This is the edited cleaned-up copy of the Live Blog notes for this session. Please report any errors or miscredits to me in the comments or via email. Thanks!
The Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion in Online Communities
Comments, link-love, blog-rolls…who’s in, who’s out? The Internet has the potential to be the great equalizer, to breakdown artificial barriers. Is that what we’re doing, or are we all sticking to our respective corners of the online world? What signposts do those who feel outside the online majority look for when deciding if an online community will be welcoming to “people like me.” Can you build community that becomes more inclusive, rather than exclusive…and does it have broader social implications if you do (or don’t)? Join Joy Palmer, Liza Barry-Kessler, Dory Devlin and Valencia Roner as they take a look at this often-sensitive subject. We'll cover everything from anecdotal experiences to research data on how online communties tend to behave and evolve.
Joy Palmer (J) Liza Barry-Kessler, (L) Dory Devlin (D) Valencia Roner (V) Audience (A)
(J) has two blogs - Gingajoy and a collaborative blog - Blogrhet. She comes to the panel as a speaker and a moderator. She is interested in issues of digital media and digital literacy; her personal blog was a way to escape that. She has been working with other women and researchers thinking about online blog spaces. Has a few topics she wishes to touch on.
Dory Devlin - The Mom for Yahoo! blogs
Liza - LesbianFamily.org
Valencia - Why Black Women are Angry
Joy posed a question to the group: Is blogging the great equalizer or democratizer?
If we think of a series of communities - how do we build a series of communities that are healthy, open, and diverse?
What *are* the politics of inclusion and exclusion? One thing she thinks of is how issues of scale affect development. Is it possible to maintain large communities around a personal blogger? What do issues of status and rank do to affect what we think about community? What are community norms? What does monetizing a blog do to affect a community - does it compromise it at all? And how do we negotiate our own responsibilities for being inclusive - how responsible are we for maintaining our community?
(D) Why we blog - she came to blogging via a lot of years of newspapers. She started blogging professionally for Yahoo, and now blogs a few times a day. She actually blogged professionally before she blogged personally. She believes in embracing the power of community that exists, trying to reach out to others who are perhaps not tapping in to the opportunity.
(L) Started blogging in Jan 2005, been online since 1987. She started with a personal blog, then when she was pregnant, she became obsessed with finding pregnant lesbians. Eventually she found others, through their blogrolls found more, but it was always a challenge. From this, she took on creating LesbianFamily.org to make it easier for lesbian families or women to find other people in similar situations. She organized the portal aspect of her blog - TTC, adoption, international, interracial families.. trying to make it easier for people to find someone in common. Also have "a friend of the family category", all are invited.
(V) She writes Why Black Women are Angry. Motivation for her blog - got tired of being asked the question! She wondered, what is it about me that makes them feel they can ask me - "you don't seem angry but everyone else does?" She wondered where that perception came from, how can she engage and take on the effort to change the image of black women. Was very concerned about the perception in the blogosphere of black women - are they really angry? If they are, do they have a right to be? Then once the issues are being explored, she wanted to promote healing. She believes that common sense is better than all the book knowledge in the world - she really wants to engage in the dialogue. There is a video clip on YouTube (link wanted?) that has a very interesting discussion going on right now. Even after Imus - the media took three days to get a black woman on to talk about the issue of a white man talking about black women! She has worked for very large companies previously - had followed all the rules, done everything you're supposed to and still was not able catch a break. Her healing was in the writing. She wanted to write commentary op-ed pieces that are not seen in the mainstream. Started in 2005, really started to work on it the beginning of this year. Wants to say thank you to all the women who came up to her and said wonderful things about her blog - had been apprehensive about reactions but is very grateful for the words.
(J) First question - is blogging the great equalizer, does it break down barriers, what possibilities are there for bloggging to break down barriers, are we just replicating our real life social circles?
(D) believes it is an amazing time right now in the blogosphere. She has an ill nephew whose body is deteriorating - he blogs every day, something he couldn't have done 10 years ago.
(A) Been talking with other bloggers - they call themselves mommy bloggers, but they also blog about lots of other topics. She wonders about niche blogging and open communities - are they at odds with one another? If you blog about a variety of things and people come for the specifics - Does niche blogging encourage you to interact with people like you, or do general blogs make you diversify yourself?
