Blog: Private Home or Public Meeting Place?

you're not the boss of me

I have been blessed with many wonderful readers and commenters. I appreciate comments and routinely thank commenters for the great conversations. In fact, this month’s thanks to commenters post was scheduled for today, but I postponed it so I could discuss something that happened this week.

You wonderful readers and commenters have spoiled me so much that I was flabbergasted to encounter what I consider to be cyberbullying. I will tell the story of what happened without identifying the bullies and ask if you agree with me or if you think I am overreacting.

Several weeks ago, I received a comment from an official at an online university, asking me to unblock the URL of an online business that gives scholarships to the school’s students. She said that the students receive college credit for leaving comments, and the students couldn’t get credit for leaving comments on my blog because the comments went into spam. I assured her that I have not blocked that site or any other. In fact, I found comments from that URL in approved comments. I explained that if I did send a comment from that site to spam, it wasn’t because of the URL but because the commenter used a keyword instead of a name or otherwise violated my comment policy.

This academian then insisted that I contact Akismet to remove the block that has been placed on this particular site. I explained that it was not my responsibility to get the site unblocked as I had nothing to do with it being blocked, and, in fact, I have no knowledge that it is blocked. The woman then tried to make me feel guilty for not helping students I don’t know attending an online school I’ve never heard of.

A little later, she left a comment and said she was glad I had unblocked the e-commerce site from my blog. I explained that I hadn’t unblocked it because I had never blocked it to begin with. I assured her I would approve comments that were relevant and in accordance with my stated comment policy. Since then, I have watched for other comments from that URL but never received any until a few days ago.

I will briefly summarize a series of comments and e-mail exchanges that took place over a couple of days. A student at the school left a comment on the post about the winners of the Visual Arts Junction writing contest.  The message insulted one of the winning entries, the writer, and all of the judges of the contest. The comment went into moderation as it was the first comment from that person. She then left several more comments asking if her comment went into spam. Then the college official left a comment asking if the message went into spam. I explained to both of them via e-mail that the message went into moderation, as all first comments do, as spelled out clearly in my comment policy. However, I deleted the comment because it was insulting not only to me but to a number of other people.

For a visitor to come to my blog and insult me and others is no different in my mind than a visitor coming to my home and insulting my taste in home decor and my friends and neighbors. The woman from the online school said that it is completely different—my home is a private place but my blog is a public place. Since it is a public place, she said, I am obligated to publish comments from people who disagree with me, even if they are highly insulting. Oh, and I really shouldn’t be insulted because they simply pointed out that I don’t know what I’m doing.

I never expected to have such a situation on my little hobby blog. This is a place for me to do some writing for myself and share it with like-minded people. I don’t make any money from the blog. I do have information about my books and my services and even a few Amazon affiliate links—but the purpose of the blog is for me to have a creative outlet, not to make money. And it is fortunate that my goal is not making money, because I’m very successful at not making money here. 🙂

If you enjoy my blog, I’m delighted you’re here and welcome you back. If you don’t enjoy my blog … well, there are millions of blogs on the Internet. I encourage you to find others that better meet your expectations.

What do you think? Is a blog the blogger’s private home where she can expect to be treated with respect and have her friends treated with respect? Or is a blog a public meeting place where the blogger is obligated to be bullied and insulted under the guise of open conversation?

Updated 4/14/10: I had sent a copy of some of the correspondence to my friend Aggie Villanueva, both to confirm that she agreed that the comments from the online school official and student were inappropriate and to alert her in case they started heckling her since she created and hosted the contest. She sent me a very supportive and thoughtful note, which she included in her blog post today: Your Blog: Private Property or Uncensored Battleground in the Name of Free Speech? I encourage you to read it.

I also encourage you to read the comments on this post. Several commenters have suggested better analogies for a blog than a private home: a store of which the blogger is proprietor or a newspaper of which the blogger is the publisher. Although these are more public than a private home, the shopkeeper decides what can be discussed in her store and the publisher decides what he will publish.

Creative Commons License photo credit: LaurenV.

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