Blogging and basic ethics
Blogging-about-blogging is often annoying to read. It is also a drag to write. But sometimes it needs to be done. Please bear with me as I point to an important concern.
It is probably no secret that in some respects there exists a sort of ongoing blog “spat” between this blog and another Catholic group blog that is politically and theologically “conservative.” As much as one might like to wish that such rivalries did not exist, it is simply the case that this blog was founded quite deliberately in response to the emergence of this blog, taking cues from Vox Nova’s style (right down to the very WordPress theme!) and tending toward direct commentary in response to our posts. Which is fine. We intended from the start that Vox Nova would generate conversation and that it would provoke strong feelings in what is largely a community of religious bloggers dominated by right-wing views. And if anything, despite my own regular irritation with the views and the blogging style of these folks, I truly believe that imitation is the best form of flattery.
But I’ll be the first to admit that the relationship between the two blogs has gotten ugly. Which is why I was strongly in favor of issuing an apology for any ways in which this blog has contributed to scandalous and abusive exchanges among members of the Body of Christ. Indeed, I ended up being the one to draft that apology. One commitment that we made at that time — reluctantly, for various reasons — was to moderate the comments at this blog in order to weed out problems before they started. This has since taken the form of simply not approving comments or of editing comments by removing irrelevant or insulting portions. A large percentage of comments are approved. Of the “problematic” comments, most are simply unapproved and only a few are edited.
As could have been predicted, the blog mentioned earlier responded by increasing its own tendency to moderate comments, especially those left by writers from this blog. This is certainly their prerogative. It seems obvious to me why some of our comments are not welcome there, especially when we point out that some of their contributors promote ideas that seem quite contrary to the faith and to human flourishing.
It is, however, an entirely different matter when comments are deleted and manipulated in order to distort the conversations that take place or to show a commenter in a bad light. This is a regular occurrence on the blog in question. It often takes the form of deleting a reader’s comment and then replying to the deleted comment by saying something like “We will not tolerate your insults” when no such “insult” ever took place.
The ethical problems with such fabrications should be obvious, but astonishingly the fabrications not only continue, but worsen. Tonight I left a comment commending one of this blog’s new writers for the new perspective he was bringing to the blog. In response, someone at the blog (obviously, I don’t know who) removed the words from my comment and inserted entirely new ones, in a sort of parody of my own views. Here is a screenshot of that entirely fabricated comment. (A second entirely fabricated comment followed this one.)
On the one hand, the comment is just too cute. I’ve been around the Catholic barfosphere enough to have the kind of despisers who know how to get under my skin. Fair enough. In the context of the relationship between these two blogs, the joke is pretty funny. On the other hand, the editing of my comment — no, the complete fabrication of “my” comment — points to a real crossing of an ethical line. Considering the source, I’m not really surprised that this took place. But surely the people behind this blog have enough sense to know how profoundly unethical such tampering is? The potential fallout from the exposure of such comment fabrication — even though intended as a “harmless joke” — could be disastrous for them and for their reputations.
Our own Nate Wildermuth has initiated an important conversation about the possible “renewal” of the Catholic blogosphere. That conversation has included some interesting and challenging ideas about what constitutes “good” Catholic blogging. At the very least, it seems to me that “good” Catholic blogging requires at the start a commitment to a very basic sense of ethics. The deliberate fabrication of comments using their access to a reader’s WordPress account seems to me a pretty serious breach of any sensible ethical framework for blogging. The American Catholic owes an apology — not so much to me, but to their readers as a whole. For any trustworthiness or credibility whatsoever that the bloggers there once had has now been deeply called into question.