Sunday, January 15, 2006

Coddington on the blogosphere

Deborah Coddington's Herald column today, takes on the blogosphere, calling it a "free rein for illiterate ranters" where "anyone who writes or says something with which bloggers disagree is singled out for vicious personal abuse". And she didn't even visit the sewer!

While this will almost certainly raise hackles in the same way that Finlay McDonald's comment about running to partisan corners and "throwing rotten fruit and vegetables" has done, the thing is, Coddington is right. While many of the bloggers themselves avoid it in their posts, there's an appalling amount of personal abuse and nastyness in the comments of most blogs - and despite the spin from the sewer, it spans both left and right (and sometimes seems to be a deliberate effort to force people out of the conversation, to boot).

This is one of the chief reasons (as well as simple low quality and unoriginality) that the blogosphere is not taken seriously, and the lesson to those who want it to be is simple: buck your ideas up!

(I should also note that this is an excellent opportunity for any of the self-proclaimed advocates for the blogosphere to publish a rebuttal. Anyone interested should start by filling out the form here)


Coddington is right, but the nastiness doesn't seem to be everywhere - you don't seem to get much, certainly in comparison to Just Left, and Kiwiblog. I'm trying to work out why that is. I think part of it is that bloggers who post nasty things get nasty comments (eg Sir Humphs), but that certainly doesn't apply to Jordan (occassionaly to DPF imho).

Posted by Span : 1/15/2006 01:11:00 PM

Outright party affiliation may attract a more viciously partisan readership (either to attack or defend the appropriate viewpoint). But I think a lot of it is simply down to total readership - fewer readers = fewer morons. Which isn't exactly encouraging IMHO.

Anyway, whatever the reason, I'm grateful for it. When comments become a drag, I stop reading them. Generally, though, the people who comment here are pretty good.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/15/2006 01:35:00 PM

I personally think that the freedom to tap out abusive and angry comments is one of the great defining strengths of the blogosphere and long may it last. I once sent an angry letter chocka-full of f-words to the Dom Post, and to my dismay, they declined to publish it.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/15/2006 03:28:00 PM

if you have a look at Tumeke's blogocracy (, in the sidebar which you may have to scroll down to see) you'll see that NRT is number 3 in NZ - Just Left by comparison in number 7. I'm not sure how Tim works these things out but I think it is based on links and it would tend to suggest that NRT has more readers.

i think you are right about the partisan-ship though - i've posted in the past that i think in the case of Just Left there may be a deliberate attempt, on the part of some commenters, to drive Jordan out of blogging because he is the clear blog-rep for Labour. The Pakuranga Labour candidate's blog, Bertrand Bargolias, received similar attention, in particular from someone called "spooks" who seemed to basically be fixated on Wood and has rarely popped up anywhere else.

There are some RW commenters that just want the LW bloggers to stop, imho. On the left hand side of the equation i can really only think of Millsy who is particularly abusive (although he's mainly abusive to RW commenters rather than RW bloggers). There don't seem to me to be any corresponding efforts by LW commenters to really drive RW bloggers to stop posting.

Anyway, here's a link to the post I wrote ages ago about abusive comments as a tool to enforce conformity:

Posted by Span : 1/15/2006 04:06:00 PM

Coming across Millsy first time around can be a bit tough on the untutored.

The nature of the medium allows for a bit more passion and it doesn't take much goading for a conversation to deteriorate, unfortunately.

Once you get used to it, you can still get a lot out of the threads if you take the bad with a grain of salt.

I like the fact that in amongst the rants, on both sides, you can often pick up a new angle, or a bit of information that you don't get reading the paper. That's powerful.

Whilst the commenters may be part of a regular crowd, and rehashing the same arguments on new stories, many readers come and go, and can get something out of the debates.

The blogosphere is in its infancy, and I think it will gradually improve.

Deborah's comments were fair cop, but she only dabbled into the blogosphere, and didn't really have time to take in the positive aspects.

She missed an important point about handles, for example. Deb's whole job revolves around publishing her opinion. Others need to keep their political opinions seperate from their work lives. Others just don't to invite a brick through their childrens bedroom because some-one took a comment the wrong way.

I'm pleased with some of the improvements we are working on at Sir Humphrey's - which currently include allowing any registered user to post news links or add to our TopSpin forum and wiki.

We are also looking at different peer review processes which may improve the quality of commeting and posting.

I disagree in degrees on Span(ner)'s comment about Sir Humphs - part of the problem is the gulf between the left and right on some baseline intepretations or weightings on various "facts".

I would guess 90% of our negative comments come from maybe 5 commenters. And yes, we tend not to back off from those people. There's got to be a few places on the sphere to let off steam...

Posted by ZenTiger : 1/15/2006 04:16:00 PM

Span, Spooks has managed to offend those on left and right. He pops up elswhere using different psuedonyms. Roadkill is Spooks for example.

I wont mention his latest incarnation, because there is a slim chance I'm wrong.

