Friday, January 04, 2008

Discretion is the better part of valour (bad blogging behaviour, Part1)


Shakespeare, in Henry IV, Part One, 1596:

Falstaff: 'The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life.'

Someone said to me recently that this blog is all about politics…. This isn’t the first time someone has mentioned this…. My usual response is “What else is there?”

The truth is that who I fuck, how and under what conditions are often less meaningful for me than my politics and what my broader passions are. For example, the sex worker rights movement has been my longest, most committed and passionate relationship. In some ways, as long term romantic relationships have been on the skids, my connection with the movement has been especially helpful, as I can bury myself in the work, and focus on bigger goals than myself, and whatever whirling emotions are happening for me, before I embarrassed myself too badly.

Also, while I am generally always interested in human sexuality, who is fucking who and how is often of little interest. Hence Her Royal Whoreness is all about sex and little about fucking.

I’ve also been on the receiving end of some icky passive aggressive blogging on more than one occasion since I’ve been in Sydney. I don’t know if it’s the middle class Adelaide girl manners I grew up with, but I’ve been a little shocked by incidents I’ve heard about or read about, with people blogging about others in wildly indiscreet and some times totally horrible ways. People using their unlocked, free to anyone to read online journals to do constant character assassinations, to blog about who’s doing who, any random scene gossip, or simply posting personal emails they’ve received. I've heard the people involved use the justification that as it is their blog, they can post whatever content they want - I guess that's like saying that it's my gun, I'll shoot whomever I want with it.

Boundaries such as differentiating between what you might say in a conversation with a close friend, and what you would post for a potentially worldwide audience have seemingly collapsed. However, if you maintain a blog, and all your friends read it, and maintain their own, which you also read, these fine distinctions may be hard to distinguish.

The fact is, you can blog something nasty under the influence of anger, sadness, alcohol, misunderstanding or PMT and then regret it and erase it the next day, but as a large amount of bloggers are also compulsive blog readers, chances are quite a lot of traffic has passed in that time, and even after an entire blog/ journal has been deleted, if you Google the right combination of words, you can access the postings for ages afterwards. Putting somthig out there in writing, online, is very, very different indeed from a bitchy conversation over a beer or a coffee with friends.

SMS, blogging, myspace, etc are being used as tools from primary and high school bullies to torment and harass classmates. Cyberbullying is a huge issue in schools across the world, and I am sad to say that I've witnessed some hideous examples of cyberbullying and harassment from some people abut on the Sydney queer scene who don't seem to have grown up yet. I shudder to think of the motivation behind someone who is too gutless to say something to someone's face, but will parade their mean spirited opinions online, or will use their blog to air dirty laundry to punish someone for no longer being in contact, or for leaving a relationship. The lack of dignity demonstrated by these cowardly, underhanded uses of what can be an exciting medium, - that potentially allows a greater diversity of voices to be heard particularly when considering the concentration of mass media ownership - is astounding. It's enough to make me yearn for the restraint and dignity advocated for in Jane Austen novels, before talk shows, talk back radio, reality television and the blogging/ online networking revolutions took over and the resulting Jerry Springeresque parading of ones life, all big, sloppy emotions, self destructing in public and self indulgence by any means necessary...

I never thought I'd be advocating for mile class decorum, but when vindictiveness and harassment cause people to ignore others' right to privacy and dignity, enough is enough. If you can deal with it with the person concerned, go and speak to them face-to-face like grown up. If they don't want to engage with you, or have any further contact, or if they have broken up with you, this is the opportunity for you to move on, get therapy, join a sculpture class, or take up bush walking. Dragging them (and yourself) through the mud won't provide closure, it just tells them they've made very healthy decision in cutting off contact, and showcases all of your most messy, unpleasant, unethical qualities for the world to see, ensuring that you will be bitter and alone for a for a very, very long time. I have, in fact met people who will not date people who are notorious for spilling their personal lives all over the web. Nasty or simply emotionally sloppy blogging always says more about the blogger than anyone being blogged about. Relationships fail for good reasons, and giving yourself the time and space to lick your wounds and reflect in private gives you an opportunity to work out why you are better off not being in that relationship, and gives the necessary distance to aquire some perspective and rationality on the situation.

Also, let's face it even the use of initials, or pet names won't stop friends and acquaintances on the Sydney scene being able to put two and two together, based upon who you do and don't spend time with.

If something has emerged in a social interaction that has really bothered me, I’ll often hang on to it for months and months before I blog on the topic, and even then, I will usually make damn sure that it relates to a significant issue - mental health, social or political, that this blog focuses on. Even this post has been sitting around in draft form for a very long time, but it felt to me like it needed to be said. I try my hardest not to use this medium for punishing those whom I perceive to have wronged me. I try to find greater dignity and more self esteem in silence.


Ali H said...

It's hard but important I think to find a blogging voice that respects what you, the blogger, wish to gain from blogging, and opens up an avenue of communication with others, without violating the privacy of the people who share your life. For the record I don't consider even 'friends only' journal spaces to be particularly private, as text is always copy-and-pastable.

I suspect it's a problem that's always plagued writers, because when you write from life someone else's story is always a part of it. To write only about yourself, with no hint of the role of other people, while safe, is not terribly interesting.

It's a balancing act for sure, and it's one I failed at repeatedly when I first started online journalling (before there were blogs). My policy now is to use only photos of myself (ever), to be incredibly vague about whose company I have on any adventure, and to give consistent 'pet names' only when absolutely anyone out there could reasonably know who I'm talking about anyway (ie a long-term lover- but even then it'll take months for them to get a nickname, and I'll be supremely cautious about what is discernable about them through it). I figure I can give full consent for the risks of my own disclosures, but no-one else can, so I have to take every precaution to avoid hurting anybody. Sometimes that means I can't write about what I'd like to write about, or that I need to be vague where I'd love to be explicit, but I just have to get over that. Write it down somewhere else more private if I must. But even a hint of a feeling that what I'm saying gives away too much about someone else results in deleting entire paragraphs or cancelling whole posts.

whoretic said...

Hi Ali

Thanks for your comments on this issue. I love the idea you've raised here about people consenting to online disclosures. I must say, I am someone who has appreciated the level of ethics and caution around disclosure demonstrated in your blog, I would agree that it can, in fact, be done. Blogging ethically, like living ethically, or having ethical approaches to a job or a relationship, is a process of fucking up sometimes, doing better, constant ongoing negotiation and reflection.

I like your approach, of only blogging photos of yourself, scenery and the fabulous vegies you grow. My approach has been to avoid the personal, accept in a vague and hazy way, and only in order to make a broader social point.

It is a really difficult balance to come to, when there is stuff going on that is all you want to write about. I still don't feel like I'm there yet, but it feels like useful things to think about all the same, and to keep engaging with issues of ethics.