(V) Name of her blog you would assume she has all black visitors - but that is not the case. She does not only discuss black issues, in fact she could blog about anything eg. current news day stories, entertainment, etc. She goes with how she feels in that moment - so the blog is broad - she feels that hopefully she has a decent amount of explanation to inform the audience that her topics are broad.
(L) has noticed that on her personal blog - when she strays from her 'core' topic she gets no comments. She wonders if the core readers tune out?
(A) Kelly at MochaMomma.com asked question about getting private emails from readers. She feels when she gets them it takes the discussion out of the community, especially if it's a good question or topic. Do you ever ask people if you can return the conversation to the community? As an aside, she sometimes feels like she's the "practice black person" for people to ask questions to on race.
(V) Example - talking about the value of comments: She got the most comments ever on a post she entitled Radio Shock Jocks: Lazy White Boys without Talent.. Their nasty comments made a huge buzz on the news - she knows they have a right to say whatever they want, and she has the right to say they suck. They linked to her post on their message board and it got over 600 comments. One man in particular who wrote her privately struck her: He was 50 years old, a vet, as she read his email she could feel his own frustration - he was almost pleading with her, defending himself to see him as not a racist. As a result, they entered a dialogue. He didn't want it to be public; she assesses this on a case by case basis.
(D) Suggests in these situations you can certainly keep the participant anonymous - but you can also write a blog post saying "I got an email about this topic, let's talk".
(L) is also often the practice lesbian - gets questions as the token lesbian on lesbian issues. She often does the same thing - creates a blog post saying "I'm having this conversation offline, here's the issues that are coming up, let's talk."
(V) knew she could do that but this situation was kind of heated - she didn't want to worry people by publicizing any potential conflict. However, she knew she hit a chord. She felt it was the right thing to deal with it one on one.
(J) had a question about "practice people" and private emails, around the issue of risk. As we reach out and show we are interested in sensitive issues and are politically minded - she wonders when you become concerned about offending, putting words in people's mouths. eg. she wonders why mommyblogging is primarily done by white heterosexual women. She could put a post on her blog about it, but then white hetero women will respond, which sort of misses the point. Can anyone speak to risk and writing about sensitive topics?
Heather - when a post about white heterosexual women came out, she sent it to her friends to review. Nobody wanted to touch it publicly, but they emailed her directly to discuss it. She doesn't blog about race because it is not a topic she is passionate about - but when she does mention her race or talk about hair she gets comments and emails about hair and styling etc. People won't comment publicly, but will email her directly to be 'safe'.
(J) how do we get around that?
(A) Amy from mommablogs (link requested) - wonders about the concept of broadening or rethinking your blogroll. There is always potential to add blogs that you think are interesting that don't necessarily mirror your own type of blog. Do you want to add people that are unlike you? Can appear very vanilla but doesn't feel that way, and would like ways to represent it.
(A) Catherine from Her Bad Mother - interesting discussion about how we discuss race - almost entirely white women discussing it. Difficult discussion to have - one of the commenters said "to be honest I don't see it - don't see colour in the blogosphere" - it was an important point to make and some people got touchy. What effect does it have when you are an environment where people can't see you? Not every mom is a mommy blogger, not every black woman is a race blogger. It is an interesting dynamic in the blogosphere - F2F meetings is an obvious marker of difference, but in the web difference is not that obvious. How do you signify difference, how do you identify others?
Viv from coolmomsworld (link wanted!) - on her personal blog, she identifies herself with personal criteria. On her other blog (a video game blog), she doesn't identify her gender, because when she did previously, she didn't seem to have credibility. She now seems to get more hits as anonymous. One thing she uses to connect with people very unlike her is a blog catalogue. She can find incredible sites out there and add them to her blogroll - has gaming, mommy blogs, etc. - friends will see those sites as well and this will expose them to diversity.
Gena from Out On The Stoop. When she when started blogging, she did not put her face and perhaps not even her name up. It was primarily a text blog at time. She didn't want to be identified as a black blogger. She is African American and very proud of it - but sometimes when you're writing about software or fema or politics, it's from a position of who she is right now. Realized her identity was ok to expose to the public - had to come to a place where no matter what, this is the person she is today, and whatever you're reading will be filtered through their experience - could reduce credibility - took a while to feel safe enough to say this is who I am. In many places it's not safe to identify yourself. She recently wrote about sexual issues, at the same time as she was trying to get a job in a library. It wouldn't take too much to get disqualified as the post is about glass dildoes, but this is a risk she chose to accept.
