Once again, I’ve found another prime model to follow when trying to develop constructive dialogues in a blog space. Like Finally Feminism 101, the blog demonstrates a strong foundation for creating effective and engaged dialogue and the conversations occurring on the blog quite nicely fall into the category of “constructive”. Once again, I will apply my method of analysis for this blog to demonstrate what I’m referring to specifically. After the analysis, I would like re-state my goal for this project and help clarify how to employ my findings for practical purposes.
Blog's Construction/Foundation for Generating Civil Discourse:
http://www.feministe.us/blog/about-this-website/feministe-mission-statement/ - Like Shakesville and Finally Feminism 101, the blog has a clear goal in mind and employs a comment policy. As we have seen in previous examples, comment policies can be an effective strategy when enforced successfully. Important to note that the blog places emphasis on the idea that women's voices will be prioritized in addition to pro-feminist ideas. This is a perfectly valid policy, although as we have seen with Feministing, has potential to create a “reserved space”.
http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2014/03/10/is-the-separation-of-eroticism-and-feminism-a-problem/ - The content is well crafted and open-ended. Content of this article does not assert itself as fact, but an informed response and prompt. There are lots of comments in response to the article and many dialogues, some longer than others. In this particular article, the moderator addressed off-topic input and pointed the commenter to another area to further their discussion in a more constructive environment. This particular issue ended peacefully with the participant conceding that they need to improve their ability to contribute within the parameters of the blog. This is the ideal response to commenters that are genuinely trying to engage, but are not following parameters in a benign fashion. It keeps them invested in participating, without alienating or harassing them. Signs of excellent moderation!
http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2013/08/21/open-letter-to-michelle-obama-cutting-calories-at-the-womens-history-museum/ - Highly polarized content, but discussions remained civil in the comments section.
http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2013/11/22/punishing-kids-for-cross-gender-play-is-abusive-not-tough/ - Highly opinionated topic, but conversation amongst commenters was quite fruitful for certain participants and the audience was clearly engaged with the content.
Overall, this blog can boast excellent discussions amongst its commenters as well as an active contributing audience. As a whole, this is a fantastic blog to model after. Moderation and open tone combined to create great results.
1. Have a clear goal/point to your blogging. If you are interested in promoting something, define it. If you are criticizing something, specify. It will keep content and discussion goal-oriented.
2. Keep the tone constructive. If you expect an audience to engage with your material, you need to help them feel included. Aggressive rhetoric and language will only alienate possible new members. Keep aggression minimal and criticism constructive, it will only help your goal.
3. If someone disagrees with you, be willing to engage them in a constructive manner. Dialogue is necessary for any debate. If you refuse to engage with people who do not share your views, your audience will become myopic and you will be unlikely to encourage growth outside of the established community.
4. Create parameters/standard if and when possible for dialogue. If you are in charge of a blog, you have the ability to control the dialogue. Use this to keep things productive.
5. Avoid attacks against dissenters or naysayers. It almost invariably results in combinative discussion and argument. If unavoidable, keep the criticism constructive and use it for the purpose of improving your own work, not to discredit opponents.
6. The tone of your content will dictate the tone of the response. When trying to persuade others, keep the tone inviting and open. If you enter a conversation with an unyielding mindset, you are unlikely to attract people who will challenge/expand your beliefs. You will most likely only attract similarly minded people, which can easily become, in the words of the Reddit community “a circle jerk”. The best arguments can address the existence of an opposition. Better to utilize any opposition to further your argument rather than shun it.
7. If you wish to have an honest and productive discussion with an open audience, you have to be willing to engage with dissenting opinions. It is easy to allow a blog to “preach exclusively to the choir” when you discount and exclude contrasting opinions. If you are not open to expanding your community and the discussion involving your community, you cannot call your blog “an open” source.
8. There is a difference between a “safe space” and a “reserved space”. A safe space is a environment where members of a community can feel free to express themselves honestly and openly. A reserved space is an environment that excludes others. Though there can be over lap between the two, it is important to remember the distinction in order to evaluate the type of discussion that occurs in a particular environment.
A general word about this project:
In discussions I’ve had with friends, some misunderstandings about this project came up. To help clarify the function of this project I’d like to quickly explain what I’m looking to accomplish and who might benefit from this project.
Some responses I’ve received upon hearing about this project: Who cares? Isn’t this blog about making people feminists? What can this list do for me?
First of all, this blog is not about making anyone a feminist. Though I support the ideas behind feminism and am happy to provide resources, I am not looking to “make” anyone a feminist. I’m using blogs that focus on feminism as a case study to examine strategies for creating discussions online. Feminism is certainly not the only subject that people discuss online, but as most blogs focused on feminism aim to promote constructive discussion, it made for a good population for a case-study.
What I am trying to accomplish is the creation of a “cheatsheet” for people looking to create productive and inviting conversations online. Too often do Internet discussion devolve into strings of unrelated comments that offer little intellectual contribution to the matter at hand. By compiling techniques that can help encourage better discussion, I hope to improve the quality of people’s interactions online if possible.
My advice for anyone looking to use the list of strategies to benefit their own Internet usage; ask yourself: “Do I engage in online discussion?”. If your answer is “Yes”, when do you find you get the most out of online discussion? Hopefully your answers will be reflective of some of the qualities I’ve outline in this blog. If your answer is “No”, why do you not engage? Is it because you find people do not engage in the behaviors I suggest here?
In short, what I’m looking to do is encourage civility and productivity as a value for people using the Internet. Most people expect the worst of trolling and rudeness online. If we can reduce the amount of trolling and online negativity at all, we are making the Internet a more productive space as a whole. If we make productive and invested interaction an expected norm on the Internet, rather than an unusually pleasant occurrence, we make the Internet all the more powerful and helpful as a resource.