Controversy in Blogging: Observations and Proposal of Etiquette
Understanding elements of persuasion is key to getting your point across.
When you have a for profit blogging system in which writers are reliant on other writers within their community to help establish articles, it makes for some interesting rules of engagement, both real and perceived, regarding how we choose to comment on one another’s work and even what we as writers choose to write about.
The following article is not a dogma regarding how we should interact with one another in blogging, but rather a proposal of various forms of etiquette that might improve the proliferation of our overall community, especially regarding those writing hot topic articles.
In other words, the author is merely presenting ideas that might improve a blogging community, not attesting to the infallibility of these ideas. It is the author’s hope that the following concepts can start healthy discussion regarding the handling of controversial topics.
In order to debate a social problem, we must have a well-rounded understanding of the issue.
Noncontroversial Writing Styles
As things currently stand, the highest percentage of bloggers tend to only comment on articles they feel they can give a positive response to. These positive responses are wonderful. They help writers to feel good about themselves and as though all their efforts are worthwhile.
And if all responses are positive when we choose to relate facts, it is fine. For example, if a blogger writes an article about the mating habits of the three-toed sloth or a good recipe for sweet potato pie, there really isn’t any call for much dissension. Three-toed sloths mate how they mate, and you either find that information interesting or you don’t. A pie recipe produces a pie, and you either are looking for a pie recipe or you are not.
Then there are articles that are simply bringing the opinions of others to the forefront. The author doesn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other. He or she just found the topic interesting and is presenting the idea to viewers.
For example, a writer notices that there has been a resurgence in the popularity of bungee jumping. The author goes on to relate the pros and cons of the sport, but has little leaning to whether bungee jumping is proliferated or not.
In this scenario, most any comment will be welcomed by the author. If you think bungee jumping is fun or if you think it is dangerous and should be banned, the author can respond with an even tone because in this scenario he or she doesn’t have a vested interest either way.
Controversial Writing Styles
We’ve discussed the types of articles that do not evoke much controversy between the writer and his viewers, either because they are not controversial or because the author doesn’t have an opinion on either side of the debate, but what about when the author is presenting a topic he or she does have an opinion on?
Under current circumstances, fellow bloggers tend to avoid making comments on articles in which they do not see eye to eye with the opinions of the author. In addition, many bloggers avoid writing controversial articles. Before we go into detail about the effect this has on our blogging community, let’s look at the types of controversial articles.
First we have the proposal. The article you are reading is a proposal regarding etiquette amongst bloggers. Though the author in this article is pretty even keel about the topic and very open to the ideas of others, he does have opinions about the ideas in his proposal: some weak, some strong. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be making the proposal.
Proposal blogs are tweener articles regarding opinion. The main purpose of these articles is to bring the topic to the forefront and open up discussion, yet if the author felt the need for the article, he or she probably goes into its composition with at least a few strong opinions.
The second type of controversial article is social/political opinion. These are the articles that get very heated. For example, let’s say you take a stance for gun ownership, but you want stiffer gun registration laws. You will have a decent-sized group that agrees with you for the most part. You will have a large group that disagrees with you.
This group that disagrees with you will have an almost infinite number of sub-groups whose opinions vary from those for the illegalization of all guns to those that believe in no gun legislation at all. On top of this, even of the readers who are primarily on your side, there may not be a single viewer who believes in all the specificities of your argument.
Why Bloggers Avoid Controversial Articles
Most of the blogging community chooses to write articles that are not controversial. A good number of bloggers have ventured into some manner of proposal article at some point, but most bloggers avoid taking a stance on prominent social issues, even fewer comment on the opinions of authors with which they do not agree.
One reason for this is that controversial issues simply aren’t everyone’s forte. A small sector of the population just isn’t political, and there is not a thing in the world wrong with this. Our world is made up of all types, and some of our most pleasant citizens avoid such topics because argument goes against their personal philosophy, or it just isn’t in the range of their demeanor.
Then you have a small group who chooses to debate in a way that is entirely inappropriate. They use language that is not to code with the regulations of your site, or they propose violence, or rather than discussing the issue, they personally attack you with insults.
Between the people who are not political and the ones who engage in inappropriate behavior, there is a large group of bloggers who would like to take part in debate but do not. Why? The likely reason is that they view it as being bad for business.
