Regressive Speech, or My Return to the Third-Grade

I decided to go for the middle of the list while looking at Wikio’s top 100 political blogs for September, and found myself drawn to Time’s Swampland blog, probably due to some subliminal conditioning arising from attending UF for the last year. Scrolling down the recent postings, the very first one I came across with an appropriate amount of comments (in this case, 94) was titled “Morning Must Reads: Scrappy” that was put up earlier in the morning. A post that had generated such a flurry of activity in only a few hours had to be interesting, right? Well… not really.

The post consisted of nothing more than a series of links to other news or blog sites, with Twitter-friendly commentary about the stories that lay within. Seriously, that was it. I really did feel like I was looking at the blogger’s Twitter feed.

So, what was everyone commenting on? The material that was being presented in the links. This, in turn, led to other links and discussions of completely different topics, though still political in nature. And in that regard, we do have an example in defense of Maynor’s arguments that blogs could be used as a platform for deliberative democracy, since the comments chiefly came from just a few people with different political backgrounds going back and forth in a continuous discussion.

However, while certainly not the worst Internet discussion I’ve ever witnessed in terms of civility, I do not believe it met Maynor’s expectations for civil discourse. He stated that “as a requirement for participation, citizens are asked to adhere to the norms of public reasonableness, meaning that they must give and take reasons that others can accept” (p. 449). Given the slew of political insults being bandied about, this particular post may have crossed the line.

I decided to stick with the Swampland blog and continued scrolling down the postings till I came across the next post with enough comments. This one, entitled “Sarah’s Insurgency,” was even shorter than the last. It consisted solely of two sentences and a link to another article on Time’s website that talked about Sarah Palin’s recent political activity. Truly, this blog is not shattering the expectations for political commentary, despite being in the top 100 viewed political blogs and on Time. But I digress, onto the comments.

Unsurprisingly, they weren’t so much about the “content” of the blog. Actually, to my incredible amusement, an argument arose about the lack of true discourse that took place in the comments sections of these blog posts. How appropriate! A user by the name of newfreedomblog stated that some of the commentators “have absolutely no desire what-so-ever in bringing about a type of dialogue which may actually be positive.” Another user named patricksartor compared the lack of moderation to “being in the third grade with no teachers or principal around and in comes bully wannabees… looking for human punching bags.”

Eventually, the comments came back around to talking about the linked article and discussing Palin-related topics, but there were a lot of personal insults flying back-and-forth regardless of the perceived complaining about them earlier on.

And so, where does that leave us in relation to Maynor’s arguments for blogs as a platform for political deliberation? Well, at least for Swampland, it looks as though there is still a long ways to go.

The fact that Swampland’s own readers acknowledged that the lack of a CoC (Code of Conduct) for the site was hampering their ability to have legitimate discourse was supportive of Maynor’s claims that such a system is necessary. However, one still must consider that these vocal proponents may be the minority in desiring such a system. The more hoops one must jump through to engage in any activity, the less appealing it becomes.

Perhaps as a result of the juvenile bickering in the second post, it was hard to envision much changing of opinions going on. Maynor stated that, in keeping with the theory of autonomy, the “deliberative process helps citizens not only decide which course of action to take, but also helps them decide if this or that particular course of action is worthy of pursuing, which in turn may cause them to re-evaluate their own preferences” (p. 451). However, this did not seem to be the case with the comments on either blog post. There was discourse occurring, but posters did not appear to be challenged or rethink their positions at all. It was all merely “post-counterpost-countercounterpost” repeated ad naseum, with a few insults sprinkled about for extra flavor.

In regards to the “three V’s” Maynor mentions, I felt as though Swampland demonstrated all three. We had two different blog posts consisting of links provided with little content. Hence, it contributes to the idea of “information overload” and the “increasing need to consume larger and larger quantities of information,” or as Maynor puts them, volume and velocity (p. 462). Also, some of the links provided in the first post I examined were to other blogs, which could mean the information was rushed or unreliable, bringing its value into question.

Overall, I feel Maynor brings some valid points about the problems with blogging as a platform for political discourse and addresses said points with some interesting, if not entirely realistic, solutions. (People having to register credit card numbers for posting? Really?) I do appreciate his cautiously optimistic approach for the future, and agree with him insofar that there needs to be some changes to how blogging works if it wants to be utilized as the new “town hall.” The question remains, however, if that’s what users want.

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6 Responses to Regressive Speech, or My Return to the Third-Grade

  1. Xuerui says:

    I am surprised that Swampland is lack of a Code of Conduct. I do think it could result in lowering the site’s ability as a political blog to have legitimate discourse happen. What if libelous comments or threatening content is published on the blog? Although there are different interpretations for deliberative democracy, lack of regulation does not mean freedom. As Maynor stated, “it is not quantity but quality of comments which matters”. Like you said, let’s hope for the future of blogosphere, after all, it is still a new approach to launch deliberative democracy on blog.

  2. sadiecone10 says:

    Though the Swampland “Scrappy” blog didn’t contain a great deal of relevant comments and worthwhile, informative reading, I do think it’s interesting that people of different political backgrounds posted various links to different posts that reflected their political leanings. While this hints at deliberative democracy in that somewhat of an array of political standings are displayed, I think this blog’s lack of a Code of Conduct (the political insults volleyed back and forth are great evidence of this absence) causes it to be an inefficient forum for deliberative democracy. The comments are more insulting than informative, and cause the reader to be caught up in the language of the blog and not the issue of the blog.

  3. I’ve sat through enough council meetings, board meetings, and public hearings to drain me of youth and vitality. Some of these meetings turn into mud-slinging sessions and some of these meetings let people with serious concerns address those with the power. It’s all dependent on the strength of the solicitor.

    These meetings, which I see as America’s remenents of the Town Hall, can aid deliberative democracy when moderated. So, to me, it simply follows that online discussion would be reduced to third grade language without a Code of Conduct that is enforced. Just as a solicitor has to tell a citizen to step away from the microphone based on a body’s by-laws, a moderator needs to tell a commentor to back off the insults.

  4. Sijia says:

    Sorry for your expericence in the Swampland. It seems that you didn’t witness the best example of online delibrative democracy.

    I’m interested in your finding about the quality of the comments. Cause in my case, I happend to find a lot of rational and relevant comments. The blog I chose was Hot Air, so the difference of media can be a possible explanation. I’m not a regular user of Hot Air or Swampland, so I don’t know if the latter one owns a more entertainning and casual fashion.

  5. Two things occur to me: (1) The “Morning Must Reads” is probably a regular post, and some readers probably look at it every morning. For them it might be something like a water cooler. (2) The second post links to an article about Sarah Palin — always a conversation starter — AND no comments are permitted on the article itself. So perhaps Time has relegated comments to the blogs to keep its articles unsullied.

    This blog not only lacks a CoC — it appears to be completely unattended by anyone from Time. So it’s kind of a garbage dump — or it’s like an elementary school classroom when the teacher steps out and leaves the kids unattended.

    In comments areas where the author of the post is clearly present, behavior tends to be more civil.

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