Thursday, December 22, 2005

On Speaking Privately in Public-- on Blogs

Doubtless most of us have been there. You are stuck in an airport waiting for a flight, and at least four or five private conversations are going on around you. Now its one thing when the other person is there and you are talking to them. That's all fine. But suppose you are in a quiet space, like some airports have set up for laptop users and the like--- and someone breaks out the cellphone and begins talking at the top of his or her voice? This is having a private conversation in public, in a manner that is rude and obnoxious, ignoring and being oblivious to the fact that there are others around who might not want to hear what is being said. Though we have all endured this in one form or another, we now have a new form of public rudeness of this sort-- on blogs.

Weblogs can be a wonderful form of having a dialogue or discussion on something that matters, though too often they are used just to vent. But what is really amazing is how many people are prepared to ask personal questions and make private remarks on a blog, when they could have sent an email to the person in question. Sometimes we even have people airing their dirty laundry for all to see on the internet. This unfortunately is another example of the narcissism of our culture, where people do not care or are oblivious to the effect of what they are doing on others who use the same public space. There need to be some suggested rules for bloggers. Here is a rudimentary set as a starter:

1) Nothing strictly private should be posted on a blog. One should confine such comments to an email message or a private phone call or better yet a conversation in person. If you want to have a one on one private discussion with either the blogger or someone else who is commenting then do it appropriately.

2) Blogs should not be used for pure exhibitionism. The rule should be-- if this is something you would be embarrassed to say in front of a loved one, say for example your mother, you have no business saying it in public. Just because the internet gives a person the freedom to hide behind a computer and be braver than you would be in person, doesn't mean you should exercise that liberty without discretion.

3) Before posting anything, consider that blogs, like emails are a 'cold medium'. By this I mean, you can seldom tell the tenor of a comment on the internet, its emotional freight. It is hard to discern the difference between irony, sarcasm, or withering criticism on the internet. Therefore, it is better not to try to be too clever or subtle in such a sphere. Gestures, tone of voice etc. is all part of communication that is largely missing on blogs. Take this into account before you type something that is likely to be misunderstood.

4) If you are unwilling to be bold in person, don't be bold in print-- otherwise you are a coward not prepared to back up in person your convictions. Let your in-print speech patterns be of the same ilk as your in person ones. That's just a matter of personal integrity so that it is always the case that you say what you mean and you mean what you say.

5) Be as respectful of other people's opinions on the blog, as hopefully you would be in person. This is just a matter of Christian ethics. There is nothing wrong with a vigorous debate or discussion on a blog, but pure polemics and ad hominem arguments should be avoided. There is no place for name calling on a Christian blog.

6) Blog about something that is meaningful or important or interesting to you. Don't blog just for the sake of talking. Read James 3 on the taming of the tongue (or in this case the fingers) before blogging.

7) Re-read what you are going to post, before posting it. If you are really angry, and since shots fired in anger often go awry, it would be better to let what you have typed just sit for a while, and you should reflect--- Do I really want to say this? before posting it.

8) If you make a mistake in a comment on a blog, or even sin against someone, then apologize personally (not on the blog but at least in a private email). Accept the consequences of your own actions on the blog.

9) Do not use blogs as a surrogate for developing real, personal relationships-- in person. In short, get a life, and stop spending so much time on blogs.

10) Realize that just because you have some freedom to speak in various ways on a blog, this does not give you license to violate copyright privileges, misquote others and the like. Know the rules about quoting other people's materials before doing it, and ask permission!

I could list more, but this will do for now. We need more civility out there in blog land. Shock jocks on the radio or TV are no models of Christian discourse. Find other people to emulate.


Zach said...

It is very refreshing to see some common sense in the blogosphere. Thank you.

Nick said...

Thanks for the useful advice. When the internet was young I learned to never engage a flamer. All they are often seeking is a reponse and they laugh as you get upset. Some of the internet is maturing, but much is left far behind.

I posted a brief review of the 12/20/05 48 Hours' Mystery of Christmas in the event there may be any interest.

Magnum Philosopher said...

I've always appreciated your tenor in these discussions. Thanks for your words, Dr. W!

nblaw said...

Dr. Witherington,
Nice post. While not related to its content, I wanted to congratulate you on your appearance on 48 Hours show. Nicely done. Perhaps you might post on your reflections on the piece?

