Is blogging making us mean?

Last week I saw someone use their blog to be mean to someone else. I'm not going to link to it. Mostly just because I think it was mean. Someone had contacted this person ( let's call him "the blogger") to see if he, the blogger, would be interested in reading something the other person had written. This contact was made by e-mail. The blogger didn't like the approach of the man and blogged about it on his website, including pasting in some of the e-mail. The part that was mean was identifying the other person by name and basically berating the man before the bloggers blog readership. I was also approached by the man and was not at all offended by his e-mail (and if I was I would have let him know directly). I'm all for having opinions and expressing them, but worry that blogs are making us mean. Actually, strike that. I don't think blogs can *make* us mean. And we all have mean thoughts now and then.  Blogs just enable the spreading of that meanness. And the spreading of meanness is way meaner than just thinking mean thoughts! So blogs are making us meaner!

So blogs aren't truly anonymous. We generally know the blogger by name, but rarely does the blogger have to come face to face with a reader. You can write what you want and hide behind the technology to shield you from confrontation. Sure, people can take you to task on your blog, but that's a lot different than having to look someone in the eye now, isn't it? Once you have been blogging for a while and have established some level of comfort, it's fairly easy to hide behind your blog persona.

Aside from the relative anonymity provided by the technology, I worry that blogs are just making it very easy to take frustrations out on someone...anyone, when the mood strikes. <sarcasm alert>If we are having a bad day and feeling disempowered at work or at home, let's just jump on the computer and take it out on someone....yeah...they can't see us...let's let 'em have it! We could just disagree with them but that's no fun. Let's try to reduce them to a pool of jello! Yeah! <end sarcasm alert> Thankfully, I don't see this happen too much, so when it does it's a little jarring.

Blogs are a great place to discuss, collaborate, compare opinions and disagree. Where I draw the line is where it gets personal; where the intent is to do harm (or at least where it appears that way). Someone said that blogs are conversations. In this context I disagree. Conversations are conversations, e-mails can even be like conversations, IM messages are definitely like conversations. Blogs are like having really loud conversations in front of thousands of people watching...not like many conversations I have (I can be loud but not that loud). Some conversations are meant to be between 2 conversations where you are giving someone feedback. I realize that we have a very feedback intensive culture here at Microsoft, but I know that I have used feedback I have gotten in the past to grow personally and professionally and appreciate the people who have shared it with me. Would I have wanted those conversation overheard by thousands of people?  Um, no! (By the way, I'm always open to feedback from you readers out there)

I will also say that someone who posts comments on a blog needs to be open to disagreement, as should the blogger. I am not suggesting that we sugar coat everything and all take our places back in Pleasantville. Disagreement lends to sharing and that is all good. And when you post a comment, linking back to your blog, you are identifying yourself (or at least your blog persona). But you shouldn't expect disagreements/comments to get personal or destructive. The discourse should have a higher purpose. I learn so much from the comments people leave on my blog, especially the people that disagree with me.

I guess what I am trying to say is (from the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure), "be excellent to each other" (help me out if I got that quote wrong...I'm quite sure that some of you are very familiar with that movie!). I'm not suggesting that you remove the snark ( I embrace it but I have not quite mastered it yet) because being funny and critical can be interesting. But if there's a person on the other end of the criticism, is it really productive to name names (OK, Hollywood folks have kind of opened themselves up to it, but I am talking about the rest of us we really nheed to be prepared for it after sending an e-mail?)? Do you have to use language that is destructive rather than constructive? If your opinion needs to reach the person, could you take the time to share it with them directly rather then naming them on your blog? I'm  not saying don't blog it at all, but just know what the message is that you are trying to get across and resist the urge to damage someone in the process. I am no Pollyanna. Feel free to ask anyone I work with. I have a tendency to identify what is wrong with the world so I can understand whether I am part of the problem (by the way, please matter who you vote for, please do it).  I'm just motivated to use my blog for good (trust me, nobody gets into recruiting for the prestige...most of us have some deep-rooted need to help others).

One last thing...I'm not saying that it's not anyone's *right* to post whatever they want on their blog. Frankly, that is between them and their conscience (and also their company if they are a corporate blogger). I'm just suggesting that we adopt a code of mutual respect when we are blogging about others in our professional space. That's what you'll get from me.

Comments (9)

  1. I try not to say anything personally nasty on my blog. Since your blog post may stay on the internet for a long time, you should think twice, write once. This blogger will now be known by all of his readership as a potentially nasty person, and has thus lost trust. Trust is a critical component of the blogosphere. This blogger may have lost it for a long time.

    Therefore, I think that the real loser in all of this is the blogger, not the e-mailer. If readers pull away from this blogger, then blogging may actually help to make us "less mean". I think that the wisdom of the crowd will win out in the long run.

  2. Dave Johnson says:

    No. Blogs are not making us mean.

    I think bloggers in general tend to be less mean in their blogs than those who engage in mailing list and Usenet newsgroup flame wars. I think part of the reason for this is the personal space aspect of a blog. Your blog is your personal space.

    Like your home, your blog reflects who you are and you don’t want to decorate it with a bunch of hateful flames that burn forever thanks to Google. Flames on mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups live forever in Google too, but they occur in a common area – not inside your blog home.

  3. Jeff says:

    People are already mean. The Internet just gives people a less personal venue to be mean. The annoying thing about personal blog (the kind that are just random personal ramblings) is that people write stuff to a specific audience of one to say something they don’t have the balls to say directly.

    I do think it’s unacceptable to do such things in professional circles.

  4. Heather says:

    Harold-great points and I totally agree.

    Dave-maybe the pseudo anonymous internet medium in general is making us mean then…or at least making people behave poorly. I don’t flame on my blog, but I also don’t flame on other web sites. You may be talking about people being less motivated to be mean on their blog because they are personally connected to it, but people are still doing it.

    Jeff-I hate to think that people are already mean. I’m going to assume that you mean "some" people and not all people. Maybe the ones that are mean in life are the ones that cannot resist letting their true colors come out online. I agree with your points regarding personal versus professional blogging.

  5. Jeff says:

    Not all people of course. 🙂

  6. I use my blog to help other people. I want to see everyone achieve success in both their business and personal lives. Bloggers have a tremendous amount of power flowing through their keyboards, and like any tool, a blog can be used for good or…well…not so good.

    In many ways, as a new form of communication, blogs are unique. They are a soap box writ large. Within the context of free speech, in the blogger’s personal space, there is a responsibility to respect the space of others.

    While I’m not saying that some people won’t be mean to one another, the mean ones tend to be less common in business blogging circles. That is really a plus for blogging as a business communications vehicle. By putting forward a responsible face to the world, a person and their company will rise in the esteem of others. On the other hand, the mean will face the wrath, or worse, being ignored entirely by others.

  7. It really was just a matter of time before things like this started to occur. All I can think to express is this: "Respect diversity". I guess "some" people have a problem with that thought.

  8. TristanK says:

    I saw some avoidable meanness last week. Wasn’t pleasant to read.

    The Channel 9 Doctrine ( ) included a line that I think sums it up:

    8. Don’t be a jerk. Nobody likes mean people.

  9. Dave Quick says:

    I’m surprised people aren’t more mean – a majority of the online mailing lists and special interest car and photography forums usually have at least one "troll"’ a monthe that is being purposefully nasty and attempting to stir up trouble. I’m surprised there aren’t more people in the blogsphere being more mean just to stir up controversy.

    Luckily as pointed out in the other comments… no one likes jerks and it’s self-regulating hopefully.

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