You can learn a lot about people by watching how consistently they apply their standards of behavior. For example, take how people react to Turkey’s ban on YouTube. YouTube is the world’s most popular video sharing site, and many of us are puzzled by Turkey’s banning of it. We question our democracy. We blame the courts for not understanding how the web works. We get angry at the people who found a few of the videos and comments so offensive that they took the issue to court and got the whole site shut down. We claim to not understand this intolerance, and we blame it on conservatives or the provincially-minded. We think that if only people were more open-minded, if only they knew better how the web works, YouTube would be accessible.
Turkey’s blogger community, one of the most internet-savvy groups in the country, can’t believe anyone could misunderstand the nature of YouTube so badly. Most bloggers here believe the ban is ridiculous, and the people responsible for it should be embarrassed for themselves. They look at the situation with a smug sense of self-satisfaction, and they congratulate themselves on being so open-minded and so understanding of the world.
But before bloggers congratulate themselves, they should take a closer look at their own actions. For example, take how they handle the comments people make on their blog posts. Over the years I have seen many bloggers who choose to “moderate comments”. This means that if a reader reads a blog post on, for example, Turkish politics, and tries to leave a comment, the comment won’t show up until the blogger sees it, decides it’s okay, and approves its appearance on the webpage.
It’s kind of off-putting. It’s like the writer is saying, “This blog is my castle, and you can only come in if I decide to let you”. And it’s not just beginners who set their defenses so high. Recently, I came across a blog started by a communications consultant in Turkey who has been in the communications business for 25 years. Her blog’s headline stated, right at the top of the page for all to see, “Commenters who are rude will not be allowed to comment”.
This consultant’s business is all about understanding changes in the communications world and showing people how to adapt to them quickly. You would think someone like that would have a more thorough understanding of social media tools. Yet by bluntly exerting her control over potential commenters, she was showing a terrible misunderstanding of the user dynamics of the blog world. Blogging is about sharing, and if you are putting your opinions out there for the world to read, you need to be ready to receive commentary from all sorts of people. A blog is a community discussion, and the community decides what is rude and what is not. It’s not something the writer alone gets to control.
There is an important parallel between YouTube’s being banned in Turkey, and the attitudes of bloggers in general. Both instances deal with wanting to have control over a conversation so you can avoid anything you might not like personally. In the case of YouTube, a minority has an emotional reaction to a comment, and they use the courts as a lever to shut down the entire site. In the case of bloggers, the owners monitor and delete comments they personally don’t like.
It’s natural to want to exert control over the world around you, but the internet isn’t really a good place to do it. That goes double for blogs. I’ve been writing them for years and reading them for even longer, and I know from experience that they are about conversations, and the best conversations happen when the person who starts them is willing to relinquish control over them.
So before you ask others to meet your standards for respect, tolerance, or anything else, examine your own actions first. When other people see you living up to your own standards, they will be far more likely to accept your request that they live up to them, too.