By the way, I also enjoyed (and reviewed on my blog) your fine book, Jesus Quest.


Ben Witherington said...

Nick: Thanks for the link, and the review. It was an interesting experience, in fact an edifying experience to work with this CBS crew, who let me be myself and all had personal interest in the story. For example, Maureen Maher the interviewer is a practicing Catholic.

Merry Christmas,


BP said...

Dr. Witherington,

I thank you for your service to the Kingdom and was so proud to see someone stand up and defend the birth of our Savior & Lord. I learned more about the birth of Messiah from the 48 hrs episode, specifically the reasons you gave for the legitimacy and literal meaning for Matthew & Lukes account of Christ's birth.

Joshua 1:8


Cruciform Catholic said...

Dr. Witherington,
Excellent counsel for those of us who blog. It is indeed so easy for someone to "hide" behind the screen slicing and dicing others, with no regard for Christian love, with a click of the mouse on the "send" button. BTW, thank you for your blog and thank you for using your gifts and talents for the Church in helping the faithful to better understand our Lord in order that we may serve Him in the power of the Spirit to the glory of the Father.

James Gregory said...

Ben, I have done an adapted post with your rules on my blog, and with your permission I would like to keep it there. Do I have your permission to do so? I have also linked to your blog on mine. Is this acceptable to you?

Ben Witherington said...

Hi James:

You and anyone else are welcome to use my rules.



Tim said...

Ben, I've posted a link to your 'rules' on the 'Canadian Anglicans' blog. I'm going to put them up on my own blog, too, with your permission. Many thanks for this, and for all the excelent and thought-provoking posts here.

RBA Founder Xavier Pickett said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
RBA Founder Xavier Pickett said...

My, how easy it is to forget that Christians actually should and ought to live as Christians (which is definitely a load word these days, I know), even in the blogosphere. Nevertheless, it is great that Dr. Witherington has provided some good suggestions on blogging and the like, but the real tragedy is that it actually needed to be said.

yuckabuck said...

Regarding blog etiquette- Amen! I have enjoyed looking in on this blog since I found it in the summer, though I must say that it has been especially interesting lately. (That comment came with a smile attached.)

Regarding 48 hours- The CBS news site says that they do not provide transcripts for their shows on the web. Since I missed the show, I would like to second the request for you to post something about the content of the show, or at least about your particular segment.

elizabby said...

Amen! I used to get terribly upset and stressed over what I read on the internet (in general, not blogs in particular) but a Christian woman taught me by her example that love is best shown by being acted out in ALL our conduct, both virtual and in real life. Your rules encapsulate this nicely. I also feel that punctuation and spell-checking is a courtesy to your readers, but I see you didn't include that.

Thank you also for your thoughtful discussion of the Christmas church closure issue. This is very topical to me because after ten years at a large church, for the first time my new (small) church is not having a Christmas service, I think out of consideration for a new head minister (just started in December).

I had not thought about it much, but since you have forced me to think through the real issues and priorities behind this decision, I have come to realize that Jesus' big day should take priority over our holiday plans and beach activities! Next year I hope things will be different, but if they are not, maybe I will hold a service myself! I thought of it too late this year, but now I have the thought all ready! (Our church encourages lay participation!)

Noah said...

Thank you for the timely advice for Bloggers. I am guilty of not taming the fingers :)

philosapologist said...


Brett Royal said...

Words can always come back to haunt you. I hate reality tv shows, but my wife enjoys them, so I watch with her from time to time. People say the dumbest things when they think they are talking alone to the camera. Surely they know that what they say to the camera is going to be shown to everyone that watches, including the people they are talking about.

Jonny said...

Today I thought about what you wrote about writing in a blog. I personally write about my life as a Christian. I seek to be real as possible so my readers might get a glimpse of what it means to live the Christian life.
I have most of your books in my book collection. Check out my online journal and tell me what you think. Jonny

olympiada said...

Thank you for this post. It was meaningful. I think I will read it again.
Did you mention anything about anonymity? That is something I strive for, from the 12 Traditions of AA.

Ben Witherington said...

Two extra good points have been made in the comments which I heartily agree with: 1) no anonymous comments; 2) check your spelling etc. before hitting the send button

Jim said...

Excellent rules. They mirror my own personal guidelines almost to a 'T'.


pastor mark said...

Excellent reminders! I included a link on Best of the Godblogs (01/02/06). Thanks.