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Safe Blogging

I’ve been reading a bunch of articles about Jason Russell’s breakdown following his viral Kony 2012 video.  The reason given for the reactive psychosis was the onslaught of attention coupled with the public backlash.  Separating the person from the video (or blog or book or movie or whatever medium goes viral because Russell is hardly the first person to experience a spike in attention), my heart goes out to Jason Russell and others who have been swept up in the unexpected.  It is not easy to put something of an emotional nature into the universe, have it be received by many, held to the heart by some, stamped on the ground by others, and have the entire thing play out on a public stage.  I think I was the most disappointed in people like Jason Biggs who mocked Russell’s breakdown.  I guess I don’t see something amusing about a person in emotional pain.  It’s very different to mock, dissect, or discuss an amorphous group; it’s another thing to pinpoint and spotlight an individual.

I can think of many people who have experienced what Russell experienced in a very small dose in the blogging world.  You do not even need your post read by millions to be slammed by an attention wave.  Simply take that time that you felt hurt that people misunderstood your words or slammed you for your thoughts or mocked you in your comment section and then multiply that by 85 million.  Think of how it made you feel during your day and then intensify it 85 million times.

Blogging is a lot like sex.  The simple answer is that if you are putting your words and ideas out there, they have a possibility to going viral or attracting trolls or being stolen or misunderstood and dissected elsewhere or in your comment section.  There are things you can do to protect yourself — slapping on a blog condom so to speak — such as making your blog invite-only or password protecting posts.  But that is not fool-proof, and even the smallest, most private bloggers have the possibility of facing a wave of attention — positive or negative — due to their words.  Truly, the only way to make sure that you are not emotionally affected from backlash of your ideas and words is to not blog at all.

And many don’t.

Many great writers never work on another book once they get bad reviews.  Many bloggers ditch their site once they feel that reaching out to others and connecting in a positive way doesn’t outweigh the negative moments.  I’m not sure if Russell will return to make more films or do the work he has been doing for Invisible Children once he has had time to think.  I think we forget sometimes how fragile humans are in actuality.  How deeply we can affect one another.

We talk a lot about safe sex, about ways to reduce the spread of infections or the chance of pregnancy.  Some schools and parents preach abstinence-only, since it is the only way to ensure — barring a violent event — that you don’t end up on MTV’s Teen Mom.  But in this digital age, I think we also need to talk about safe blogging and by extension, safe social media.  It isn’t very realistic that people aren’t going to go online whether it’s on their blog or Facebook or Twitter or thousands of other social sites.  Nor do I think Internet-abstinence really teaches people how to utilize a great medium responsibly.

Before people post, they need to think about the reality of a thought or piece of work going viral.  Of what it means to possibly have hundreds or thousands or millions of people see something you created.  And even on a smaller level, before posting, people need to think about what it means to have people dissect your words.  To put something you are emotionally attached to out there and not have it well-received.

Before people respond or write about someone else, they need to consider the impact of their words.  There’s a big difference between writing critically about an idea (Kony 2012) and writing critically about a person (Jason Russell).  There is also a difference between a private email conversation and posting on Twitter; in one, you allow the person you are discussing to be unaware, and in the other, there is every chance in the world — no matter how remotely connected you are to that person — that they will read your words.  There is, after all, a chance that Jason Russell will read this post.

I personally think that mindfulness serves as the best contraception.  Not fool-proof; no contraception is.  But the best thing we can use to protect ourselves and each other as we utilize the Internet.

These are the benefits and the drawbacks of living in the blogosphere.  The chance for fantastic, life-changing connections.  The chance for terrible, life-changing connections.




1 Shasta Kearns Moore { 03.25.12 at 7:42 am }

I like it. I like the safe-sex metaphor, too, I think that’s really interesting. I don’t think that anyone can really know what it feels like to have their work go viral before it happens, so I don’t know about that part. But I do think that it’s entirely reasonable and responsible for people to keep negative comments about a specific person out of the public realm. I’ve read enough blogs about people who break down in the light of such criticism (ahem, dooce…) to know that they can and WILL find their way to reading that stuff.

2 edenland { 03.25.12 at 8:23 am }

Bloody brilliant post Mel. I wrote about Kony2012 as soon as I saw the video. I did question Jason Russell’s dyed hair quite flippantly … and I hoped, publicly, that he was indeed the good guy he was portrayed to be.

Breakdowns are never funny. I can’t watch any video on this because my heart feels too sad for him. Some things just shouldn’t be televised, you know? I seriously worry for our digital future. x

3 Lollipopgoldstein { 03.25.12 at 9:27 am }

I had a friend whose father had a very public, very nude breakdown when we were younger. I can’t imagine how his family would have processed it if (1) it had taken place on a national stage vs. in our small hometown and (2) if it lived on in video that people could access over and over again. How can healing take place in this digital age when you can reaccess the moment over and over again?

