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Amy Gahran

This is a great topic. I addressed this, to some extent, with my "Handling Online Vermin" series: http://blog.contentious.com/archives/2005/01/26/handling-online-vermin

I'll also address this in forthcoming posts which expand upon the "argument culture" theme I raised this week: http://blog.contentious.com/archives/2005/04/14/smashing-heads-does-not-open-minds

Looking forward to the discussion on this topic here.

- Amy Gahran

Sylvia Paull

I think there should be a Blogger Bill of Rights or Code of Conduct. People should subscribe to an honor code to respect other people and challenge their opinions but not attack them for personal attributes, such as gender, class, whatever. Bloggers like to communicate openly, and to sustain this atmosphere, we should treat each other like communicators, not enemies in a battlefield.


I like Sylvia's idea but some people just don't behave with very much dignity or respect - online or off. I just observed a situation this weekend involving two women bloggers. One of these bloggers "A" had said she didn't like advertising on blogs and didn't read blogs with advertising. Another woman blogger "B" responded to this with an angry post about "A". When "A" responded in turn and some of "A"'s friends went to show support for her, "B" removed "A"s comments and "banned" "A" and anyone who had shown support for "A"! I wrote "B" an email expressing how disappointed I was that she would resort to not letting the record stand and she wrote me back a bizarre and hostile email informing me that she did not wish to hear my response! It was all rather incredible and censorious. "A" and myself concluded that "B" simply couldn't abide criticism in any form and wished only to surround herself (in her blog) with those who agreed with her. Judging from some of the blogs on her blogroll her community consisted of other angry, immature and bullying people like herself. I think what bothered me most of all was the fact that "B" had an incredible amount of inbound links. How could so many people be so stupid? But then I looked through some of the blogs that linked and, again, it was the same story: immaturity, anger, bullying mentalities. And of course they find each other!

So what did I learn from this other than not to bother with this woman or her blog? It merely served to reinforce my position that the best blogs are those that create a safe space for disagreement and dissent. Creating an artificial echo chamber isn't good for your mental or intellectual health. It's not good for democracy or diversity.

I wish beginning bloggers were forced to take a debating or facilitation workshop to learn how to deal with disagreement from others.

Or perhaps we need to have a test blog where we can test our responses to criticism and dissent of our views - but in a safe space where all participants are engaging in the forum in order to learn how to negotiate differences? We could pair up and role play. I'll be the right wing gun nut and you can be the anti violence environmentalist ... or vice versa ;-)

We could look at what anger does to us in these situations and practice working with reframing and defusing each other's positions in order to transform hostility into dialogue.

Just a thought ....

Corinna Hasofferett

I'm a published Hebrew writer in Israel.

My blog, TimeIn Tel-Aviv, has evolved into a multi-lingual blog:

Volunteer friends. Team Members, from different countries, are translating the English or the Hebrew pieces into their own languages:

There as well as in my Hebrew blog I am following a code I've published. The bottom line is: I do not kiss frogs!

Comments by trolls so eloquently described above, are deleted.

As for courage, I believe speaking out your mind has more to do with inner strength than with trolls. After all, they're virtual and of no substance...

Like here:

Thanks for the hospitality.
With a cordial invitation and best wishes for the Holiday Season,


Hi all,

I've been flamed on my blog quite a bit, especially by one person in particular. He stopped when I started ignoring him. I guess I've been through too much in my offline life to get upset about someone tripping in my online life.:-)

On the other hand this doesn't mean that I poo-poo anyone who does get upset. Words can hurt and everyone has a right to be respected.

On the other-other hand here's a question: If someone is the type whose feelings are easily hurt, should they put their thoughts out on the web for everyone to see? Or, does it help stiffen them up?

Just some questions.


When I initially got flamed it really threw me. I'd heard so much about the friendly blogging community. I've learned not to take it so personally. But I wish I'd had a little warning ahead of time. This is a great site and a great topic. Thanks!

