Can we go about our business in the blogosphere, and never have to engage in debate or self-defense? Can we champion an idea or technology, and expect to have smooth sailing, with no opposition?
Is it cowardly to "shut down comments" on a conversation thread, just because someone is emotionally upset and thinks the debate has "gone on long enough", which usually means they're losing the argument and afraid of looking bad?
Online communities will always have a self-deconstructing aspect, since the association of members is voluntary and democratic, not to mention the fact that users who generate content and conversation are typically far more passionate, combative, and opinionated.
Jacques Derrida has observed the double, paradoxical nature of community.
"There is no opposition, fundamentally, between 'social bond' and 'social unraveling'. A certain interruptive unraveling is the condition of the 'social bond', the very respiration of all 'community'. This is not even the knot of reciprocal condition, but rather the possibility that every knot can come undone, be cut or interrupted." --
Faith and Knowledge, Acts of Religion (Routledge, 2002), p.99.
To join a community, we necessarily (albeit temporarily) sever one tie (to isolated loneliness, to family, to watching TV, to neighbors) to tie a loose knot with strings that connect us to some otherness (a club, church, school, blog, wiki, discussion list, user forum).
Thus, we may contribute heavily to one online community, then dissolve our relationship to it due to shifting interests, decline in quality, or in an extreme case, because of the debate overheating. We tire of endless arguments, flames, and personal attacks. Or we say something too controversial, too contrarian, and get banned from the community.
When we see blogocombat coming toward us, what is the sign that it holds, drawing attention to itself as contrary opinion, disagreement, anger, or hate?
Since we generally cannot see the facial expressions or body language of online members, we must develop our skills in interpreting vocabulary nuances and semantic cues as to what is "intended", "implied", or "felt". We acquire this finesse by participating in various online collaborations and conversations.
An online enemy will use extremely judgmental and hostile words to refer to you, your product, your philosophy, your faith, or your zeal. A disparaging tone, a sneer, an ugly misrepresentation, a wild accusation, an unsavory indecency.
You begin to develop the ability to sense it. Like you can sense that a blog comment is compensated opinion, a boilerplate comment that a company is paying the "buzz agent" to post. Or a spambot deposit. You can become extremely sensitive to the spirit of online remarks, simply by practicing online debate.
"But if we meet opposition with harsh replies, aren't we lowering ourselves to a vulgar, retaliatory, unprofessional level?" some will ask.
Often it really is best to just ignore attacks. A fly lands on your nose, you brush it off. You don't go on a rampage of negativity regarding flies, and you don't vow to destroy every fly on earth. You just brush it off, and move on. This is generally the best and most effective method of blogocombat.
You don't give the attacker the pleasure of engaging you in a frivolous, spurious battle. You choose what battles to fight, and what battles to walk away from.
Then again, sometimes you must stand your ground and fight back, and to avoid confronting the situation just makes matters worse. Cowardice emboldens the attacker, you appear like a masochistic chump who enjoys being subjected to disrespect. Abusers seek such victims.
Diplomacy is one response. Ignoring it is another. Saying something funny often defuses an explosive situation. Another valid and useful method is combat, in some form or other. Even if it's just one statement to set the record straight.
We must avoid a paranoid Us vs. Them siege mentality. It's not good to want to fight just for the sake of the excitement of fighting and the notoriety of fighters. That's known as trolling. But we must also steer clear of a cowardly avoidance of confrontation.
You can spot a coward easily, he's the one slinking away with a La La Land smile on his face, saying, as he sticks his head back into the sand, "I wouldn't worry about that. I'm sure everything will be fine."
Yeah, right. "All evil needs to succeed is for good people to do nothing."
You may find it appropriate to respond with an aggressive tone, and confrontational terminology, when an attack upon your company seems unfair, unprovoked, and destructive in nature.
Sometimes an "enemy" or an opposition comes toward you, without just cause, and you did not create this adversary. It arises on its own. Perhaps you said something that hits close to home, your remarks are considered a threat or a disruption, so the offended person strikes back.
Self-control, maturity, professionalism, introspective insight, and prioritizing ones activities all help guide us to appropriate reactions to things we see posted on the web. The blogosphere is about vigorous debate, and may the best ideas win.
Blogocombat, or online debate, or vigorous inquiry, is ideally text vs. text, and not person vs. person. This is the key to all defensive and offensive maneuvers in blogs, bulletin boards, discussion lists, user forums, wikis, and other digital venues.
You must pit one idea against another idea. Notice I did not say "pit your idea against their idea". You don't "own" any idea or belief or feeling. You simply borrow or submit to them.
Vigorous inquiry and impassioned discussion cannot be personalized, for a personal attack destroys the entire conversation, must be reproached and possibly removed.
Personal feelings ruin any debate.
Zeal for an idea? Yes. Zeal to destroy another person? No.
Zeal to protect oneself from mere clusters of typed nonsense? Don't be ridiculous.
Zeal to prove something at any cost, even of boring everybody by beating the issue to death? I wish you wouldn't. Spare us, life is already boring enough, it doesn't need any help from you.
Personalizing a debate makes it bestial, savage, unseemly.
It's the ideas that matter, not who's right and who's wrong, who's smart and who's stupid. Only the truth, the facts, the actual reality is important.
As we boldly speak our minds, we must remember that a hateful personal attack can be criminal libel, subject to prosecution in a court of law. In such cases, handing the matter over to your attorney can the best blogocombat move of all.