I know nothing about Jason Russell’s personality, but I do think that regardless of whether we’re assholes or saints, we deserve a base amount of respect as human beings. And I don’t think he’s getting that. I don’t think Dooce gets that.

I think one of the most disturbing pieces I read was Evan Shapiro’s post on HuffPo http://www.huffingtonpost.com/evan-shapiro/jason-russell-invisible-children_b_1370330.html

The “he should have handled the attention better” argument, as if we are all capable of the same emotional processing. There are some who have trouble getting past one negative comment out of many on a single post. And now consider the scope of the reaction to Russell’s work.

4 Casey { 03.25.12 at 9:32 am }

Thank you. This post eases my soul somewhat after the recent ‘incident’. The views have sky-rocketed, but I’ve still been knocked by it.

Your support means a lot- thanks for this post.


5 Pale { 03.25.12 at 10:26 am }

I don’t know how I feel about this … I didn’t know he had a breakdown, but I’m not surprised. It takes a certain (huge) amount of clarity and intelligence … (from? hard work, therapy, self-awareness, perspective, maturity, experience ??) … to withstand the abyss looking back into you … or to even understand the magnitude of what you are inviting in. The medium is amazing and miraculous and powerful … neither good nor bad, like high voltage … you have to respect it, wear gloves and ground yourself. There is an element of not knowing your own strength that comes with the ease of access … you have to understand more than the technology to ride the thunder. Ego is the original achilles heel. This … “~I~ WILL HELP YOU. ~I~ will fix” this promise that he made to the suffering child … might be a noble sentiment, but it was seriously bound up in some western egotism, too. Goliath had spunk, for sure. But the devil sees all of your weaknesses. And you can bet he will go after every one of them if you take him on. Egotism? Is what dropped him into hell. So he gets that one best of all. Fire in the hole, folks.

Safe blogging? Such an interesting subject for all of us here. You’re right … there is a boldness in putting yourself out there. Questioning and seeking are always worthwhile and there is no gain without risk. But it’s a complicated bargain. And the calculation is not the same for everyone.

I went looking for a certain zen quote about presuming to teach and found a bunch that apply …

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

“The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.”

… “words have no meaning – people have meaning.” The assignment of meaning to a term is an internal process; meaning comes from inside us. And although our experiences, knowledge and attitudes differ, we often misinterpret each other’s messages while under the illusion that a common understanding has been achieved.”

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Jason Russel needs to have the courage to listen now and then the courage to get back up — smarter. The River? Moving on.

“To be listened to is, generally speaking, a nearly unique experience for most people. It is enormously stimulating. It is small wonder that people who have been demanding all their lives to be heard so often fall speechless when confronted with one who gravely agrees to lend an ear. Man clamors for the freedom to express himself and for knowing that he counts. But once offered these conditions, he becomes frightened.”

For me, this is the essence of blogging:

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”

6 Cristy { 03.25.12 at 10:55 am }

Mel, this post is a must-read for any blogger. Thank you for writing it and offering valuable advice. I know I’ve benefitted from it.

I was once told by a writing instructor that the danger of writing is that your words go out into the world and are no longer your own. Unlike speaking, writing puts thinks into a more permanent format that can easily be transmitted. And there are people out there who are masters at dissection and finding fault in the simplest of statements.

Because of this, it is important to be mindful when you write. With every post, one of the first things I ask myself is can I defend what I’ve written? Is this important enough to me to put out there for criticism and attack? Because I know from experience that my words can be twisted by someone who is bored or misunderstands what I’ve written. Scary, but a reality.

On that end, though, one of the thing that has helped me is to understand the nature of trolls. Who they are and the mentality of why they cyberbully. One could easily write a whole post about trolls, but I think the main take home message is to step back and determine whether what they’re saying has anything to do with you. Easier said than done for sure.

Finally, the video with Jason Biggs disgusts me. People may not agree with Jason Russell, but profiting off any person’s pain calls into question the character of that person.

7 battynurse { 03.25.12 at 11:24 am }

Very well said.

8 It Is What It Is { 03.25.12 at 3:04 pm }

I was hugely moved by KONY 2012 (I have a draft of a post about it that I decided I wanted to sit with before publishing and then, days later, Jason had his very public meltdown and I wanted to see that play out, too). Even though I am a skeptic, I feel a tremendous amount of compassion for him and the world he thrust himself in to. As the days ticked by post incident without word from him, his family, or a doctor, I became more and more concerned about the damage that the lack of communication was going to do to his Invisible Children campaign.

At any rate, thoughtful and thought provoking post, Mel. Putting oneself out there, regardless of the medium, requires a degree of thick skinnedness and a willingness and ability to protect oneself.

9 aprilvak { 03.25.12 at 7:02 pm }

What struck me the most, Mel, was the question in your comment, ‘How can healing take place in this digital age when you can reaccess the moment over and over again?’

