Everyday Ethics

Everyday Ethics


Blog Commenting Courtesy… Do Bloggers Have a Right To Expect It?

posted by hfields

I received a lot of flack for my last post. And I’m willing to admit I may just have deserved some of it. I was called out for failing to ‘do my research’ and ‘being ignorant’ when I drew a hypothetical scenario out from news about Steve Jobs’ liver transplant to ask a greater question of whether perhaps the rich and powerful get special medical treatment in a way that might be unethical. And I’ll grant that, in retrospect, I learned a lot more from some of my commenters’ remarks than I had known about the subject I wrote about in the first place. They rightly pointed out some areas of potentially faulty logic in my argument, though many of them seemed to fail to note the hypothetical nature of the argument.

For that, I’m actually quite grateful. I’m new to the blogosphere, and I suspect I’ll make more than a few missteps as I tread these unexplored and dangerous waters. If people didn’t get my point, I have to take responsibility for not being thoroughly clear. And if my point was stupid, by all means, it’s important not to let it slide, especially in a blog about ethics. So that’s OK, no harm done.

What surprised me was the discourtesy with which some of the commenters flung their criticism (and in some cases, exposed how carelessly they’d read my piece, one person not even bothering to note my name or gender, another assuming my mother was dead when my post clearly states otherwise). Some were downright nasty. It made me wonder about how casually we read–and write–online, and how carelessly we treat one another when there’s no accountability and no face-to-face interaction.

So today’s ethical question is: Does our moral behavior depend on knowing there’ll be consequences? In other words, if the person you’re insulting is no more to you than words on a screen, does that give you free license to behave badly?

I can’t speak for others, though my suspicion is that, yeah, there are a lot folks out there who feel that way. And I can’t do a thing about them. I can only take ownership of my own actions. So, knowing now that these factors are present, my question to myself is, do I have a responsibility to write the perfect piece every time? Research the sh*t out of every post before it goes up? (Full disclosure: sometimes I am crunched for time and feel pressured to post just to get something up there.) Should I write only non-controversial material? (Like that’ll work when the topic is ethics!) Express no opinions? Hmm…

In part I do feel that my role is more discussion opener than arbiter of ethical or moral rectitude. I mean, I’m a writer and former philosophy major, not some white-bearded ancient who’s spent a lifetime pondering human mores on a mountaintop. I like to throw a topic out there, elucidate a question, and invite opinions. In that way, I learn from others’ thoughts, rather than just pontificating about my own.

With my Steve Jobs post, I did learn a lot–both from the information provided in the comments, and from the largely negative tone of them. I also learned it’s important to begin with an unimpeachable argument, or to be able to take the heat when and if I fail to do so. I’d simply hoped the tenor of the discussion would remain in the realm of the civil, and that people would see the post for what it was: a sincere wish to discuss big issues, using a topical jumping-off point for a conversation opener.

As I continue on blogging, I expect I’ll just have to grow a thicker skin.

Incidentally, for those who would like to have a look at Beliefnet’s Rules of Conduct, you can view them here



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T Peich

posted June 22, 2009 at 10:11 pm


Firstly, you admit you could have done a better job. Secondly, you are PAID to write this correct? You aren’t some random person with a public blog this is your job, and thus you should be judged(let’s hope) to a higher standard of writing then say me blogging. Granted I know I’m not reading the New Yorker, but c’mon, write something better than what I could write. FYI: I am a network engineer.
I don’t think anyone was uncivil to you. Harsh? Yes. Did you deserve it? You yourself admit you did a crap job of writing it b/c you were in a hurry so why are you whining now that everyone is picking on you? You sound like Palin whining that people were coming down on her too hard b/c she didn’t know what the Bush Doctrine was – sometimes, when people are ignorant, there isn’t a soft way to put it other than bluntly…and no one was outright nasty to you, many just pointed out the obvious truth.
So, I guess you are asking the question you are asking is b/c you assume maybe people wouldn’t have posted such harshness if they weren’t so “anonymous”? Probably, but yr posting your writing for review/comments so what did you expect? Stop whining and learn from it and move on.



