Sunday, 31 October 2010

Responsible Blogging

During the course of this week, an incident occured that has taught me a great deal about a number of things, among which are the responsibilities that we have as bloggers. When we open these sites and pour our wisdom into them, add pretty pictures, think up a funky title for the post and press 'Publish', they are not an isoloted set of events that touch no-one. Quite the opposite is the case, more especially when the blogger is fortunate enough to attract readers, and readers who choose to comment about the material that has been written by the blogger. 

The behaviour is normally this:

1. Site construction - every blogger has a choice about what and how their blog is made manifest to you the lovely readers. The buttons, gizmos, pictures and all other functionality all rests in the hands of the author. They too come with choices and questions, along the what, why, who and how spectrum. You will discover much about the blogger by how they create their site ... it's fascinating! I urge all readers to read the site as well as the posts - and ask the question 'why did they put that there?' One such function is only apparent at a point when a reader makes a comment - and it is almost an unseen and unnoticed thing: and it is whether the blogger retains the right to moderate their incoming comments. 

2. We bloggers think up something and we write it, normally formulating it as we press the keys themselves. Blogs are organic enterprises and very often, the post is not fully 'written' before it is actually consigned to the screen. However, this seemily haphazard art is not value-free, an accident without mitigation. 
 - Why has the post been written? 
 - What is being said - does it say what it means, or mean what it says? 
 - Who is the post written to (we normally have a nominal audience per post, somewhere in our heads)? 
 - What effect are we trying to cause/precipitate? 
 - What do we hope to recieve by way of comment? 
 - Who do we hope will comment? 
 - What is the commenter's relationship to the blogger? 
 - Is that relationship mutual and reciprocal, or even atypical (some bloggers seem to write purely for the soothing balm of the comments which in those cases are normally and habitually thankful and grateful for the blogger, if not the post)? 
 - Is the post likely to hurt or offend? 
 - Is the post so valent that it is bound to hurt or offend, or divide? 
                      ... and the list goes on.

3. A comment is made. As I have just stated, a blogger (if they are experienced enough to know that they have the choice) will have set the site up in a way that will either allow comments to pass straight to the public-eye on their site, or to retain them and publish them later after moderation. It is on this aspect of blogging that I think some different sort of damage can be done over and above the potential always bound-up with posting in the first place. That moderation brings with it some more questions:
 - Who is commenting? [a friend in real life, a blog follower whose only relationship is only through the blog itself? A colleague? A family member?]
 - How are they commenting? [this will wholly revolve around the nature of the their relationship with the blogger - e.g. my mother's comments are to her son and are written in that way, and it would be odd if a colleague comment in a similar style]
 - What are they saying? [I don't think I know of any blogger who chooses to censor their commenters, but there are times when the content of comments are not worthy of publication]
 - How is one commenter regarded by another? [ e.g. does the blog-only follower know that the other commentator is a friend in the real-world? I have seen it happen where some words that are acceptable between two friends were misconstrued by another commenter, which caused a reaction]
I am a blogger who feels that I must take responsibility for all material that exists on my Site. It is my site and upon it I am to be judged. I have never yet censored a comment but if a one was written that was aimed at hurting someone or offending them, then I likely would. That is my responsbility, to protect my commenters as well as myself if the need arose!

4. Safety in Blogs - the blogger will ensure their own safety when they post because that is normal. We have the last word as well as the first, as well as the 'Delete' button. However, safety in blogs should also be extended to our commenters, those wonderful people who often mitigate the post in the first place. That safety is, in my opinion, managed by the blogger through moderation of comment, and noble platitudes about allowing questionable or hurtful materal on to the site in the interests of editorial openness is naive! People do get hurt on blogs like that - deeply hurt. Safety on a blog is also brought in question when the relationship between blogger and commenter is atypical. 'Mutual Appreciation Societies' will invariable not welcome a challenge to the blogger. Such blogs exist and are to be avoided like the Black Death!