When you have discordant opinions, as the theory goes, you alienate a large portion of your audience. This theory carries validity, and you should always take it into consideration, but for some of us, not spending at least some time writing about social issues is unfulfilling.
Is There an Upside to Writing About Controversial Topics?
So, should we avoid controversial issues altogether? As much as there is validity in the alienation theory, there are also huge benefits to writing in fields of controversy. Otherwise we wouldn’t have many of the news programs we currently have.
Look at CNN or Yahoo News or Google News, etc. Not a day goes by that these venues don’t report on controversial topics. If the alienation theory was absolute, this wouldn’t be the case.
Although it is not a significant sample size, the author of this article has recently begun writing about controversial issues. He had the same fears as everyone else regarding lose of viewership, but in the last month and a half he has lost only one follower. He has gained close to 20 followers, which indicates an accelerated growth rate.
In addition, he has had an increased following of individual controversial articles from people that disagree with him. Look at it this way, articles about bird sanctuaries are interesting to people who have an interest in nature. This represents a sizable portion of viewership, but in comparison, most everybody has an opinion about the economy.
The bottom line is if you write about why there should be more or fewer taxes, most people want to know about your opinions and why you have them regardless of whether they agree with your stance or not. So the potential for an audience is theoretically much larger than that of a niche topic.
Another happy circumstance of controversial articles is repeat viewership. For example, if you read an article about the manufacture of windmills and you find it interesting, you write a positive comment and tell all your friends about it. The percentage of friends you have that are interested in windmills will probably give the article a read.
Most everyone that enjoys the article will attribute a positive comment and may even recommend the article to friends, but will probably not view the article repeatedly or comment again.
The truth of the matter is that there is little potential for back-and-forth dialogue when you have a topic that everyone agrees about—a simple “good job” and “voted up” and you’re on your way.
In comparison, when you write about a controversial topic the highest percentage of the population will disagree with you on some level. For example, it is a given you will have the opposition, which is on the other side of the argument entirely, but you will also have those who are predominantly on your side but disagree with aspects of your argument.
The result is repeated hits from the same viewers due to running arguments, in addition to the increased viewership from the article being liked or followed. As a result, it is this author’s opinion that, despite their drawbacks, well-executed controversial articles are actually good business and result in a net gain.
Proposed Rules of Etiquette
Despite the tremendous potential of controversial articles, there are still some drawbacks. One drawback is that many people with a vested interest in the given blogging community, on the whole, tend to be far too “nice.” What is meant by nice in this instance is that the viewer only says what he or she liked and/or agreed with regarding the article or does not comment at all for fear of taking a stance and alienating a viewer.
Opinions are our constitutional right. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing about a topic. You are not calling the author a bad writer. You are not trying to offend the author on a personal level. You are simply disagreeing with his or her views.
Arguments can even get heated without defying the rules of proper etiquette. If you disagree, you disagree. It is your prerogative, and society gets nowhere without healthy discussion.
The following are some proposed forms of etiquette regarding argument in the blogging community.
With exception of hate speech, would you drop an author who you enjoy in one genre that has social views you don't appreciate in another?
Should You Drop Author’s Whose Opinions You Disagree with?
You read a helpful and superbly written article by an author about wood engraving, and as a result, you choose to follow said author. Let us say this same author writes an article you strongly disagree with regarding standardized tests in public schools.
Should you drop this author from your viewership? Did the article about standardized tests somehow transform this author’s article about wood engraving into a bad one? Of course not!
In this author’s opinion, dropping an author because you don’t agree with some of his or her articles is one of the most immature practices in the blogging community.
With exception of articles that cross the line from opinion to hate speech, boycotting an author due to some difference in opinion is an undemocratic and unconscionable act. It is one thing if you don’t like any of the author’s articles, but if you like some of said author’s articles and disagree with others, you’re still deriving enjoyment from his or her writing.
We shouldn’t, as a community, be blackballed for occasionally having a hard opinion.
How Should We Conduct Our Relationships with the Opposition?
There are many valid opinions on this aspect of the topic. One school of thought would say that to read the articles of the opposition is to support them. There is some truth to this, but on the flipside, how do we as argumentative writers educate ourselves as to the belief systems of others without reading such articles?