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Your Name

posted June 22, 2009 at 10:22 pm


@ T Peich — Generally “uncivility” includes making assumptions of whether or not the writer gets paid (many bloggers do not, even for large websites) and telling someone to “Stop whining”, and using the term “crap job”. There are ways to state your opinion while still respecting the writer, regardless of whether or not you thought she was wrong.



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T Peich

posted June 22, 2009 at 10:42 pm


I’d hardly call making the assumption that she is paid writing for a website “uncivil”. And, quite frankly, it is whining when someone complains when the wrote things that were flat out wrong, and then want us disregard words that were represented at facts and look at a larger social argument…kinda hard to ignore the larger picture when a lot of the information she presented was flat out wrong.
Now, I also find it incredibly interesting you don’t don’t list your name. Are you in fact a personal friend of the blogger? Or maybe the blogger herself. My full name: Tedman Peich, and I don’t have anything to hide or feel that I was at all uncivil.



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Hillary Fields

posted June 23, 2009 at 8:25 am


Hi Tedman Peich,
1) The vast majority of bloggers don’t get paid.
2) I call incivility comments like your own original one, “You wrote a truly stupid post…”
3) I didn’t say I did a crap job, or that I was “wrong” in what I wrote. I said perhaps I didn’t elucidate the hypothetical nature of my question well enough, and that yes, I had a lot to learn about making my points clear in the blogosphere. I’m not afraid to admit my shortcomings, but I don’t consider turning the question of the commenting harshness into a positive by asking ethical questions about it to be “whining”. On the contrary, I consider it to be in the truest nature of philosophical investigation. I certainly didn’t feel I was whining. I just thought it was interesting how angry people got, and wondered if we’d be having the same discussion in the same tenor if we were all sitting face-to-face.
4) I shall indeed learn from it and move on. All the best to you Tedman.



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Iris Alantiel

posted June 23, 2009 at 8:45 am


Sorry, Tedman, but I agree with the anonymous poster. There is a certain level of respect that I believe we should always use when we are having a discussion with someone who does not share our opinions. You may believe that the blogger missed the mark on that particular article or that she is making unfair observations in this one, but there are other ways of saying it that are less confrontational. I believe people are more likely to value what one says if one speaks tactfully and charitably while saying it.



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emmabliss

posted June 23, 2009 at 2:15 pm


Tedman, I think that your comments can be described in all sorts of ways, ill-mannered being the kindest. I have to agree with Iris, respect is respect in any discussion and in any forum. And, I don’t agree that there is ever a need to be “harsh” in order to make a point. One can certainly disagree with someone–in any forum–without being coarse. And, in fact, you were “nasty” in the original post. Your point was valid and could easily have been made in a courteous way. This blogger never held herself up as an expert on the topic. She quite clearly said she was not, but that the story had led her to think about a situation in way she had not before. You seem a particularly angry person, or that is certainly what comes across in your lingua franca. Certainly, you are not an unintelligent man, so I wonder why you feel a need to attack and use words like “crap” in your discourse. It only serves to make you sound boorish, and the listener (or reader in this case) is less likely to have a desire to really understand your point. I must assume you are quite young, based on the vehemence with which you debated both the original post and this one, and the fact that the entire point of the original post still appears to elude you. Perhaps, one day, when you have grown up a bit, you will understand all this, be more willing to keep you own mind open to other people’s opinions, and not be quite so critical of what you perceive to be a mistake.



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T Peich

posted June 23, 2009 at 8:43 pm


With all due respect Emma, let me pose a couple hypotheticals to you. I write up a piece asking readers to examine if NAFTA was good idea. Now, like Hilary, let’s say the general topic I would like everyone to focus on and critically think out and examine is “free trade”…who benefits both in the short and long term.
Let’s say while writing this article I make numerous factual errors like talking about US and trade agreements with Brazil, which would not be included within NAFTA as it isn’t North America. Would that be stupid on my part? Yes, it would be incredibly stupid and wrong, and then I get all upset with readers pointing out the obvious cluelessness and say that everyone was missing the key issue: who benefits from free trade and is good for the short and long term. Do you see how there is a large disconnect in examples presented and her key topic she wanted everyone to focus on? Example: I want everyone to ponder the ethics of buying a diamond…but then write how they are all mined in France rather the obvious point that they are mined in Africa….minor point, but I want readers to focus on the larger ethical issues of buying into an industry that tearing apart a society that I wrote is in France. Get my point?
No one is an expert on every topic, but when someone is lazy and writes up “examples”, to try to get people to think critically, then I would hope that they would at least be based in reality. I can’t stand people that whine poor me. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!