Leta CE for BlogHer said if it was difficult to find or identify blogs written by people of colour, blogher has a race and ethnicity section as well as a variance of different sections which is great for people who would like to find out about people from other ethnicities and cultures. There are tons of websites who talk about race and openly divulge race. She has issues with excuse that you don't know who's black - but believes that if you look you will find it. Q for (V) - She had a commentor who emailed her, who has had posts linked to white supremacist sites, bad comments etc. She can deal with hate, but wonders, where does hate come from? Is it the post you've written, or just that you're a woman of colour?
(V) all of the above. There is a fear factor, in both the country and the world where certain groups are the beneficiaries of history, which is just the way it is - but when you can blatantly see that, things just happen - she often tells a joke - if George Bush was a black man he'd be impeached by now. Are higher standards set for you because you are a part of this minority?
(L) change is more apt to happen in a social context. If people don't know she is a lesbian, they assume she is a heterosexual. She has to make a constant effort to come out all the time or have to decide when to have the conversation.
(V) we are the sum total of our experiences We all see things through different prisms, ability to share the beauty of the community, share and exchange information through the medium of the blog. Through the exchange she referenced earlier, she learned that white men hurt too. As a result, she felt compelled to show compassion.
(J) there are subtle nuances to interactions. There are definitely places you can reach out - likes mybloglog as a tool, feels it looks at community differently. In the situation Catherine was talking about, the community was already established, you didn't necessarily know the racial profile of participants, but didn't want to make assumption of white and hetero. Once you're in the community the situation can get quite delicate, issue if risk etc.
(A) Holly from Baby Faith. When she started her blog, she was documenting her life with daughter. She chose to have daughter on own, didn't realize people would read, but they did, people found out about her life, started getting attacked by other mothers, life has been crazy for three years, job with abuse, finally getting to live near family, mother is very ill.. She started writing on the blog from the heart and set boundaries for her readers: Expect them to be nice, everything she is writing means something to her. In so many things she's gone through, she gets emails from so many people going through the same things. She wrote a guest spot on blog called the preceptive exclusion - by taking the power away from other people to attack her and insisting on respect, that was the most powerful thing she could have done.
(A) Elizabeth from Corporate Mommy. Being from the IT sector, she was in on bulletin and message boards, and had created online communities. Could be anonymous and anarchy, which was in one way good - you could be who you were without you seeing me; you don't know I have pink hair, I know you won't judge me on looks, will just judge on what you say. But still, it was anarchy with anonymous posting - there are lots of dark, twisty people in the world, and they have internet connections! How do you deal with the dark twisty people? Do you let anarchy go forth in comments? Do you delete nasty comments or leave them up?
(V) When the whole thing with Opie and Anthony happened, she did a response to them - essentially saying you are giving me way too much power. Why do you feel compelled to hang out on my site and spend this energy? The more time you spend here the more power you give me; go start your own blog. The comments immediately stopped. She actually had a commenter called twatwaffle - said something like 'you probably don't tip well"... and proceeded to attack her. When V responded she retorted with, let's start with your name! If you felt better about yourself then you wouldn't care so much about my comments. Perspective is - turn it around or make it positive, it's worked for her so far.
(A) Did post once on "mormons and morons". It got put on a political site as a #1 site because of title. She got tons of hits and tons of comments - people didn't even read her post before retorting, just assumed the stereotypes. She didn't respond, planned to let it fizzle out - her Husband finally said in response - if you're going to make nasty comments, read the post before you do! She believes a lot of the nastiness and trolls are from ignorance and their own insecurities, and not anything you did wrong.
(L) believes many of them are personal. There are many issues in lesbian mommyblogosphere with nasty comments - she has had none. Personally she believes nasty comments are either the luck of google, or people who know people in real life being anonymous on the blog. Most people she knows will take nasty comments down.
(J) why would you take it down vs. leave it up?
(A) Laurie Toby Edison of The Body Impolitic - blogs on body image in the broadest sense, has published a book of fat nudes and male nudes. Had a very serious conversation before she started - about trying to create a safe place for people to talk about things that are not usually talked about. This is sort of thing that could be very volatile - eg. fat insults, etc. For them it was a very clear line, a very clear level of safety they wanted. As it turned out number of nasty vs. legitimate comments is surprisingly minimal. The whole business of safety for the audience draws an important line.
(J) the issue of context is so relevant - when there is an issue or debate that spurs, participants still want safe spaces - to what extent does the community define where the space is going?