You see a few RW bloggers trying to drive out the Left, I see it happening on both sides. Its not so much a left/right thing, it's a few vocal individuals that lean one way or another.

I'll check out your conformity tool (sounds lefty already!) when I get a chance.

Posted by ZenTiger : 1/15/2006 04:20:00 PM

OK, I read the "You Will Conform" post. I'll assemble a list of left wing" abusive exmaples one day, just for the balance.

As I said earlier, it does go both ways. Many of the fights often degenerate into people getting annoyed with a fairly small list of commenters that are good at goading or shocking others into losing patience.

I've noticed Paul on Jordan Carter's blog is good at needling, and pre-emptively gets things going. He probably finds it amusing that it doesn't take much to set people off, but it doesn't excuse his behaviour (IMO).

Posted by ZenTiger : 1/15/2006 04:27:00 PM

The LW commenters and bloggers do say nasty things too, but if you counted them all up I'm pretty sure the RW would heavily outnumber the LW. Partly because there are simply more RW in the blogosphere of course. And to be fair I do tend to frequently more LW blogs than right, simply due to limited time.

I had no idea Spooks had other nicks, thanks for letting me know ZT. He got spooked himself when I followed him back to his blog and made a comment on its one and only post - he deleted the post and got rid of any ability to comment.

Posted by Span : 1/15/2006 04:39:00 PM

Span, Spooks under his various nicknames, has been banned from several RW blogs, (including SH, NZPundit, DPF's and Rodney Hide's) for disturbing sexually charged comments. The guy is a nutcase.

Posted by Lucia Maria : 1/15/2006 05:01:00 PM

it's a good cartoon, but i don't think we are talking about sanitising John, i think we're talking about respect and manners? annoyance is not the problem, abuse is.

Posted by Span : 1/15/2006 05:59:00 PM

I don't particularly hold Coddington's words as holding much chop. She is a classic ACTite really - professing progression whilst actually being a deeply afraid reactionary.

The blogsphere is not MSM. It has a different set of operating rules. The whole point behind the rise of the blogsphere was a perception that the MSM has become merely another part of a sanitised echo chamber reflecting the views of a self-appointed ruling meritocracy/plutocracy.

Anyone who reads the vigour of 18th, 19th or early 20th century political electioneering will quickly realise the deeper tradition of political argument is better seved by the rough and tumble of personal and doctrinal insults found in the blogsphere than it is in the sanitised world of TV and radio "personalities" asking contrived questions to politicians in front of boring controlled audiences.

Posted by Sanctuary : 1/15/2006 09:06:00 PM

I mostly agree with Coddington. I don't read many political blogs and even fewer of the comments on them.

However as to anyone blaming bloggers for not adhering to the supposed standard of journalism I think that is absurd. I realise everyone who blogs has different reasons for doing so but to me blogging is somewhat akin to having a conversation in public. It's a fact of life that some peoples conversation is uninformed and offensive and most people, especially in an essentially social and definitely unpaid context, don't rush off to fact check in mid sentence. Some people do aim higher of course, and good for them, but that doesn't change the fact that blogging and journalism are different genres.

Posted by Amanda : 1/15/2006 10:00:00 PM

Sanctuary's spot on. The Coddingtons of this world hate the thought of us proley yobbos of the hairy, unwashed masses actually able to get words up where decent, respectable people might read them. Mouthy gits talking back, the media needs that like a hole in the head.

Personally, I think blog comments sections are a wonderful invention. You "meet" in a virtual sense a range of people you wouldn't be likely to in real life, and exchange reasoned arguments or foul-mouthed insults with them, as you see fit. How could anyone have something against it?

Posted by Psycho Milt : 1/15/2006 10:49:00 PM

Actually psycho milt that is quite true. The fact that there are a lot of morons around doesn't change the fact that it is an amazing thing to be able to connect with a wide variety of people from all over the world. It must have been incredibly isolating living somewhere far away like New Zealand in the pre internet days if you deviated from the norm, had slightly unusual interests, views etc- but with the internet it isn't hard to find like minds

Posted by Amanda : 1/16/2006 08:41:00 AM

Of course the MSM are a bit fearful of the new medium As some have already commented its taken away their previous power Now newspaper editors arent able to control citizerns communication with each other.Its a pity thou that there is not more participation Even high level sites dont have a huge number of different contributors.The more the merrier I say

Posted by Anonymous : 1/16/2006 02:25:00 PM

Does debate in the blogosphere also reflect the general quality of political thought in our society?

I don't read comments particularly often, but to me the more stilted argument seems to emanate from RW. Perhaps this is because they appeal to me less, or perhaps it is because the LW, fighting uphill as it is in this country, is forced to think harder?

Posted by Anonymous : 1/16/2006 03:46:00 PM

Since she was in parliament for a few years, I wonder if Coddington could clearly distinguish the trolling in the blogisphere from the well-paid professional trolling that goes on in the House all the time?

