This past Friday, I was moved to write about the happenings in Egypt and the ways in which social media brings situations like this to a larger stage in a post that I called Social Media’s Role in the Egyptian Protests. Someone left a comment that has been stuck in my mind for two days now: Can Aka noted that my post was “very brave.”
At first, the notion that something, anything, I wrote being brave seemed strange to me. I certainly didn’t feel brave writing it. I felt like I was trying to do something good, to spread a message of hope to my readers, but brave implies that I was afraid, that it took courage for me to write the post. And it didn’t.
But maybe I’m being naive. Maybe blogging is brave. Maybe we should all be afraid, at least a little.
The Right to Blog
In Egypt, the Internet has been shut off. As far as I can tell, the people still do not have access, and it was fairly easy for the government to do. When their access started to be limited, late last week, and then slowly it disappeared altogether, I saw a lot of people on Twitter and Facebook talking about how they are thankful they live in a country where something like that could never happen.
Those of us in America are especially vocal about our freedom of speech rights, and while I think the law pretty clearly allows us that freedom on a blog, does the law require the government to ensure that we have access to the Internet or to any specific site? I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t answer that, but it sounds like the ability to own and run a blog is more of a privilege than a right.
The Consequences of Our Words
This goes deeper than government control, however. In North America and Europe, it may seem unfathomable to think that the government can just shut own blogs willy nilly. But that doesn’t mean that everyone will like what we have to say. Rhetoric can be a dangerous thing, and I think as bloggers, we’re really vocal without understanding the power of our words sometimes. Think about all of the talk surrounding Gabrielle Giffords being shot, and media outlets examining the role that politicians and journalists have played in the current political atmosphere of hate. We may not be journalists, at least not in the traditional sense, but we do have readers who follow our advice.
Let me ask you this – what would happen if one of the more popular bloggers out there, someone with hundreds of thousands or even millions of fans, snapped and wrote a piece slamming another blogger? Would that blogger get virtually attacked by fans? Yes, it is safe to say that people would react to support their blogging idol.
What if the first blogger said in his/her post that the other blogger deserved to die? Would someone pick up a gun?
That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? I would like to think the answer is no, but I just don’t know. I don’t know that someone with strong supporters doesn’t have that kind of fan, that slightly “off” person who thinks that violence is one way to solve a problem. I don’t know.
And the problem is that we are extremely outspoken to the point of exaggeration sometimes. If you ever watched Keith Olbermann’s show on MSNBC (before he left earlier this month), you know whtat he did this feature called “The Worst People in the World.” Were these really the worst people out there? Not really. He featured some dumbass jerks, but it was just a catchy title to a news segment. I could very well write something that I call “The Worst Bloggers on the Internet” that would essentially do the same thing. But what if a fan took it to heart? Words are powerful.
For Every Fan…
If you’re an opinionated blogger, you aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. For every fan you have, you might have someone who reads your blog and disagrees with what you say or even grows to dislike you. It doesn’t take another blogging slamming you to find enemies.
And it’s dangerous, even more dangerous than it has been for media personalities or celebrities in the past, because on the Internet, people often forget to act human.
I once saw a conversation about video games turn extremely ugly. Ok, I’ve seen it more than once, but one time in particular, I saw someone ranting about a review score that they didn’t like in a way that really scared me. They called for the blogger to not only be fired, but to, in his words, “burn.” People think they can say these things because it’s just the Internet, there’s this screen of anonymity. We wouldn’t normally say these things to a person’s face, no matter how strongly we disagreed.
And that negativity builds like a virtual snowball. The comments on this review got out of control and, eventually, were shut down.
But what about that blogger? What about the person behind the post, the person who was just speaking his mind? After receiving such hateful comments, I bet he thought twice before using Foursquare to check in anywhere. I would have. Occasionally, comments spill over, cross a line. It goes from being a valid debate to being negativity with no point to being…scary. And you don’t know those commenters. You don’t know what they are capable of doing.
I’m not trying to scare anyone with this post, to say that I think we should not be opinionated, or even to endorse being more careful with posting personal information online. I don’t know that there is any neat wrap-up point to this post. I don’t know that I have any kind of solution, or that a solution even exists. I guess, I just hope that if you are a blogger, you keep what I’ve said here in the back of your mind as you write every post, and continue being brave (and responsible) with every word.