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Is the blogosphere a community?

jeffroby's picture
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On Saturday, I saw a very interesting piece by Cenk Uygur, whom I have admired, on FDL, “It’s Time for a Progressive Revolution,” in which he said:

If ever there was a time for primaries, it's now! Almost every Democrat running for re-election should get a primary challenge. This is our best chance at a progressive revolution. You know who should run? Teachers, farmers, dentists, moms, small business owners, cops, butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers. And anyone else with a shred of integrity who actually cares about our democracy.

Normally, you need a boat load of cash to run against a member of Congress. Hence, you need special interests behind you. And hence, all of our members of Congress are sell-outs to special interests. Hence, only 8% of people want to re-elect them. But right now might be one of those moments in a democracy where the people stand up and roar. Right now, all you might need is to just not be an incumbent.

It was focused on the 2010 elections, while the Full Court Press is building for 2012 because of issues of resources and filing deadlines. But I was piqued by his saying, “Almost every Democrat running for re-election should get a primary challenge,” and I loved the broad sentiment, “You know who should run? Teachers, farmers, dentists, moms, small business owners, cops, butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers. And anyone else with a shred of integrity ...” Seemed like there was the basis for some dialogue here.

So I posted the Full Court Press proposal on the Young Turks website. I was immediately met in the comments field with a cascade of viciousness. From KenTX:

I'm the REPUBLICAN who is kicking your ass, in your own liberal blogosphere.

We already control cable news, satellite radio, and the AM radio airwaves. Now we're in your kitchen, cooking an omlet.

By the time 2012 gets here, there won't be anything left of the Democrat Party...

From bobo1 I got:

Ken, I dont think... These guys understand the thrashing they are going to take in November. They'd rather call names and deny the obvious truth that no matter what they label us as, we're coming for their representatives, their women and even their children...

and

Your 435 primary proposal is quite frankly its total Bull shit.

You think John Dingle is going to allow this petitioning to happen in Michigan? How about Conyers? Stupak?

How about ole Queen Bitch Pelosi herself out in California? Do you think she's gonna let some little nobody like you garner any credible support through this plan?

How about the Teamsters or the SEIU? You think they'll let you start your "Up With People" petitions and still let you walk? You don't think that they're just the hired thugs of the Democrats currently in power? Just ask Toyota and their "issues" all of the sudden...

I can tell that you are relatively new and young, probably a product of the "Hope" & "Change" revolution (as it were), but your inexperience and desire for real change are futile at best, pitiful at worst.

I can live with the criticism of Full Court Press, so what else is new? But the “coming for ... their women and even their children” and the threat of violence by proxy (Teamsters, SEIU, hired thugs) was more disturbing, as well as KenTX’s proud proclamation that he is out to destroy anything progressive. I looked at more of bobo1’s comments, and saw a theme of threats by proxy, “It is people like me who have the guns and the know how to do these things, not leftist pansies...” and “I would love to see you tell people in Missouri, Tennessee or Georgia that YOU are a 'real American’ and they are just trailer park trash (as you believe deep down in your soul that all Conservatives are) Oh the fun they would have with you - You'll meet some "Real" Americans real quick, and they'd show your lilly white Liberal ass what it means to be an American...” It was clear that their intention was to do nothing but demoralize progressives.

The sheer maleness of this was overwhelming, to threaten women and children openly and not challenge it.

I saw that others had indeed protested this troll infestation and the moderators had ignored them. There was an attitude that it was okay, people could just work around them, hey we’re tough.

So I wrote the site:

Dear Young Turks:

I posted for a Full Court Press today on your site. It has some serious ideas. In the comments, this bobo1 spews nothing but viciousness. Are there no moderators? The comment section is nothing but poison.

Sample: "no matter what they label us as, we're coming for their representatives, their women and even their children..."

No, that's not humorous.

How could anyone take this site seriously as a forum? Yeah, you have a great radio show, but I haven't seen such vicious, overwhelming trolling on a supposedly progressive site in a long time, actually, come to think of it, EVER.

No response, of course.

Then I check out the site again today, and I notice that the responses to this trolling weren’t a whole lot better. They would get into it over WHO deserved to be tortured, who was the moron, etc. By getting sucked in, they remove any moral high ground for calling on the site moderators to deal with this. I can’t help but think of how the Democrats have allowed Lieberman walk all over them in the same manner. Allowed Stupak and Nelson to drive the bus over the women that they have thrown under it. The capitulation is masked by sheer machismo, with no account of how this may destroy discussion, how this might drive women away from the site.

