For this project, I explored the content of ten different self-identifying pro and anti-feminist websites. The majority of these websites were blogs that hosted articles and content pertaining to either the propagation or condemnation of feminism. Despite the drastically different approaches to feminist ideology, both camps were looking to achieve the same goal: the spread of a belief and promotion of discussion. In my research, I learned a great deal about fostering specific kinds of dialogue, strategies for online moderation and various approaches to spreading ideologies. To keep the outline clear, I have decided to separate my thoughts into three more concise topics: the findings themselves, what I interpret the findings to mean and how these findings are relevant outside the confines of this particular blog.
What I Found:
As my list of suggested behaviors and strategies suggests, I have found multiple strategies and approaches for creating and maintaining “positive and constructive” dialogue in online environments. Specifically, what I have found are correlational relationships between behaviors. Most significantly, I have found that online discussions thrive when they are requested by a tone that does not assume supreme authority. Finally Feminism 101 specifically mentioned in its content that the blog is not meant to be the mouthpiece of an all-encompassing authority on the subject, it is merely an informative primer for interested readers. Audiences are encouraged to contribute to discussions because all voices, both experienced and inexperienced are invited into the discussion. By establishing this “level-playing field” and making a comfortable environment for its audience, FF101 promotes various discussions as a whole, which encourage education and growth, while avoiding aggressive comments.
My other major finding is the way in which virtual spaces behave when run by a blogger. When a blogger establishes an online space, they are placed into a position of authority about what they will allow and condone in their space. I discovered this behavior when I encountered blogs that utilized a “commenting/moderation policy”, which allowed the blogger to remove content and ban users from contributing. Though this behavior was addressed with some criticism, I have found that proper use of this behavior is very conducive to both foster dialogue, as well as encouraging certain behaviors. By utilizing these capabilities and enforcing standards of behavior, bloggers were able to cultivate both flourishing discussions while avoiding aggressive online behavior, including “flame-wars” and “comment battles”.
What these things mean:
I interpret these particular findings as evidence that online behavior is dictated by similar rules of etiquette that social interactions demand in person. The major difference between socialization occurring online and in the real world is the subsequent ramifications of not following standards. In the real world, failing to meet social standards typically begets negative results, either in the forms of isolation or aggressive behavior. As the rules of interaction online are constantly in flux and changing depending on the established environment, behavior is rarely met with significant repercussions. Depending on a given website’s policy and how strictly it is enforced, audiences are free to behave however they would like. Though some people are naturally inclined to “good” behavior, there are naturally users who take advantage of the freedom and act in disruptive ways. In the many websites I studied, blogs that enforced an established commenting policy had large amounts of discussion that included minimal problematic speech. I attribute this to both conscientious content-contributors and the enforced moderation that discouraged problematic behaviors from manifesting. In spaces where misbehavior is met with substantiated repercussions, social interactions tend to function in pretty static ways, much like they do in real life.
As a whole, I expect this information would be quite useful for many interested audiences. Online socialization has historically been an important function for many users, and having an understanding of how to take control of; and perpetuate, this behavior could be a very useful tool for many. This may very well include individual bloggers looking to ensure that discussions in their space are functional and enjoyable, as well as large-scale online industries looking to keep their users amenable and their services as uncluttered by miscreant behavior as possible. In essence, these findings translate well into the foundations of multiple areas of study: psychology of online behavior, legal boundaries on how much authority content creators have on their created spaces, philosophies and ethics for virtual behavior, etc…
In summation: this blog is just the foundation to an important analysis of people’s behavior online, but a necessary beginning to a large and long-reaching study in various fields of knowledge.