Starting this post has really been a challenge for me. I’ve felt like I needed to comment on our panel on civility, especially since others in the blogosphere have been. I mean, I was there and together with Janet and Sheril, it was partially my panel.
Video 1: There were certainly parts of it that were just about this uncivil. Paul Anka sings Smells Like Teen Spirit (via Rebecca Skloot)
As I’ve thought about what to talk about, the only thing I have been able to come up with is that cracking wise just doesn’t feel right. To offer a brief recap, we were discussing how one moderates their blog community. One of the participants commented that he believes ground rules are important to a community and derives his from John Wilkins’s. Specifically, John’s policy is:
This is my living room, so don’t piss on the floor. I reserve the right to block users and delete any comments that are uncivil, spam or offensive to all. I have a broad tolerance, but don’t test it, please. Try to remain coherent, polite and put forward positive arguments if engaged in debate. There are plenty of places you can accuse people of being pedophilic communist sexist pigs; don’t do it here.
Another participant expressed concern, admittedly in a tone that implied a strong emotional attachment to the words she was speaking, that this general policy could be used to exclude some voices from the discussion – particularly the voices of people who are classically excluded from the dialog in science. I wasn’t prepared for the other discussant – the one who originally said not to piss on his carpet – to then turn around, raise his hiney out of the chair, and yell spittle-laden profanity at the person who had responded to him. And, I mean, raise his voice in a way that frightened me to the point of thinking that things were about to spiral out of control in a horrible, horrible way. I wasn’t entirely sure where we were going, but it was nowhere good.
Figure 1: Then again, part of me also appreciated the irony of a man who advocated not pissing on anyone’s carpet coming into my session and taking a huge crap on it.
The most I could do was to try to diffuse things by telling everyone to sit down and be silent for a moment. I don’t remember anything specific about what was said to me by the yeller, except that he didn’t read my blog. What can I say? I don’t read his either. While I did not witness it personally, I am told that the berating, spittle, raised voice, and multiple f-bombs continued after the session ended.
I’m just so fucking baffled by it. I mean, how does one go from being the grand advocate for civility to being in the face of another audience member in less than 60 seconds? I suppose the lesson this teaches us is that, for some, “civility” is what we expect of others.
But, when shit gets real, those folks who call for civility will do as they please.
This all leaves me pondering where to go with the next post. I’ve got some ideas on the types of rulez a blogger might use for managing their commentariat. I’ll also share with you the slides I offered with the appropriate context, but for now I feel like that session needs a major reboot in my mind in order to get things back on track.
Pascale Lane has a great follow up of the discussion. Check it out here.