How do we truly mold our opinions without hearing both sides? This author always reserves the right to change his mind if a good enough argument is made by the opposition. In addition, not listening to all variants of a valid social argument stunts social growth, because it is actually rare that the opposition’s point of view has no salvageable concepts.
As for the support of the article, just because an article is commercially successful does not mean that it has the author’s intended effect. A commercially successful article may just further solidify the opposition’s opinion. Also, in the blogging genre, we have the ability to respond. These responses on controversial topics often carry as much or even more juice than the actual article.
Could you follow a writer whose opinion you routinely disagree with?
If we have the ability to make good arguments, and the author allows our opinions to be heard, we have the opportunity to showcase our own opinions and sway the entire article.
Now let’s go a bit further. If we comment on an article we disagree with, it is fairly evident we wish to follow it, if just to see other responses, but is there a school of thought for actually following an author whose articles are consistently at odds with our own? This is an out-there notion, but let’s examine the evidence.
Let’s say we are author A and the opposition is author B. All of author B’s articles are controversial in nature and all of author B’s opinions are in opposition to our own. Yet author B’s articles are well-written. We find ourselves coming back to them again and again, developing a healthy rivalry in the comments section.
We even find that author B’s articles help us generate ideas for our own opposing articles and make our overall arguments more rounded and considerate of all factors. As a result of this author’s influence on our writing and vice versa, would it really be that wrong for these authors on opposite sides of the fence to follow one another? It is a concept worthy of pondering.
What Opposing Comments Should We not Allow?
The quick answer to the above question is whatever we choose. We are the moderators of our own articles, but here are a few concepts to consider. There is a lot of talk on blog sites about inappropriate and unprintable comments.
In this author’s experience, there is the occasional inappropriate response coming from readers outside of the blogging community, but from within the community, they are very few and far between. As a result, we need to consider the question, “Are these comments we aren’t printing really unprintable?”
Let us say you just spent a week researching, writing, and finding pictures, videos, etc. for a controversial article. In other words, you’ve worked very hard to put together something you are proud of, only to have the first commenter try to rip your argument apart.
How does this make you feel? If you’re human, it probably hurts your feelings a little bit. But does this, in and of itself, make the comment unprintable? No. It is this author’s opinion that a good portion of bloggers are not printing comments, not because they are all that offensive, but because the author is offended that someone would attempt to poke holes in his or her beliefs.
If this is the case, we need to grow up. We are adults. We are writing for the public. We need to be tough-minded and able to take the good with the bad. Assuming the response does meet the blogging site’s criteria of conduct, step back, take a deep breath, hit the accept button and start composing your point-by-point rebuttal.
That being said, there are a number of reasons why we would refuse a comment. Below is a partial list of such criteria.
- Hate Speech—Like most things in life, what is and isn’t hate speech can be murky at times and clear at others.
- Profanity—Most blogging sites have rules regarding profanity.
- Threats of Violence—Any threat of violence should not be published and should be reported to the site immediately.
- Personal Insult—This aspect is largely interpretable by the author, but here are some examples of things that toe or go over the line: there is a big difference between calling a person’s ideas stupid versus calling a person stupid. Insulting language that has no bearing on the topic and is solely directed at the writer, the writer’s way of life, the writer’s family, etc., should be strongly considered for rejection.
- Unintelligible Responses—This is up to the discretion of the author, but a response that cannot be understood by the author or viewers should probably be rejected.
Please Stay Away from Jerry Springer
It is true that, if properly handled, controversial topics can be profitable for a blogging community, but writing integrity is also to be considered. In other words, write what you believe in. Don’t just argue for argument’s sake. Don’t just be sensationalistic for the love of sensationalism.
There are reasons beyond profitability for why we write: to get our voices out there and make a difference, hopefully for the better. This author may be old-fashioned, but above any monetary value, this is why he writes. Please keep this concept in mind when entering the venue of controversy.
On many blogging sites there is a belief that controversial works are put on the back burners by the powers that be, that they are not recognized and are a cancer to your following. This author, having had controversial articles win awards and distinctions, simply hasn’t found that to be true.
In closing, the upside for well-written articles over hotly debated topics is tremendous, and in this author’s opinion, it is a venue that is not being fully utilized as a result of reasons that are real and shouldn’t be and reasons that are a figment of our imaginations.