I’ll admit that the only things I know about Russell’s breakdown are secondhand, I haven’t clicked any links or read anything on my own about it, but I do have experience with being able to reaccess that moment of pain.

It’s hard enough to heal when the only thing plaguing you is memory, but memories fade, taking with them some of the hurt as the details become fuzzy over time. It is so much harder when at any time, a hundred times a day if you want, you can view undeniable, inescapable proof of your agony. It doesn’t diminish over time, and it can refresh your memories as if it happened minutes ago. The only thing to do is to make the decision, as many times as you have to, to not look.

It’s not as easy as it sounds to simply not open the Pandora’s box of your own misery. I can’t imagine how much more difficult it would be to be unable to walk down the street without someone opening it for me and forcing me to look inside.

How can healing take place? How can anyone assure that it can? There’s no guarantee of the possibility, but you have to hope.

10 a { 03.25.12 at 7:25 pm }

I just keep realizing over and over how naive I have been throughout my life…and I consider myself fairly worldly. There’s just so much you never expect to happen.

11 Lollipopgoldstein { 03.25.12 at 11:19 pm }

I like to think a majority of people are good. Have good hearts in the right place and will treat your work (and by extension, yourself) with kindness. On bad days, I think the majority of people suck. They have thoughtless hearts in the wrong place and treat your work (and by extension, yourself) with a kick from steel-toed boots. But the reality is that the people themselves don’t change. THEY are the same on my good days and on my bad days. It’s my perception of them that changes.

I try to remember that point when I’m having a bad day.

12 St. Elsewhere { 03.26.12 at 2:49 am }

“I personally think that mindfulness serves as the best contraception. ”

Very well said, Mel. Very well.

I have been having this anonymity-disclosure debate internally for a recent while now, and even when my thoughts were not related to the key incident in your post, I do like your analogy, and the last bit of your post….the idea of mindfulness.

13 Natalie { 03.26.12 at 7:33 am }

I sit on the fence all the time about this. I’ve always been pretty happy to have a smaller readership. It seems that when a blog gets popular and highly-read that some people feel more inclined to make judgement and criticism… as if they very fact that they are popular opens the door. I hate that.

Writing does leave you vulnerable. Whether it’s taking the risk that someone will find my diary hidden in my nightstand, or that someone will misunderstand and react negatively a blog post…. those words are a part of me. And it’s always a decision as to whether it’s more important to leave my blog open and take a risk or to make it private.

14 Kir { 03.26.12 at 7:59 am }

This is something I have been knee deep in thought about for weeks. I have been trying to decide if I want o share my stories of domestic violence with my “blogging world”. I worry about hurting my mom who is still here but had a hand in the abuse, I think of dishonoring my father’s memory and I wonder if my brother and sister write for me if it will hurt or heal all of us. I worry about the backlash from family and friends I grew up with , and then I worry if putting it all in the blogosphere will invite critque and tears into my decision.

The thing is that I want to do this, as much as I want to write very truthfully about our struggle through infertility but yes..I worry about the backlash and the need to explain myself over and over again.

There is no safe blogging or writing save for never hitting publish and that is one place I am sitting on the fence.

Thank you for writing this…it was something I need to read Mel.

15 marwil { 03.27.12 at 11:47 am }

I have thought a lot about safe blogging lately and even more since I read this. I have wondered if it’s healthy to put everything out there. Many choose to write the most intimite details for anyone to read and get wonderful support most of the times. But then there are smaller or bigger backlashes that can knock anyone down. Even if the person behind the words know it’s a good cause or a right decision for them there’s always someone who won’t agree and make it clear that they aren’t. It’s tricky.

16 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.27.12 at 2:06 pm }

This is on my mind a lot now as I work on my book. The thought of being so open to judgment is something I have to keep pressing through.

Sometimes I do wish there were a safer way to be Out There. But any time you protect yourself from hurt, you also distance yourself from contact. And that connection is where the potential for joy is.

17 Rachel { 04.14.12 at 4:04 am }

I was intrigued about this post because I just recently received an unexpected backlash on my blog, and have had to take some precautionary measures in order to protect myself as result.

I knew there was the possibility that I could be hurt while “grieving out loud” for my baby lost due to ectopic pregnancy. But I wasn’t expecting my message or words to be so misconstrued — or for people to attack my character, motives, relationships, message and grief.

While I originally believed allowing anonymous posts were important, I have since chosen to require commenters to register first before posting their opinion. I also have my husband moderate the comments for me. If a comment is going to attack me or a reader on my blog, then my husband will delete it before I will ever read it.

Eventually, I hope to find these safety measures to be unnecessary . . . but for now, I know that I am too vulnerable, and too fresh in my grief, to handle such attacks.

Oh — and I was tempted to give up my blog. But I finally decided that I will not be bullied! Here is a post I wrote the day after the “fallout”: http://thelewisnote.blogspot.com/2012/04/swimming-with-sharks.html

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