Posted by Anonymous : 1/16/2006 03:51:00 PM

I'd say the same thing to Coddington that I'd say to Finlay - darling, lift your own game (am I the only one who struggles to remember when DC was a pretty good feature writer for North & South?) and be careful about the company you keep.

And Span, with all due respect, what's the point of trying to draw up a scorecard of whether it's the nasty Nazis or the horrid Stalinists who make the most vile comments? When you've had someone express the fond wish that your partner die of AIDS - preferably "slowly and in agony" - ideological toe-tagging seems somewhat beside the point.

IMO, that's a large part of the problem - it's always "them" who are the problem, not "us". It certainly made the election campaign entertaining, in a sick and horrible South Park marathon kind of way.

Anyway, I guess I've got the ultimate sanction - an over-stuffed blogroll that is going to get weeded out in the very near future.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 1/16/2006 04:00:00 PM

the Left are not immune, i never claimed we were, but i guess i'm yet to see a RW blog where the (frequent) comments are so extreme, from LW commenters, as to try to drive that person out of blogging, as has happened in reverse on Just Left imho. that said i don't peruse as many RW blogs as i do LW, of course. and things have cleaned up a bit since the election ended.

i think Icehawk has a point though about being more likely to see and notice the abuse towards your own side of the equation. adding to that that Jordan is a mate in real life may mean that i am hyper sensitive to that particular situation.

i think those of us who are sane about our comments and posts could perhaps be calling people on it when we think they have crossed a line. i know i find that hard and become desensitised to it (Millsy being a perfect example) but i'm willing to give it a shot.

Posted by Span : 1/16/2006 07:51:00 PM

I agree with the sentiments expressed by most in this thread about Coddington having a point - even if she did express it in a painful faux-naive sort of a way. That said, I'm interested that noone has picked up on that fact that she is *way* off base with her suggestions that the blogosphere is not subject to defamation laws. What on earth gave her that idea?

Posted by BerlinBear : 1/16/2006 10:33:00 PM

Because we act as if we're immune?

But yes, she's wrong: any of us could be sued for defamation or libel if someone took offence (and could be bothered). Anonyminity and foreign hosting, and the lack of contact details, could make it difficult to properly serve things and bring suit (and possibly to establish authorship), but we're certainly subject to the law.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/16/2006 11:12:00 PM


I've written to the HoS pointing that out, and making the additional observation that most bloggers don't have the resources of a multinational media corporation to pay the bills.

And, I/S, isn't it funny that "responsible" bloggers & commentators who actually post under their real names are exactly the people who could lose their shirts if some well-heeled litigious pest decides to go on a fishing expedition? (By that, I mean there are plenty of people around who use the threat of prolonged and very expensive defamation actions to try and shut down unfavourable attention. If my memory serves, when media baron Robert Maxwell died he had over a hundred defamation actions in train all over the world.) "Craig Ranapia" isn't exactly a common name. I certainly can't affort to run up a tab with an A-list defamation specialist.

If nothing else, the blogisphere is a fertile ground for irony.

FWUW, I'm planning to kick start my personal blog soon - and there will be no "anonymous" comments allowed, and my comments policy is going to be a damn sight more hardline than it was on NZPundit. Span and Icehawk have a point - if I don't like idiotarians pissing in my virtual living room I better do *something* about it. A good place to start is to activate the Blogger feature that DOES NOT allow anonymous comments.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 1/17/2006 12:08:00 AM

Ah, Craig, good man. Pleased to see someone's on it. After I came here I read around a few more blog posts about this and saw your comments elsewhere and those of others highlighting the same error of DC's. Apologies for jumping the gun, this was the first post I'd read about it.

Posted by BerlinBear : 1/17/2006 01:44:00 AM

I/S - I would have thought it fairly clear the reason you dont get abusive comments is that you generally post thoughtful well reasoned posts that do not hold to a craven party line. I might disagree completely with much of your politics but I respect the integrity. The same cannot be said for jordan and Russell Brown.
check Kiwi bear for blog rankings. your popularity is not that much lower than just left.

Posted by sagenz : 1/17/2006 04:07:00 AM

If you're wondering why defamation actions haven't taken off against bloggers yet, here's three reasons:

1) Bloggers are individuals, and generally poor. Unless an individual is after a symbolic victory, and no cash damages, there's little point.

2) No one has yet tried to launch an action against a blog. I'm not saying it wouldn't succeed, but test cases are invariably more complicated and therefore would incur more legal bills.

And, probably most importantly;
3) Low readership. Most people "defamed" probably aren't aware of it themselves, and even if they are the influence of said comments is limited to a small circle of blog-readers.

As times change and readership increases (and possibly advertising revenue too), point two and three will become less significant. I'm guessing here, and this is just a hope, that more readership will generate more responsibility.

Well, here's hoping.


Posted by Matt : 1/17/2006 06:35:00 AM