Does Your Niche Allow For Debate?

Recently I got a DM (direct message on twitter) from a fellow blogger asking me what to do about the angry comments on her site. The comments ranged from “you are stupid” to quite vulgar. The most remarkable part of it is that she was reviewing a cell phone. The post wasn’t about politics, sex or religion, it was a tech review, and tech reviews don’t often inspire ire.

I gave the blogger the same advice I give every mom blogger who asks: Treat your blog like your living room. If you wouldn’t be spoken to in that manner in your home, you have every right to remove it from you blog. Understand that I see disagreement as a pleasant intellectual exercise, and I assert that it can be done respectfully, joyously even.

I don’t actually follow my own advice (you’ll find that I am in the habit of ignoring all good advice no matter who it comes from), and you might see a number of revolting comments splattered about the pages here. I am not often bothered by what strangers say. I’ve been blogging a very long time, and more often than not I find that the comment says more about the person who writes it than it does about the person who receives it.

I’m afraid that niche blogging has stripped away our ability to debate. If I’m looking to talk about balancing motherhood and career I’d land at Ad Hoc Mom, if I wanted to talk about breastfeeding I’d find myself at PhD In Parenting, and to get a little bit greener every day I’d be at Eco Child’s Play. The audience at Joy Trip is described as people who are environmentally conscientious with a bend toward type-A athleticism, if you’re going to argue that BASE jumping should be banned, they are not your group.

What do you think would happen if a Quiver Full Family was given a column at the Huffington Post? For those of you unaware the Quiver Full movement comes from this passage in Psalms:

Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD:
and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man;
so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:
they shall not be ashamed,
but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
Psalm 127:3-5 (KJV)

Quiver Full families take that passage quite seriously, often having a dozen, or more, children. Would a liberal “news source” like HuffPo be able to provide an extreme example with a thoughtful audience? Will Fox News ever be taken seriously by anyone but the far right?

Is there any chance that a respectful discussion would ensue, or have we taken our blogs, our news sources and our commentary and placed them into compartments, labeling them niche, in hopes that no one notices that we only want to talk to people just like ourselves?

What is so terrifying about just being a blogger? When did we lose the ability to debate without attack? Why would we only want to get news from people just like us?

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  1. I allow and invite a lot of debate on my blog. I find that it creates an opportunity to educate people about different viewpoints and also to expand my own horizons. Like you, I enjoy intellectual debate. I may have a niche (which includes, but goes beyond breastfeeding), but I still get plenty of varied opinions in comments and am appreciative of that.

    I think that outside of spam, there have only been 2 comments that I have not approved in more than 2 years of blogging.

  2. I absolutely think you’re right.

    My blog is pretty varied, but its primary focus is on my youngest child who is seriously mentally ill. I welcome conversation, questions, and respectful debate, but that never happens. The vast majority of comments and emails I get are supportive, which of course I appreciate very much.

    The comments I get that are not supportive are almost always abusive and hateful. I never leave them on my blog, which of course has given me a reputation among some in the anti-psychiatry niche as a person unwilling to debate. That part is fine; people who are entrenched in their own position aren’t the people I’m interested in speaking with, but the people who disagree with me in more reasonable and intellectually honest ways? They don’t come around.

    Yes, it makes me sad because we lose so, so many opportunities to learn.

  3. I am going to take my experience from the college classroom that I have sat in for the past four years and apply it to the interwebs.

    There are two kinds of debates and two kinds of people who are part of a debate.

    There are people who can say I respect your decision. However, here is a plethora of information I have on this topic. Lets hash it out and see if we can both learn something?

    And then…there are the people who don’t agree with you and respond with insults and vulgar language.

    There is intellectual debate and there are arguments. And since not all people understand the difference you often end up with an argument rather than an intellectual debate.

    And arguments kind of suck.

  4. I let a lot of stuff go because I just don’t care. I have received death threats been told to go to hell and had a few people threaten to have my children taken away. Anonymity gives some people balls that they don’t have in person.

    But because I have a thicker skin I am sometimes guilty of feeding the trolls. It is juvenile, but sometimes I can’t help but egg them on.

    The question I sometimes ask people is why aren’t they secure enough in their own beliefs to accept another person’s position. What is the point of blogging if you can’t interact with others and why would you only want to talk to people who agree with you.

    How boring and provincial. Every now and then I learn something from blogging- that is a good thing.

    • So Child Protective Services is busy over at your place, Jack? That must be why they haven’t made it over to my house yet (based on calls from my friendly commenters).

      • Yep, I had a “fan” who emailed me daily with stories about how she was going to have them come and take the kids. I posted her emails on the blog and she really went ballistic.

        Those weren’t as much fun as the emails I have received threatening to decapitate me and the kids. Some people are unaware how large a digital footprint we leave. I sent those notes on to the appropriate people.

        Some of the worst behavior I have ever witnessed online used to take place on the CNN message boards. That was pretty nasty- names addresses and telephone numbers were posted.

  5. I love debate, as long as it is respectful (well, it’s kind of interesting when it is not too). Of course, I will always take the greener path, but we can’t learn from each other if we don’t share our opinions. Jessica, you and I have many times not seen eye to eye, but that makes me love you even more :)

  6. The sole purpose of my two blogs are to provide opinions. On, a group of authors post about the minor annoyances of daily life. On I like to tell people how to raise their kids, and what to slather on their faces. Both invite debate. I only cut it off when it turns personal and the debate is no longer about the post, but about the attributes of the person who wrote it. Well, usually. First, I toy with them, then I cut it off.

  7. i’m all for a good discussion and debate. while i may not take the advice that is offered on some of my posts, i do appreciate the readers who offer it (when asked for.) i too have wondered when debates turned into direct attacks, and really nasty ones. i’ve only been blogging for 3 years and unfortunately it just looks to be getting worse and worse.

    now, that being said, i’m not about to throw in the towel and shut my mouth. it’s my blog (my living room, as you put it) and if you don’t like it, well then click the “x” and move along. but personally, i’d rather see good constructive conversation than ugly attacks over blog posts. and some seem to enjoy the attack-aspect that seems to be so prevalent right now.

  8. I think the point is less that certain blog owners might censor or otherwise discourage debate and more that the wide variety of digital media allows us to filter according to our preferences. How many reasonable people who do not agree with attachment parenting are going to end up on Annie’s blog? Maybe a handful…but most of the haters will be trolls. The debate will mostly happen between people who share the same general philosophy but disagree around the edges. I think it is a good thing to have a place where each of us feels safe and can receive support–but it is also good to have a place where multiple perspectives are raised and debated. At the same time, it is not always so clear cut. Although I frequent parenting sites where the authors share my choices and style, those authors also often blog political viewpoints about which I disagree wholeheartedly. So, I sometimes have opportunity to discuss those disagreements with people who I respect very much.

  9. I love spirited debate. I really dislike the trend on some sites for it to devolve into hateful name-calling. My blog is too small to really inspire those sorts of comments but on the occasion it has, I’ve let them through.

    What annoys me, is when I take the time to address the complaint/comment/concern in public on my blog and they then respond privately via email. If you can criticise me in public, then you should also accept my explanation in public too.

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