I don’t care for many of the articles about weblogging, but this one by Wired magazine on the mob mentality of webloggers should be required reading – in particular by every political weblogger.
Webloggers consider themselves the ultimate fact checkers, but lately they’re not satisfied to just fact check; they also want to be judge and executioner, demanding that people be fired or be arrested or unleashing hordes of howling semi-demented readers on whomever is the current target du jour. As this Wired article demonstrates, the chilling effect of all of this is to actually suppress speech as more and more people become less and less willing to publish opinion online because they risk the wrath of the webloggers.
An example is the professor detailed in the article, who wrote a paper about how the so-called “CBS Document” could have been typed by typewriters of the time. If this professor wrote a bad report, attack the report, not the professor. Demands that he be fired from his school sends a message that if a person writes something we don’t agree with, a swarm of angry gnats with a computer are going to do everything in their power to wreck the person’s life, from now until the end of time. What’s particularly sick about the whole thing, is these same people will then gloat about their power, and if you even suggest that perhaps they need to do a little fact checking themselves, they pompously sneer that they’re …webloggers, they don’t have to check their facts. And chances are once they’ve ruined whomever is the current victim of their ire (rarely do these same people have anything positive to say about anyone but themselves), they won’t even remember the person’s name in a couple of months. If you then mention accountability, they’ll reply that …webloggers don’t have to be accountable.
Since conspiracy is the name of the game to these folks, how’s this for one: that many of the mob-bloggers take the actions they take purely for the enjoyment of the power; to gain notoriety or links; or to advance their own careers. They whip their readers into a frenzy and then when these readers go forth to do damage, they say, Well, we never meant for this to happen. Sure you did. No one puts a gun to our heads and forces us to write these posts.
Frankly, if the people that these mob-bloggers went after behaved the way that the mob-bloggers themselves act, they would raise bloody hell and scream to the rafters of foul behavior and various dire deeds.
In the IT Kitchen clinic, we had one day set aside to weblogging and blogger behavior, focusing on specifics such as ethics and etiquette. I believe, and strongly, that this increasing mob mentality should become the topic to focus on for one entire day, by itself; it should be a topic of importantance for every conference related to either weblogging or social software. Personally, I’d like to see if we can develop techniques to more effectively fact check each other and help reign in these little so-called smart mobs (an oxymoron if I ever heard it).
If we’re going to talk about the good of weblogging and the benefits of our actions, we have a moral responsibility to also deal with the bad.
(Thanks to Dave for the link to the Wired article.)