which are irrational, irrelevant, slanderous, otherwise intended to hijack a conversation or undermine the discussion, or plain rude, many bloggers are now actively taking steps to manage the menace. Some are moderating comments; some, like Loïc Le Meur, are outsourcing the monitoring of comments.
But then some people are excitable and emotional; they may have varying degrees of knowledge, experience and the capacity to comprehend, analyse and counter arguments; they may suffer from low or fragile self-confidence and self-esteem; they may have political ideologies that drive them and agendas that they drive, and above all, they may be blessed with less smarts than we may credit them for. And that is just the real world. On the Internet – where nobody knows you are a dog, as the famous cartoon went – all this is just amplified, aided by a cloak of anonymity.
All things considered, when discussions in the blogosphere go sour, I always remind myself that there indeed is such a thing as bounded rationality, even in smart people.
Irrationality, on the other hand, knows no bounds.