Saturday, June 14, 2003

Deep thoughts about blog drama

Every now and then a pseudo-war breaks out among a group of bloggers and commenters. Often it seems childish. Sometimes the stakes are real since serious charges are made that if untrue are clearly slanderous or libelous.

These kind of things aren't unique to blogs. Flame wars are as old as online communication. Petty, gossipy competition also happens with the print media. When you read the memoirs of the people who wrote for Partisan Review or Commentary or Willie Morris's Harpers, you see the same private battles behind the genteel and intellectual veneers of serious journalism. On the blogs there is simply transparency for the reader: We can read the comments and other blogs. In print, the cool stuff happened at cocktail parties readers never attended.

In watching these play out a couple of features of the "blogosphere" become apparent.

1. Some of the fights are as real as professional wrestling. It is just a ploy for hits. Even serious controversies draw in the WWF contingent.

2. Blogs are plastic in a way print is not and that is not always good. Sometimes cooler heads prevail and strident posts are taken down. But anyone who comes to the party late is left with only a partial and distorted picture of what happened.

Even worse, this quality makes the web a playground for the malicious. A lying blogger can post a "critque" of another blogger's work that never existed. Then, a short time later, the liar can claim that the offending post was removed. How can the victim of this slander prove that they never wrote the post that is being criticized? And yet, the charges will just hang out there in cyberspace.

Conversely, the post might have existed and then was taken down. In which case, how does the fisking blogger prove that they are not making stuff up?

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