I have no doubt that someone, somewhere, has said that the first rule of blogging is that you never talk about blogging. Newspapers don’t often talk about the newspaper business on the front page, and bloggers don’t talk about their WordPress dashboard. It’s just not done. I’ve never been one to care very much whether something is done or not, though, so I want to talk about it for a moment. Specifically, I want to talk about the other entity necessary to make this thing go: You, the Reader.
Since you’re reading a blog right now, I assume you know what one is. Unless you blog yourself, I doubt you have any idea what it’s like to be on the receiving end of dozens of random readers’ comments. Allow me to enlighten you. I am a blogger. I am also a writer. Not all bloggers are writers, I guess, but the reason Get Along Home exists is so that I can make words do my bidding. I’m not here (primarily) to gain status, or money, or really anything else. I’m here to say the things that I don’t see anyone else saying, but which I think deserve to be said.
There is, however, a social quality to blogging that no other kind of writer has to learn to contend with. Newspaper columnists have editors between them and the rest of the world. They get feedback, but it doesn’t come the very second they commit a thought irretrievably to the ether. Authors of books don’t get immediate, direct comments, either. Often, by the time anyone responds to what they’ve written they’ve moved on from the topic completely, so the mailbag, while interesting, probably doesn’t make a huge emotional impact either way.
Blogging is different. With blogging, the feedback comes the moment a post is published. (Unless nobody is reading, which is even worse.) Many bloggers simply turn off the comments so they don’t have to manage that aspect of it, but I enjoy the different people who stop by to chat. Most bloggers leave comments open so that passersby can ask questions, make their own points, or leave their mental droppings on a given topic in a somewhat relevant place. This is, in fact, my favorite thing about this medium. I want to hear from you!
What a bizarre relationship this is.
If you’ve been here for very long at all, you know me in some small way. You know, at the very least, my name. I am Cindy. You, though, don’t have a name, because there will be about 5,000 of you just for this one post (and this is a very small blog), and that’s only if nobody shares it outside the usual readership. Five thousand of you. One of me. There’s safety in those kinds of numbers.
Let’s give you a name so I can talk directly to you for a moment, shall we? Let’s call you Whoever You Are That’s There, or Wyatt. (Note to my friend who actually bears this name: This acronym is a coincidence, and this post does not apply to you!)
You, Wyatt, have the advantage of me. You’ve been reading my writing for at least a few minutes now, just to get to this point in the discussion. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find out, at minimum, my location, religious beliefs, food preferences, number of children, and even a great deal about my personality. If you’ve been here a long time, you know more about me than my own mother does in some ways. This pseudo-familiarity might even lead you to believe that you know how I could improve everything from my cooking to my writing to my spiritual walk. You might even be correct sometimes! You really do know a lot about me!
I, on the other hand, have nothing on you. I’m OK with that. It’s the price I pay for getting my ideas knocked around—and I do want them knocked around. But you need to understand where your rights begin and end in order to behave appropriately.
Last week, I witnessed an appalling spectacle. A God-fearing and exemplary mother (not myself) was giving some much-needed advice on child-rearing. Because of her advice, she was being berated by you, Wyatt, for her multiple perceived sins against…well, against somebody. Some of her readers thought that they detected some personal failings on the part of said blogger, and they told her so. And then, humble and contrite soul that she is, this dear woman began confessing her personal sins to people who have no business even noticing, let alone mentioning them. I watched, aghast, as she felt forced to abase herself, publicly, for a bunch of faceless, random people whose own motive in confronting her was most assuredly not her own spiritual welfare.
Even though I admired her sweet-natured response, she had every right to delete the entire lot of them and not give it another thought. I yield to the blogger’s judgment as to whether those criticisms of her personal foibles were accurate (she seemed to think so), but that doesn’t mean that she deserved the treatment she received. The “close” relationship that we have with our readers often leads us to believe that we owe them more than we do.
