Mike Arrington of TechCrunch led the penultimate BloggerCon IV session on the topic of core values for bloggers (and podcasters + vloggers). The Doc Searls Docnography notes from the session are here, and the downloadable podcast is here.
Mike started off the session with the statement that the blogosphere doesn't have core set of values and bloggers don't know how to act. The primary example trolls leaving hateful anonymous comments. Mike said that he has even received death threats. He added, "There is a trend toward people non-anonymously getting more viscious in their comments....More and more people think it's ok to slap people in the face when they walk by."
Mike Arrington: The blogosphere is getting more verbally viscious
If you want to do something creative and open on the Internet, you are going to have to fight for it," Dave Winer said. And you have to have a thicker skin.
Kevin Marks brought up the role of transparency as a civilizing force. Robert Cox siad that trolls and anonymous commenters isn't a new issue--users of the ancient Usenet and CompuServe services experienced the same kind of behavior.
Mary Hodder asked why the answer to aggression is more aggression. Mary outlines a situation in which she was harassed by a young colleague. She quotes Doc Searls, more or less, about the need for older generation in the community to teach the younger generation a better way to behave.
Doc Searls said we don't have a "commons" or sense of a public space yet. We lack the sense of proximity, a sense of the appropriate interactions in the digital domain, where the remoteness distances people. It's safe to throw insults from a distance, just as people curse at other people from their cars. And once you are a celebrity, like an A-list blogger, people feel free to fire away, Doc said.
Andy Brown asked what level of civility do we want or not want. Mike said sometimes shock value is useful for being understood, but there is a difference with bloggers. When you get 55 comments a day or 10,000 comments a day that you are an asshole, most bloggers get to the point where they want to stop doing it...you cant handle the trolls anymore.
Dave responded, "Mike you have a choice, you don't have to listen to it." Mike said he can listen to it, but it makes your not care. He clearly is disturbed by the trolls.
Susan Mernit talked about the ugly downside of being a popular blogger, but that the attackers shouldn't be viewed as part of your (the attacked blogger's) community.
Is it OK to delete comments, Mike asked. Susan said every blogger has the right to choose that line.
Steve Gillmor said that he takes the nasty he gets comments personally. "We are all in the same point and will have to confront the issue. Are we going to allow this to break us and squelch our desire to remake the world?," Steve said.
The subject turned to conflicts of interest. Mike invests in some companies, has sponsors--what is the right way to handle those real, potential and perceived conflicts in writing his blog. Britt said just be transparent and honest. Mark Glaser agrees that if you are transparent and mention conflicts it should be ok, but people have the right to be suspicious.
Mike disagrees. Money incentives drive me less than friendship, Mike said. He gave an example of how his friend blogger Om Malik probably did a little extra in covering his startup company Edgeio because of their friendship, and asked how is that different. Mark Glaser responded that Mike should be transparent in giving readers everything they need to judge your integrity. Mike countered that at some point our whole blog is just disclosure.
Jay Rosen stood up and said that community and truth often come into conflict. Community is important, people with common values, but can develop various forms of PC (political correctness), and sooner or later a truth-teller comes into conflict with that community.
Om Malik (right) finally cleared the air. Mike's friendship bought him a meeting on Saturday, not the posts on his blog, Om said. "You kind of make friendships with PR people, VCs, CEOs, entrepeneurs...that isn't the disclosure...the disclosure in in your heart. At the end of the day, you are not a journalist working for the Wall Street Journal or Wired News...these are your opinions..[readers can] take it or leave it...at the end of the day the ball is in your court at all times...and that is what you have to come to terms with, including the trolls," Om said.
Mike came in a bit later in the conversation, "Even if we disclose our monetary conflicts there are still a million things that affect things. Every person who reads what we write needs to realize that we are human beings, and what we say needs to be taken in that context."