Handling Internet Conflict, or, Being the Voice of Reason When Shit Hits the Fan

28th June 2012

Ah, ye olde Internet. Controversy abounds. This post has spent quite a lot of time rattling around in my head, but tonight at nearly two in the morning, I decided it could wait no longer. The Internet is a strange and wonderful thing: it democratizes us. It gives people like me the ability to add my voice to the myriad of voices clamoring to be heard. In that struggle, the voices are inevitably cross sometimes and encouraging at other times.

[Caveat:I don’t like the word drama when it refers to controversy. Drama has taken on connotations of cat fights, women pulling one another’s hair, name calling. In other words, it is distinctly female, and in my opinion, it reduces the very valid conflicts that sometimes arise. Can we all do me and my blood pressure a favor and try to remove this from our vocabulary unless we’re discussing a mode of literature/plays? Ok, thanks.]

Because we [and by we, in this post, I am referring to book bloggers of any stripe] are a very opinionated, well-read, and mostly thoughtful group, we do disagree with one another. Bloggers/authors/publishers/publicists all make statements or post videos or tweet or send emails that we may or may not like. We are quick to find fault. We work hard (most of us) for no pay, and we take pride in our work. We own it. We are professionals, in the sense that we strive to build something worth reading. We build communities. Yet the moment one of the above [insert your choice here] goes against what we think/believe/know, that professionalism breaks down.

Over the last few months, there have been several instances where Twitter and blogs have exploded with opinion posts: a blogger was accused of plagiarism; tonight librarians and bloggers are upset about ALA attendees who amassed huge numbers of books; at other times, authors are the source of the tension. These sorts of conflicts come in cycles, specifically around conference/trade show times.

The reason I decided to address it is that each time conflict happens, I notice very similar, very disturbing patterns of reaction. I would like to address how we respond to those with whom we disagree. Because it will happen, as surely as death and taxes.

First of all, understand the elements of a good argument. Pick up any writing handbook and refresh your memory. But this is my quick-reference guide:

  • Writing a good argument takes work.

First things first, know that if you sit down and write a rant and publish it 20 minutes later, you will regret it. 20 minutes isn’t time enough to review your writing, much less your perspective. Take the time to fully form your ideas and express them well. That way, not only do you sound professional, but you also have less that you have to explain/clarify/apologize for later.

Ask yourself, have I made my claim clearly?

Do I offer enough evidence to support that claim?

Have I explained the relation between claim and evidence and clarified?

If the answer is no, then maybe you need to take some more time before hitting “publish.”

  • Watch your tone.

I know, I know. Part of being a blogger is establishing a voice. And sometimes our voices are bitchy. But save your “voice” for your other posts. If your tone immediately turns the reader off, you aren’t establishing credibility, and you sure as heck aren’t convincing anyone.

For example, I recently saw someone (no clue who now) write a fairly well-worded post before they couldn’t help themselves and added, “Grow up.” That tone is off-putting, at best, insulting, at least. As bloggers, we are also writers. A well-stated argument is much better than relying on a childhood playground phrase.

  • Recognize the other (or multiple other) viewpoint(s).

Unfortunately, very often these conflicts grow and grow until the original issue is unrecognizable. Partially this goes back to the statement above about different voices, but it also has to do with the various and many sources of information. Acknowledging someone else’s perspective is helpful in that if someone comes to your site looking to argue, that recognition is disarming. It shows that you are willing to view other possibilities or at least put yourself in another’s position.

Exploring other viewpoints also has the benefit of promoting conversation, wherein many posts do the very opposite. They encourage only those who agree with the writer to join in the conversation.

  • If you plan to use support/evidence to back up your claims, be prepared for the backlash.

Nothing is more frustrating than visiting a blog and seeing a post that references multiple specific websites without linking to them. Especially for those readers who aren’t especially tech savvy, you have just excluded them from the conversation. Plus, all this does is promote your “in-the-know” readers’ ability to track down and vilify the unsuspecting person/persons.

If you want to have a discussion/argument, have it, but don’t be naive enough to think that it will stop with you (and yes, I’m telling myself to look in the mirror here).

  • Be aware of the gaps or errors in your argument.

Own them. If you simply wait for someone to point them out, you’re discrediting yourself. It’s ok to not necessarily know how to solve a problem, but be up front about it.

In the same way, if you feel unsure about either part of your claim or your evidence, be self aware. Explore that insecurity within the post. Again, someone else will if you won’t.

  • Along the same lines…avoid blatant/oft-used evasions or oversimplifications.

If you were ever on a debate team, you probably know this backward and forward.

Don’t generalize. It’s insulting, and someone will always jump in to point out he or she is the exception.

Don’t exaggerate.

Don’t name call. (Please, for the love of all that is good, don’t do this – not in your post, not on Twitter.)

  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, consider addressing some issues offline.

I understand the need to go public, I do. But one of the smallest things said at Book Blog Uncon stuck with me the most: Lori from TNBBC talked about how she takes the time to educate authors who send her blatantly self-promotional emails. Instead of deleting or badmouthing the author, she sends an email and tells them how to do it better. I know many of us shake our heads saying, no time, no time, but I think there is something fundamentally *right* about doing this. So often, people are utterly unaware that what they have done is wrong or incorrect or unethical. For the ones of us lucky enough to have been taught better or to have learned better, it’s simple to say that there’s no way a person *couldn’t* know, but again, go back up there to the start of this post and the “myriad of voices.” We’ve all got different backgrounds, different experiences, and some of us even different languages.

