A Reminder of the Ugly Side of Blogging

Opinions are like butts. Everyone has one.

Yesterday, I Truemored the case of Paul Tilley, an advertising executive from Chicago who recently committed suicide. Rumours are rife that the suicide attempt may have been linked to malicious, anonymous posts from the blogosphere that referenced Tilley’s management style.

We will never truly know what drove Tilley to take his own life, and in this difficult time, it’s easy to shift blame and find a scapegoat. However, I assert that regardless of the reasons behind Tilley’s suicide, there is an important lesson here about responsible blogging. As blogging rapidly proliferates, there will inevitably be similar cases in the future.

New media represents the zenith of democracy, as the Internet epitomises the liberty of free press, empowering the masses and allowing anyone to voice their opinion. Citizen journalism is revolutionising traditional media, and Truemors is the quintessential example of this rapidly evolving phenomenon.

Whilst the democratisation of information is undeniably an encouraging trend that we should all embrace (Would I be writing this if I didn’t believe that?!), nevertheless, I think it’s important not to dismiss the ugly side of blogging in an off-hand manner.

One of the key differences between traditional and new media is accountability. Whereas bloggers are free to write whatever they please, newspapers and television stations are at least accountable for the views that they portray. In addition, there are basic quality standards, which mean that writers cannot simply write whatever they want with blatant disregard for other people.

Even still, the consequences of living under the watchful eye of the paparazzi can be devastating, as the recent death of the young actor, Heath Ledger clearly demonstrates. The celebrity gossip columns time and time demonstrate the cruel irony of fame: it can elevate you to the height of success, but it can also destroy you.

Consider then, the power of blogging, which can push ordinary people into the spotlight, even when they don’t seek notoriety.

This is why I think that bloggers need to be responsible. I don’t advocate censorship
or regulation of the blogosphere, as this would completely defeat its objective. However, I do think that blogging is a powerful medium, and as my favourite super hero likes to reiterate: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The typically libertarian view would probably hold that people should be able to write whatever they want and other people should just be able to handle it. This is fine if we were living in a bubble, perhaps in a world without cause and effect. The undeniable truth is, our choices in life, and subsequently, our behaviours and actions have a profound effect on the people around us.

The justification of what basically amounts to cyber-bullying, also blatantly disregards the notion that the most powerful in society have a responsibility towards the most vulnerable. Sure, we all handle things differently, but surely, we cannot dismiss people who may be adversely affected by what we write. I agree that that in this new media age, all of us perhaps need to be a bit thicker-skinned, but bloggers themselves also need to be responsible and think about the consequences of what they write.

These bloggers were also anonymous. To some extent, all of us hide behind our online identities, our Facebook profiles, and our instant message platforms. However, I think that where possible*, bloggers need to adopt an open and honest approach.

I include myself in this view, by the way. I was personally reminded of the need for responsible blogging, when I dismissed Irshad Manji’s book as perhaps “mediocre,” without having actually read it …

So I think that responsible blogging is something that all of us who partake in the blogosphere need to work towards, perhaps by creating some sort of responsible blogging manifesto. 🙂 If there are any bloggers who are reading this and feel the same way, perhaps we should form a consortium of like-minded people.

In English literature class, I was fortunate enough to study J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, and as I write this, I am reminded of a quote from its central character:

We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.

My thoughts are with Paul Tilley’s family and friends at this difficult time.

Photo credit: Monky.cl on Flickr

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