This is a serious post for all those who take to this wonderful passtime. It is meant to be serious because in blogs people can get hurt if you don't set out your stall openly. This is also a word of advice to commenters, upon whom most blogs depend! It is a mine-field and we have all been blown away from time to time. In amongst the mines, it is a joy and one to be commended in the highest terms.


  1. I ought to have said that this set of thoughts is written and intended within the narrow scope of Christian blogs as I have no knowledge or real experience of others

  2. A good, thought-provoking post with whose sentiments I almost totally agree (for once!)
    Just one point I must make though, and that is in defence of we "technically impaired) novice bloggers who are not yet totally (or in my case even marginally) in command of the optional controls available for our use.
    I would love to make my blog more visually appealing, while carefully vetting adverse or inappropriate comments, but alas at present can only gratefully hang on with both hands to the few - very few - comments which come my way. Pathetic isn't it?
    Perhaps as my competence increases and I learn to use the tools on offer I too may attract my share of "bad-mouthing" and bile...sigh!

  3. Cymraeg - if you post a link to your own blog on your blogger profile, then people will be able to access it and you'll get comments. You have other blogs listed, but not your own :)

  4. Thanks Suem.
    Would you believe I don't know how? However, I do know someone who will.
    Will once again beg his aid

    Again many thanks.

  5. I think a blog's comment policy must reflect the aim of the blog. If you intend to valiantly challenge the world and persuade it of its errors, then an open policy is appropriate. But if, like me, you are attempting to provide a safe place for a particular demographic then heavy censoring of comments contrary to the ideals of that demographic is necessary. Over my time as a blogger I have moved from a completely open policy to a controlling one. Not only does this protect my readers but it has removed a whole load of stress from myself that was really wearing me down. And there are many blogs out there that welcome open debate that my readers are aware of so I do not feel guilty about the selective nature of my comment policy. Also, I never censor my reader's comments and they can be far more critical of me than any opponent would ever be.

    At the end of the day the point you make about setting your stall out is very important. In my opinion even a mutual appreciation society is as acceptable as any other type of blog as long as it is honest in its claims about itself.

    Brilliant post, Father David. Keep up the good work. The blogosphere needs thoughtful commentators like yourself to balance out ranters like myself.

  6. Thanks Madpriest - I appreciate your words (and your blog - all Christians need to read you if they are to be balanced, in my modest opinion). I think I would be a ranter but you do it so much better, and therefore best left in safe hands!

    Cymraeg - yes, I recognise that you have yet to find the buttons and toys, let alone command them - but you are young, you will learn my Padwan Learner

  7. Thanks, Father David.

    For anyone in a "caring" profession, context is everything. I rant on my blog and to my wife and, occasionally, to my close friends, but I don't rant whilst about my parish work, not even in my sermons. I never try and persuade the dying, for example, of the inequities of the Anglican Covenant. That would be very unprofessional.

    It's horses for courses. Personally I regard my blog as a mission opportunity and, unlikely as it may appear to a casual reader, I subject everything on it and about it to the furtherance of the kingdom of God. Like all effective mission it has to be within context and must give complete regard and respect to the people to whom the mission is directed. Therefore, the mechanics of a blog, its comment policy in this particular instance, must also be designed to be conducive to the mission of the blog.

  8. Amen to all of that, and amen! Sadly, I think I know of at least one priest who would surely waffle about the Covenant to a dying soul, and the very use of that as an example has lifted my day!

    As regards context - yes, yes and yes!

  9. Noble Jedi

    I await your learned tuition with baited breath.

  10. Wouldn't want to overstate the "safety" aspect. To me the blog is an open,'public' space where views can be aired and disagreements voiced. That said - I have been fortunate to have only polite detractors so far!

  11. There is, of course, the legal aspect to consider as well. A blog owner is responsible for what is published on the blog, including comments - hence the keeness of certain parties to issue "cease and desist" notices to a number of bloggers in regard to the difficulties of a certain retail chain.



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