(A) Skye - coblogs at Heroine Content about women in action movies. When it started they did not have a comment policy. Finally, they got some very smacky comments. Her partner is a vet of online message board wars so she was able to roll with it, but Skye was gets upset. They then chose to have a comment policy - they didn't want the blog to turn in to place where people have to armour up to read comments. Have seen it happen - that viciousness and racism and hatred just sits there, and makes it an unsafe space for everyone else - it drives people away.
(V) CBS did a story on Barack Obama about the Secret Service starting to protect him - they had to shut the comments down on the post due to the reaction. Racism exists. We need to be open and aware that it does exist. Don't place labels on people - makes it easier to have the discussion.
(A) Katie from Life, the universe and everything. She is by circumstance excluded personally from diversity - from a small town, not used to being around foreign people, black, lesbians, etc. Not familiar with diverse community and not aware of how to get to learn about a minority community, is very nervous and not sure what to do.
(L) 99% of people hear intent. If you are sincere about just getting to know about your life as a person, people will get through to the sincerity and the real intent behind it. Most people will not be offended by it.
(A) blogrolling - how people see blogrolls as extension of own blog - had so many people who wanted to be on blogroll she had to shut it down - felt she was putting stamp of approval on people's blogs.
Do people feel a blogroll is burdensome? Many do.
(L) likes categorization - keeps most categories on her personal blog very small - blogs she reads; lesbian categories resources/friends of family; could categorize all links in blogroll.
(A) Maintains her blogroll only with her personal friends and draws that line.
(J) A blogroll can get very long - wonders if you are doing a disservice if your blogroll is too long - are feelings getting hurt of those who are not included. Bloggers have a lifecycle, start with a tightknit circle of people who started blogging at same time - then someone drops out of the circle and personal feelings get hurt. Small self contained communities like that cannot be maintained - how much artificial work do you have to do to ensure your community stays together? Realize you have to cut yourself a break. It's part of politics of blogging and communities - how perceptions of inclusion and rank and status are caught up on something that is a necessary part or stage of how you start small and grow.
(A) Lily - web editor. Goes back to question of mean people - mean people who have things to say tend to comment more. How do you make meanies less intimidating and make the place better for the moderates?
(V) Comment moderation is very important - managing the comments. When you first get negative comments it's awful - after a while you adapt and see them for what they are.
(J) In personal bloggers - troll commenters can perform a great commmunity building function for you - if you have a troll, the rest of the community will often come to others' defence.
(A) Jen from Imperfect Mom - she is a malaysian who moved to the US. She quickly found her Malaysian readers stopped reading. It almost seems like she's lost her right to talk about things back home - the community is not accepting her anymore.
(A) Important issue about trolls or "blogtards" - had an interesting experience once, when she was trolled very badly. One person in particular started a blog to hate on her. This became an important experience. This person wrote post after post hating on her and mommy bloggers and she saw it as an important issue - trolls are often not members of communities. There is so much invisibility and anonymity because we are not face to face. She has had disagreements with other bloggers - the real trolls are not really community members. Something you need to think about when talking about inclusion or exclusion - commentors represent only about 10% of readership - say something someone doesn't like, a lurker will attack. The whole element of facelessness in the community adds risk.
(A) Asking about the woman who is anonymous on her gaming blog - what responsibility do we have to expose ourselves as women rather than taking the 'safe' credible route?
(J) what kind of responsibility do we have to create diverse communities? Have been talking with panel about what it means to be inclusive - that element of risk is one worth taking. Make the post you feel you don't have to speak about - one way to reach out is just to write. Blogrolls are also a good tool to be inclusive to reach out to other communities. Liza has buttons for friends of the family - visual cues you can do to show diversity and inclusivity - your voice, however, is the most important thing you have.
(A) Normally creates a post once or twice a year where she asks her community what their favourite blogs are. She finds so many blogs that way - surprisingly, it is not a circular list.
(L) also, take the risk of posting about a topic you may be fearful of - eg.she's seen someone from a family with a gay sibling write a series of posts on their perspective - can be very inclusive in that and it sends a message.
(J) loves idea of inviting community to fall out of woodwork. We often nurture the commenting community but not the lurkers (legitimate peripheral participants). Inviting people to share will often highlight things in your community you didn't know.
Giveaway! Two copies of vista, two zunes, two tmobile hotspots.
Wrapup, thanks to the panel and audience!