How do we encourage dissenting opinions and open debate, while keeping things polite? How do we argue but not eviscerate when the very nature of the topic causes us to lash out in pain? How do we not let our internal disagreements turn into easy weapons for the political opposition, without getting accused of stifling free speech?
Because folks, the people who don’t want ANY version of ENDA, the people who want a constitutional ban on equal marriage, who think LGBT kids deserve to be bullied or even killed are reading this blog. And probably every other well-respected (or at least heavily trafficked) blog. You can count on it. The last thing in the world that I would ever want to do is to stifle free expression. The last thing that I want to suggest to anyone is to “go along to get along” because that approach always leads to resentment and dishonesty. And yet, there are times when a part of me that just wants to yell “TAKE IT TO E-MAIL” when things get too heated. Or go to the chat room (if there is one), so that at least people have to log in. Go start a yahoo group, and make it members only; if you are so pissed off that you can barely type then DON’T–wait until you cool off, but for f*ck sake, don’t rip each other to shreds in public!
But then I stop and think about it, and the truth is, that nothing shared online is ever really private.
There really is no such thing as a private conversation online; emails get forwarded, IMs get archived, groups get invaded and/or archived, people take screen shots and, ultimately, none of us ever really knows who we are speaking to over the internet or who they will share our words with.
Then there are the trolls, and the impostors.
Even here, except for our blog mistress and baristas, we have no idea if anyone here really is who they say they are; certainly, most of us would recognize it if our more frequent bloggers were being impersonated, but I don’t know if I would recognize a change in the tone or writing style of one of the less frequent posters–would you? Most of the blatant trolls get caught, but the smart ones, the ones who have nothing better to do with their time, could well be posting innocuous things for months, blending in and biding their time before sowing the seeds of dissent and intentionally setting us against each other. Or the trouble maker might not even be someone with a political agenda, just a kid who is smart and bored and enjoys starting a fight and then sitting back and watching it (we all have known people like that). Or the drama queen who is so enmeshed in his or her own ego that he or she can’t resist even the most negative attention–never thinking about the consequences to other people. Then we have people who honestly and sincerely speak from the heart, but say the wrong thing in the wrong place or the wrong way, we jump all over them–and then they wonder why, because they usually can’t comprehend that their words are not only hurtful, but harmful, even if their intentions are good, and they have usually not thought through what might happen if their own words are used against them, or us, later (perhaps on a another blog, that they never even see).
It happens less here than on other boards, because Pam and the crew stay on top of it, but when and where ever we get into emotional issues, we are all vulnerable and we are all capable of saying things we regret later. And when we say them on open blogs, we instantly show our vulnerabilities to those who would use them against us. Our political enemies would love nothing more than to be able to divide and conquer and there are days when it seems like we are giving them directions.
We cannot walk on eggshells, so afraid of saying the wrong things that we say nothing of consequence, but we cannot keep handing our political enemies ammunition either.
The internet has brought us all together, and it is the best tool the world has ever known for instant and open communication. But that very openness that we prize so dearly can also be used against us.
So what is the answer? What is the magic formula for keeping honest and open conversation without showing the chinks in our armor to those just waiting to take a shot?
I wish I knew.