Prospective Despot

Getting flamed is by far not the worst issue. It's (usually) pretty easy to skim over flame-scrambles and reach the content. I never really understood the point of flaming. My blog, abound with controversial, eloquent claims of all genres, enjoys about 50 hits a day and no commentary. Now that's insulting. Come out and find why: www.damnesty.blogspot.com

Elisa Camahort

I agree with you Prospective Despot...I get more annoyed by lack of response...especially when I'm TRYING to get something started!

But it's not just the world of blogging where this issue comes up. If you read the recent kerfuffle about OpEd clumnists, part of the contention that even women are making is that women don't like to get attacked.

I had an interesting talk with a former editor of the Stanford Daily back in the late 80's (a woman) who had a hard time getting women opinion writers. Because the feedback that came to the women was always personal: not your ideas suck, but YOU suck.

Almost 20 years later, isn't that what Maureen Down and Gail Collins are still saying? Seems we haven't come such a long way baby when it comes to certain things.


I got ripped apart for something I said online. The "trolls" took what I had said out of context and RAN with it. It wasn't just a disagreement, it was that they just wanted to prove a point, make an example out of someone - even if what I had said had absolutely NOTHING to do with their cause - one way or the other. Still they used it to criticize me and my family. It hadn't been the first time - but that crossed the line for me. I debated shutting down my blog, because at that point, it stopped being "fun". It stopped being something I compared to a "friendly chat" with someone at a coffee shop - and became a political battle - when my blog was anything BUT political. After some thought, I decided to password protect my blog. By then, I'd already been online for a number of years, I had a handful of "regulars" - so I knew I wouldn't "lose" everyone. But the environment completely changed for me by doing that. It brought it back to the way it "used" to be - a friendly discussion. People don't always agree with me - and that's just fine. All I ask is that they treat me and the other people who read and comment on my site with respect.

So to answer the question - what empowers me to blog fearlessly? Restricting who I let read my site to only people I can trust to behave themselves.


That is one of the big reasons I have resisted adding comments to my blog. I don't expect I get a lot of traffic but I don't have the energy or "bandwidth" who decide to leave nasty, unconstructive comments.

On the other hand, I got email from a very nice person who had gone back in my archives and found something he didn't agree with. We exchanged a couple of nice emails basically agreeing to disagree.

I'm going to be working on launching a new project over Summer Break (hah!) that will be trying to build a community for History students and historians. I have to think about what tools I will be using and how I will address some of these issues. I want people to join the discussion but I don't want to spend a lot of my time reviewing comments and deleting those idiots who can't contribute in a thoughtful way.

liza sabater

You know, Corinna hit it over the head when she said,

As for courage, I believe speaking out your mind has more to do with inner strength than with trolls. After all, they're virtual and of no substance...

You really cannot control other people's actions, especially on the net. But you can learn how to react to them.

I have a really high threshold for confrontation. I used to be on a lot of BBS's eons ago and used to sign LM SABATER. And I did it on purpose because, what with my style, most people thought I was a guy and would actually engage in battling discourse as opposed to try to brush me aside with a pat on the back or by ignoring me. Now that I sign with my name, of course, it happens to me on a regular basis, even from men who know who I am on a professional level.

There is a big difference between battling wits or POVs and flamewars. Flamewars are far too easy. Battling wits? I enjoy those, being in them and reading them. When it involves an awesome writer, it's like reading literature.

Also, I like to think of how in another 3-5 years, biographers are going to start culling posts, public emails and comments from their subjects all across the net. Since I am very vain, I don't want to come out as a wuss but I neither want to come out as a bully. I want people to find me "a good read".

Think about it : TV is ephemera --unless you tape it. If it is published on the net, it could technically last forever (and thanks to the Internet Archives, even after a site is taken down). So, I've learned to write for this digital medium and augmented personal and public space because, when the time comes, I know there will be people going : "Oh God, I can't believe she said that". And hopefully they'll have a good time.

Then there is the fact that I love people gazing on the street and reading trolls and such on my site is almost an anthropological experience : "Trolls in the mist".

(I wish danah were here to comment on this.)

But really, I think it is fascinating how in some instances people use you as a sounding board for their fears and prejudices. So I've learned to read these commenters with detachment. Especially when it reveals their inner scuzziness ... It's amazing how people use anonimity to do that. It's actually quite revealing in a very sad way.