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Hillary Fields

posted June 24, 2009 at 10:04 am


Tedman, I think your response to Emma is in some respects fair, if perhaps taken to an extreme that I tend to doubt the actual posts warrant (numerous factual errors??? I think that’s an exaggeration, and one that seems to grow more vehement with each comment you post). You’re certainly allowed to have any opinion of my intellectual capacities you choose–and I can see I’m not going to win debater of the year award in your book. That’s fine. You won’t hear me whining over that! The only issue I’d take with your comment to Emma is that I most certainly did not ‘get all upset’ with readers pointing out my errors… in fact, if you read my post carefully, I actually express my gratitude quite clearly. The issue we brought up was noticing how commenters who throw out words like “lazy,” “incredibly stupid” “whining” and “waaah” use the internet to express themselves in ways I’d be surprised to see them behave in person. I didn’t bring this up in a spirit of self-pity, but of sincere surprise and wonder, observing a phenomenon that seemed timely to address, since it was happening in my everyday life, and it’s a blog, after all, on everyday ethics.
Without trying to personalize this unduly, I think commenters like yourself who sling overheated language do more to harm their cause than further it. It’s possible to have a discussion without having a confrontation; possible to make a good point without trying to draw blood. But as always, we’re free to differ.



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emmabliss

posted June 24, 2009 at 1:26 pm


Oh for goodness sake, Tedman. The blogger was not whining in any way whatsoever. I understand your point, and I do think it is valid, but I was commenting on the way you choose to express yourself. The fact is, Hillary was NOT whining, but you ARE being rude. That is not to say that your points are not valid, or for that matter correct, but the way in which you choose to articulate said views makes you seem more like a bully than an intelligent debater.



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emmabliss

posted June 24, 2009 at 1:28 pm


PS Tedman, would you express yourself the same way in person, or would you act in a more mannerly fashion? Therein lies the real issue of this post.



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KES

posted June 24, 2009 at 6:07 pm


So-and-so has had several opportunities to back up the truck and take the high road to being a better person, which he has ignored.
This attitude is spawned from the anonymity and darkness of the internet, which permits expression unlimited by social mores, since there is little if any risk of reprisal.
Most of the time people treat each other well because it is the right thing to do, because it is the way they would like to be treated, or because it is the way they were raised. There are critical differences between the three, but the end result is the same.
Sometimes people treat each other well (and chaos and disorder is restrained) only because they fear the consequences.
As a result most people are nice no matter where you may meet them, but there are a select few that will say unbelievable crap on the internet that they would never say face to face.



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ISIS09

posted June 24, 2009 at 9:55 pm


All due respect. Ethics is not a concept that is best observed through explication but more so in application. It is folly to commit yourself to the judgment that the words one person says are ignorant yet act in an equally absurd manner. The two tend to cancel each other out. Wise men nay argue with fools so onlookers are not confused as to who is who. In this case, even if there were mistakes as it seems there were and even admittedly lessons that were learned, The validity of any arguments from others is negated by the immoral actions of those same people towards the writer. What is the greater error? Unintentional ignorance with piety or knowledge without moral wisdom? I say we consider the the words of Socrates in our search for wisdom
“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”
Those who walk away from this interaction with experience consider yourself wiser. Those who just walk away not changing anything about their thoughts or themselves…you have exactly what you came in it with….nothing.



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ISIS09

posted June 24, 2009 at 10:20 pm


Correction not Socrates…Confucious. I better get it right or else what’s his name will have a coronary.



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Your Name

posted July 7, 2009 at 2:21 pm


For a blogger who ‘specializes’ in ethics and morality, there’s a distinct lack of both in your posts. What, are you taking lessons from Rod Dreher?



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