I sometimes have the same issues here on my blog. Every blogger who keeps going long enough to build an audience will eventually receive this kind of response. Here at GAH, I allow comments about myself only to the extent that they have some bearing on the post on which a commenter is opining. For example, you can comment on my fat knees if I ask you how my knees look in this skirt. You may not comment on my fat knees if I just happen to mention that I kneel on them to pray.
You have no standing, Wyatt.
In the practice of law, there is a concept known as “locus standi”, or simply “standing”. If you bring a case against someone in civil court, or against the government, you can’t just do it as a random passerby. You must be personally and substantially affected by the case at hand. In other words, I can’t decide to sue some guy in a neighboring county simply because his extensive bathtub collection is right out in the front (and back, and side) yard for everyone to see. I have to be personally affected by that eyesore before my opinion on the matter can even be considered.
If I were to try to get a lawyer to help me sue Mr. Tubbins, any lawyer I approached would show me the door. Yes, those bathtubs constitute half an acre of ugly, and I doubt anybody in their right mind would disagree, but I am not the person to say so or to do anything about it! The blogger whose readers decided to call out her personal problems had that same lack of legal standing.
Who has standing, then?
I’ve often been accused of deleting comments that disagree with me. I don’t do that. Ever. You can say all kinds of things and I’ll leave it there. I am likely argue with you, yes. I don’t back down very easily, so you might have to interact with me more than you’d bargained for, but opinions that are on-topic may be expressed freely, even forcefully. I do, however, sometimes delete those whom I deem to have no standing to make a particular criticism. Sometimes I simply warn the offender.
Here’s a hint: If this blog, its email address, and its social media pages are the only ways you know to contact me, you don’t have standing to make a complaint about me personally. I welcome your comments about any given post, but I don’t need any more editors or spiritual advisers.
Believe it or not, Wyatt, bloggers have lives that extend far beyond the pages of our websites. (Most of us do, anyway.) We have husbands or wives, parents, extended family, co-workers, pastors and friends. Those of us who are Christians have the Holy Spirit. I, personally, have all of these (except co-workers), plus several networks of bloggers with whom I discuss these things.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend.
There are also many readers of this blog who have moved into the “real friend” column—people who can message me on Facebook (my personal page), call me, or text me (and believe me, they do!) to let me know if I went off the rails with a post in some way. They have standing because we have a two-way relationship. They don’t just know what I tell them about myself. They know me. They have a personal stake in being honest with me in order to improve me, not just to make themselves feel better. I know their motives are good. They know me well enough to know when I need to hear something. Their criticism is fruitful.
Yours, I’m afraid, is not. We just don’t have that kind of relationship, Wyatt.
But I have a right to speak!
You might say, “Listen, Cindy, you can’t just put your obnoxious personality on the internet and expect me not to notice! I can’t help seeing it!” The answer to that, Wyatt, is in whatever software and tools you use to browse the internet. There are dozens of ways you can avoid this problem. Among them are:
- finding the little “x” that closes the browser tab
- starting your own blog so you can say things the way you wish I’d say them
- typing in a new url to take you to your happy place where people care what you think of them
- hitting your StumbleUpon button and hoping for better things on your next hit
- throwing your computer through the window so that you never have to look at the internet again.
The possibilities for appropriate behavior when confronted online with a person of whom you disapprove are absolutely endless. Use your imagination. Sky’s the limit.
Good bloggers—faithful, earnest, Christian people–have too often been hurt by the words of commenters who have no idea how much courage it takes to put yourself out there in a world where everyone is looking for your weaknesses while, being human, you cannot fail to exhibit some. I hope other bloggers (especially the tender-hearted mamas like the one in my example) will join me in refusing to allow this sort of nonsense to take place anymore.
Every blogger has to decide what is within the scope of acceptability for comments. And every commenter will think the line is drawn in the wrong place. I gave up caring what Wyatt thinks of me, personally, a long time ago (like, days), and I feel absolutely no guilt about it whatsoever.