So I've actually learned to not take these confrontations personally. This does not mean I do not take them seriously. I do. I just step back and watch how they unfold.

It can be quite fascinating.


Bullies - now and then

Liza's right, we can't control how others respond to us (online or off). The same goes for all those corporations whose PR and advertising teams would like to control what is thought about their products and services. We have the right to question them, just as others have the right to question us.

But where this all gets very murky is when people just decide to attack us due to their own pathologies. It gets worse in Jennifer's case - when trolls or malcontents decide to misrepresent you in their blogs.

The temptation is to defend ourselves against misrepresentation but, of course, this just feeds the energy creature and it's at the heart of what they're doing (i.e, looking for attention). Most of us will choose to ignore it. One of my more brilliant women geek friends was able to redirect a recent troll's link to a toy company!

I think what would be INCREDIBLY useful is to have somebody (like Ellen Spertus, for example) come in and talk about these kinds of issues as they pertain to women online. While these attacks may not be gender motivated they can have different kinds of effects on those of us who have survived sexual, psychological or any other kind of abuse in our real experience. I, for example, experienced bullying when I was a child. My mom and I moved around a lot and it resulted in our living in an upper class neighbourhood for a year. I was the token poor, urban, weird girl and it was very easy for all the rich girly girls to make fun of me because I didn't have nice clothes or live in a big house (or a house, period) like they did. Or simply because I was *different*. Anybody who has experienced bullying in any form has some triggers where this kind of behaviour is concerned. And I imagine that for those of us who have experienced this, blogging has special challenges. We can't just "blow it off" or "ignore" it because, for us, the abuse resonates with genuine fear. We know that the nasty comments can manifest themselves as real life abuse.

My first instinct, as a kid who experienced teasing and insults from rich assholes (mostly rich asshole girls), is to fight back and bare my teeth. As a grown up activist who regularly finds myself face to face with stepford wife conservative types I am constantly reliving my old stuff. Ironically, a lot of the girls who were mean to me have apparently grown up into mean conservative women who are mean to the environment, poor people and all the people in other countries they exploit for their fancy lifestyles ...

I tend to sublimate my anger into legitimate political avenues - as opposed to personalizing it. And for me that is key.

The big question for a person like myself is whether to fight back or ignore? I personally see the value of both but sometimes that's a very hard call for somebody who has come to the conclusion that silence = complicity.

mobile jones

Does Ellen Spertus have a blog? Is she a blogger?


Ellen Spertus has written quite a bit about gender and women online - particularly about safety and privacy. We've talked in the past about online bullies. I think she has some insights that could be valuable and applicable to women blogging. I don't think Ellen has a blog but she's pretty tuned into it all.

Lisa Stone aka Surfette

Agreed! Still a brilliant suggestion Mel. Thanks.

Tish G

I think when I went into blogging I figured that if I were going to allow comments (or to comment on other blogs) that I'd eventually get flamed. I'd been flamed enough on message boards, and I figured there were some similarities, so be prepared.

I'm not an overly-political blogger, but the two main non-personal blog discussions, on sex (specf. sex work/industry) and religion, by their nature invite debate. I'm also not high-profile (don't have loads of cross-links nor list myself with any search engines other than technorati), so it keeps my traffic down and the comments are usually from people I know either personally or from their blogs.

When they are from unknowns (or someone I might suspect but who's too chicken to leave a name) and I don't like the comment, I don't say anything. If the attack isn't personal, I don't worry too much about it.

If it were personal, I can honestly say I'm not sure how I'd handle it...perhaps with a sense of humor? I try to keep in mind that my blog is part personna, and therefore the integrity of the person is still in tact.

edward jin

Suggestions? See comments...

Elisa Camahort

As far as I can tell that last comment (and the link provided) are completely irrelevant to this conversation. Either give some context of why you think it is relevant, or we'll delete it as comment spam.

edward jin

It was supposed to provide an example of an icky thread, to see if anyone had suggestions about how to handle - ignore, ban IP address. Sorry if it seems spammy.

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