As the end of this endeavor approaches, I would like to concisely try to explain exactly WHAT this project has been, to give context to this blog as a whole.
Originally, my goal was to create a guide on changing real-world behavior through online means. However, this topic was far to intangible and subjective to study given the parameters of the project. However, as our class spent time discussing the Internet’s ability to enable discussion with widespread audiences, I decided that I wanted to study this phenomenon in more depth. Seeing the way that online discourse empowered certain people lead me to want to encourage this behavior in any way I could. This evolved into creating a guide to facilitate constructive dialogues in social media outlets. For the purposes of my project, "constructive" refers to dialogue that engages contributors in a civilized manner that leads to a positive and constructive outcome.
With my goal in mind, I had to select a population to observe. Keeping in mind my original goal to encourage real-world change, it was quite a natural process selecting blogs concerned with feminism as my population of choice. Feminism as an ideology, seeks to change people’s attitudes and behaviors for the positive, by encouraging equality amongst genders and oftentimes overlapping with other minority groups.
The websites I specifically examined were:
Who Needs Feminism? (Tumblr)
You Don’t Need Feminism (Tumblr)
Don’t Need Feminism (Tumblr)
Why We Don’t Need Feminism (Tumblr)
Ugh, Social Justice (Tumblr)
Finally Feminism 101
After exploring some theory of change ideologies and honing in on strategies I expected would constructive, I began analyzing websites. The first blogs I examined were anti-feminist blogs. I chose to include anti-feminist blogs partially to avoid having a completely single-sided population, but also because I felt a good starting point to my project was to have a strong counter-example of what I was looking for. As a whole, the anti-feminist blogs I examined demonstrated many unfruitful strategies to avoid, reinforced the importance of constructive dialogue and provided a strong foundation to develop clear strategies. By screening the anti-feminist blogs with the theory of change philosophies, I found that the blogs were behaving in the exact opposite ways the theory of change psychology suggested. Predictably, I found the anti-feminist blogs to not contain much constructive dialogue and had extremely small, polarized audiences.
After examining the anti-feminist blogs, I began compiling examples of pro-feminist blogs. As I was looking for blogs that facilitated discussion, I primarily focused on websites that were considered popular. Once I had settled on the websites I wanted to examine, the bulk of my energy was spent examining everything the websites had to offer. This included: comments and any resulting dialogues, content of articles, tone and rhetorical strategies employed and employed policies regarding commenting; including moderation strategies.
As I examined these blogs and their content, I found that the websites that had the most “constructive” dialogue, tended to be similar in various ways. Amongst all of the most “constructive” websites, the most prevalent reoccurring qualities were: clearly defined goals the website setout to accomplish, a commenting policy with enforced moderation and recognition and inclusion of voices outside of the established “feminist” community. Though the assorted other feminist blogs had many admirable qualities, the content of their comments and discussion were comparatively lacking. As a whole, my findings lead to the development of a list of strategies that will be covered and discussed in the next post analyzing the findings of this project.
The major result of my researching has culminated in both a list of encouraged strategies and a significant change in my understanding of online interaction. Before exploring the feminist blogs, I was under the impression that discussions online were at the mercy of whoever chose to participate. Given the existence of trolls and the various kinds of aggressive online behavior, I expected very little demonstrations of positive behavior. However, now that I have examined these websites and found direct correlations between the behavior of the content creators and their audience’s behavior, I feel equipped to address the existence of these problems.
In summation, my findings have lead me to the conclusion that civilized and constructive behavior is very possible to facilitate online. However, with my findings in mind, I have developed a new attitude about online behavior. In addition to implementing the strategies I have found, I now feel that it is in the best interest of all users of interactive online media to both encourage and normalize these behaviors, so that Internet interaction as a whole can become a more universally positive experience for users.