I’m not saying not to post if you have something to say. But be the voice of reason when shit hits the fan.

What do you think? Anything to add to this quick-reference guide?

  • Very well stated! Thank you for writing this post!

    • Sometimes you just have to jump into the fray.

  • *claps*

    • Thanks, girlie! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Sommer

    Great post! I enjoyed reading this. Can I use this with my marriage? Haha! Kidding. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Sommer – I totally didn’t even think about this, but yes, you have my permission. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Lisa

    I’m glad you pointed out the connotation of “drama.” I too take serious issue when people lump important issues into the realm of “drama.”

    This post is awesome in that it’s a guideline for more than just blog posts. It works for pretty much ANY interaction you’re going to have with another human being, and it REALLY is great advice for one’s approach to having a serious discussion with their significant other. Love it!

    • So, Lisa, I should actually call this post “how to be a decent human.” That works, too.

      And I’m so glad I’m not the only one who gets stabby when people use the word “drama.”

  • Great post, Jenn.

    • Thanks, Heather!

  • SuziQoregon

    Love this!

    • Thanks, Suzi Q!

  • Bellezza Mjs

    Funny how your well thought out post points out etiquette I teach my third graders. In other words, it’s sad that adults need to be reminded of these things (which they so often do!). I agree with everything you said here, and tire of the world at large throwing its anger around intermittently.

    A minor point: I was pulling out of a parking spot the other day when some guy in a truck came whizzing past. Did he pause for me? No. He yelled, “Fuck you, bitch!” And instead of saying, “Get some teeth and take a bath”, I said, “Don’t yell at me. I’m a nice person.”

    It’s ridiculous how people feel entitled to say whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of it’s veracity or appropriateness.

    • Bellezza – your comment re: teeth and a bath. You’re so funny. In so many ways, you remind me of one of my favorite people, my former high school English teacher. She and I have become friends, and you’re both so thoughtful about what you say and do, but you can also cut with your words.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and yes, it is ridiculous. Thankfully, I haven’t dealt with much conflict on ye olde blog, but if I did, I hope this would be the type of discourse surrounding it.

  • Yeah I always use the word drama. I do agree with your post but I think for me I rather rise above it and not comment. At the end of the day it blows over and tomorrow there will be something else to complain about. If it really gets to me I pick up the phone or jump on instant message with my friends and rant and get it out of my system.

    • I’ve used it on occasion myself. But lately, I’ve tired of it.

      And yes, rising above it is almost always a good thing. But when you can’t or see others who can’t or won’t, I still think there’s room for professionalism.

  • You are amazing. That is all.

    • Ditto, honey, ditto. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • FABRSteph

    This is food for thought. Thank you for the post. I am usually quite concerned about tone. When we write to one another, whether through posts, comments or texts, it is never the same as speaking directly to a person. How one has written something and how they intend it to come across, may be read and interpreted in a very different way. I warn my kids about this with such a high number of texts vs. phone calls.

    • So true, Steph. It’s not the same. I’m sure we’ve all learned this lesson at one point or another, but it’s something against which I think we have to constantly guard. It’s a fine line, usually.

  • heidenkind

    Funnily enough, I was on the debate team. ๐Ÿ™‚ I agree with all your points, and I think the most important one is to let the post rest for a few hours and reread it before you hit publish. Maybe even look at the “Someone on the internet is wrong” cartoon in the meantime. I rarely post on controversies because whenever I do I get so worried that I’m making my point clearly, I get stressed out. I have to have something I really need to get off my chest to push me to do it.

    • Haha! I should have used that cartoon. It’s fantastic.

      I avoid controversy at all costs, usually. But after the last hoopla, I decided maybe we all needed a reminder of how to disagree without destroying one another (or trying to).

      It bothers me to be part of a larger community that so easily attacks instead of building up. So, as you said, I had to get it off my chest.

      • heidenkind

        I don’t think book bloggers are as bad as some communities. But a lot of people don’t know how to handle conflict, and have no interest in handling it gracefully on the interwebs in any case. Doesn’t what you post online just disappears into the ether in a few hours, anyway? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Becky (Page Turners)

    So true what you say about waiting a little while before posting a ranty post. True of everything in life.

    • Yes, and sadly it wasn’t until someone pointed it out that I was like: Oh yeah, this works for life in general. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I love this! Thanks for taking the time to write it. I took argumentation and debate classes in college and you pretty much summarized what those classes taught me. I think it’s OK to be opinionated as long as you don’t use inflammatory language, can intelligently back up what you’re saying, and realize that if someone disagrees with your opinion, he/she is not necessarily less smart than you or has a less valid viewpoint.

    • Yes! Such a novel idea. We can be different and have different opinions. Ok, yes, that was snarky, but so often we don’t believe it. We really do think we are right, and that’s it.

      I’m as guilty of it as anyone, but I do try to always keep an open mind, and I’m always the first to say I don’t know everything about everything. With more education, my opinions change.

  • Janell

    Fantastic post. This has truly become a problem, how we deal with people during conflict when they are not directly in front of us. Thanks for the comment on my post today and the link to lead me here, I’ve learned something from you tonight!

    • Wow, Janell! Thanks so much for stopping by. Your post just spoke so well to what I hoped to get across that I had to share.

      Internet nastiness is rampant, and though the comment left on your FB post wasn’t particularly nasty, it’s still rare to see someone respond so thoughtfully.