Today show segment on negativity in the blogosphere

by Susan Getgood on April 12, 2010 · 7 comments

in Blogging, Gender, Interviews, Parent bloggers, TV/Film

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Last Friday, I was honored to be on the Today Show talking with Ann Curry and Isabel Kallman about negativity in the parenting blogosphere. Jen Singer of Momma Said was featured in the taped segment that introduced the topic.

I personally was very pleased with the balanced story that emerged during the segment. There have been so many negative stories about blogging and social media in the press, particularly about moms who blog. It was about time for a major media outlet to present a more balanced picture, and I am grateful to the Today Show for the opportunity to share my views.

There was so much to say, and so little time. Three and a half minutes is an eternity in broadcast, but not nearly enough. Here is what I would have said given unlimited time and a bully pulpit.

In any community — whenever and wherever people assemble around common interests — you’ll find the whole gamut of human experience. Love, hate, fights and friendships. Blogging is no different. Neither are moms. We’re human.

On any given day, read the comments on a sports or political blog, and you are bound to find more than a few “disagreements.” And then there’s the gossip sites like Perez Hilton. No shortage of trash talk and flame wars there. Even the comment sections of newspapers like the New York Times and the Detroit Free Press have seen their share of “attacks” in the comments.

And, no doubt about it, there is negativity in the parenting blogosphere. I do not know ANYONE who doesn’t have at least one troll story. However, negativity is not what defines the parenting blogosphere, and we rejected that hypothesis outright during the interview.

As Isabel said, the difference between the parenting community and other communities where passions can run high, is that the parenting community is also one of the most supportive online communities.

There are so many amazing stories of what women are doing online. Creating businesses and new ways to work together. Supporting each other through illness and tragedy. Using their own stories to call attention to social problems.  That’s the community I know.

When we started Blog With Integrity,  we were all about taking responsibility for what you say. We call it owning our words — even if we occasionally have to eat them. Part of owning your words is putting your name right next to your comments.

Anonymity has its place, but not when used as a weapon, the way online bullies so often do.

And even when attacks are not anonymous, the distance and immediacy of digital creates situations that probably would never occur in “real life.” We don’t always see the three-dimensional person who might be hurt. Our feelings are real — theirs, not so much. This is why the Blog With Integrity pledge includes a commitment to attack ideas, not people. It’s okay — even healthy — to disagree. But don’t make it personal.

When it comes down to it, it’s not at all surprising that passions and tempers can run high on blogs. People start blogs because they are passionate about something and want to share it with others.  I’m currently writing a For Dummies book about Professional Blogging, and have interviewed a number of successful bloggers for the book. They write about different things, and have different goals for their blogs, but the one thing that they all have in common is a passion for their topic.

The trick is to not take it personally and don’t make it personal. Because once it’s out there, it’s out there. Not forever, but as close to it as matters for practical purposes.

Do people who start or fan flame wars damage their own reputations? I think so. You can’t control what others say about you, but you can own your response to it. The best response to a troll is to ignore it. Let it fester away under its bridge.

This can be hard to do, especially when your blog is part of your business. The blog or person talking trash about you is damaging your ability to make a living. The temptation is strong to respond. Most of the time, you are better off ignoring it, and focusing your attention on your goals. Play your tune, don’t dance to someone else’s.

In fact, I had to take my own advice this morning when I read a comment on the Today Show site that called me a “phony specialist” for suggesting that it is better to attack the idea, not the person. Ah, the irony.

When shouldn’t you ignore it? Threats to your safety. Maybe libel, but tread carefully. It’s hard to prove and while the case lives so too do the libelous statements.

Women are saddled with some pretty potent stereotypes. June Cleaver, the perfect stay-at-home mom. The catty gossip — think “The Women.”

And my personal favorite: the double standard. Similar behavior from men and women is often described very differently. A strong woman is aggressive, a man, assertive. A man is opinionated. A woman, shrill. A man, driven. A woman, bitchy.

This is one of the reasons I think we see so many reality-TV type stories about women and women bloggers.

Women,  and especially moms, are STILL held to a subconscious societal standard for normative behavior. Stay at home. Don’t rock the boat. Work…but only if you have to. Be nice at all costs. Nurture nurture nurture.

How else to explain the continued discrepancy between male and female wages in this country. Or that Massachusetts could elect a lightweight like Scott Brown largely because voters didn’t “like” Martha Coakley.

When women do step out of the normative behavior — however they do it — society tries to apply old stereotypes to explain it. Women criticize each other online?  Ooh, that means all women bloggers are “mean girls.” Forget about the cesspool of negativity on political blogs. Or some of the infamous tech blogger flare-ups of the past few years. As my friend Elisa Camahort Page recently commented on BlogHer, if you want to see a real (tom) cat fight, just google “Loren Shel Puppet.”

And when that fails, the mainstream media  fosters new, largely negative stereotypes. For example, the entrepreneurial success of many mom bloggers was turned into a negative by the New York Times last month in its article Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy, I’m Too Busy Building My Brand. I can’t imagine someone writing a headline chastising a father for the same thing — finding new ways to support the family while developing a professional reputation or personal brand (whichever term you prefer).

Women don’t turn in our human credentials when we become mothers, and it is well past time to say goodbye to June.

But let’s not perpetuate old myths and replace her with a new monolithic stereotype of mothers, and especially mothers engaged online, as some sort of cross between Joan Crawford, Paris Hilton and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Women are doing amazing things with their blogs. Starting new businesses that never would have existed without the long tail of the Internet. Sharing their experiences, opinions and passions with others across the globe.

And raising families at the same time.

Imagine that.

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