There’s not much more to say. I’m sure the Young Turks radio show is excellent. But the sickness their blog reflects is highly disturbing. I expect such from the fascists such as KenTX and bobo1, but for a liberal site to allow those who call for their destruction, who threaten violence by proxy, whose proclaimed goal is disruption is most disturbing. More disturbing is to see how progressives have been dragged down to their level. I’m reluctant to speak ill of an entire website. The last thing I want is to get pulled into a flame war, and the Young Turks have the right to whatever policies suit their fancy. If they didn’t have some good people there, I wouldn’t even care any more than I care about Little Green Footballs. But though the current inhabitants seem to revel in toughing it out with their trolls in a magnificent display of bravado, one has to wonder how many other good people stay away because they don’t like the threatening character, and what is the loss to us all.

For the progressive blogosphere is not a gaggle of individuals, it is a community. And whatever rights the Young Turks may cling to, I have the right to speak up about the kind of poison that corrodes the spirit of that community and weakens us all.

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jeffroby's picture
Submitted by jeffroby on

The problem -- in one sense -- is that there is grounds for a fruitful dialogue here, and it is being at least partially blocked.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

Hi Jeff, Really amazing. Sometime ago I proposed some civility rules for list serv interaction. I think they, perhaps, ought to be applied in the blgosphere as well. They're in this piece.

jeffroby's picture
Submitted by jeffroby on

I make two points, actually. One is a general one about civility. The second is why a site would allow itself to be, in effect, openly assaulted by those who have avowed their intent to destroy it.

This is nothing but a death wish, and chills me much more than the lack of civility.

Submitted by hipparchia on

i dunno. calling the blogosphere a community is kind of like saying jacksonville florida and los angeles california are the same community just because you can drive from to the other without ever leaving i-10.

as for the young turks, i'm not going to hold my breath on the misogyny. if you spend some time looking through their youtube channel you would think that their chosen audience is the overly-macho among the otherwise political left. it's the reason why i stopped watching their videos a long time ago.

but good for you for complaining to them about it.

jeffroby's picture
Submitted by jeffroby on

is more precise. It's amorphous, hard to define, but not MERELY an aggregate of isolated individuals either.

At Docudharma, someone raised the concern that I was getting diverted from the Full Court Press. To put it in a nutshell, I said that yes, it was a diversion in a narrow sense. But treating it as something private is not so different from treating violence within the family as a private matter, and by posting about it outside Young Turks, it might give some support to those trapped within.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

as usual, I agree with hipparchia.

By the way, I used to listen to the Young Turks. I could not take the misogyny for long. The board, sadly, reflects the nastiness and woman-hatred of the hosts.

Submitted by lambert on
And more easy to throw out of whack. Basically, the people you're talking about sound like griefers. In RL, griefers get punched out or shunned. There's no real way to do that online. What you're talking about, to me, is the larger question of establishing identity and trust online. I lay great stress on writing, not only because I like it as a skill, but because, since le style c'est le personne, the writing is a proof of identity, at least over time. Perhaps tenuous, but certainly better than a handle or an email address or tags.

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

If any element of the definition of community is a group of people who show some minimum of respect for each other, then the answer is simple: no. The Attack Dogs of Misogyny alone guaranteed that two years ago, and as they have not receded, they ensure a negative answer for quite a while. The Young Turks behavior you describe is fairly mild compared to blog wars during the primaries (although still appalling). Beyond interblog lack of respect, there are some blogs whose m.o. seems to revolve around hostility and antagonism and have little in the way of boundaries. It's one thing to have a group where some number of people transgress the boundaries, but another entirely where there are no (or nearly no) boundaries.

But if you can have a community with lesser standards, then maybe. If you analogize to a geographical community, every town has its town drunk and a few asshats who are constantly starting fights or acting to disrupt the community.

What changes a group of individuals into a community? Seems to me the minimal element is some sort of common connection to each other, whether geographic, a common interest, a common purpose, common beliefs.

Here's part of a sociological definition of community:

Not only is the concept of a community a "construct" (model), it is a "sociological construct." It is a set of interactions, human behaviours that have meaning and expectations between its members. Not just action, but actions based on shared expectations, values, beliefs and meanings between individuals.

later on the same site:

Although a community is a cultural system (in that it transcends its individual persons) do not assume that a community is a harmonious unity. It isn't. It is full of factions, struggles and conflicts, based upon differences in gender, religion, access to wealth, ethnicity, class, educational level, income, ownership of capital, language and many other factors.

The whole site is rather interesting (if you happen to be a definition dork, or a sociology fan).

jeffroby's picture
Submitted by jeffroby on

The responses from the right-wingers have been vile, though they seem bothered that I don't reply to them. What has been disturbing are the responses from the progressives, who think that such bullshit is normal, that one should just ignore it, that no real harm is done.

I differ. While I can do little more than register my complaints IN PUBLIC, it is no more a private matter than the home you walk by and hear a woman's screams. As futile as it may be, at least I've called 911.