Sunday, January 28, 2007

I'm disturbed by the number of possible ways a guy can get in trouble because of the content he puts up on his blog or website. S'pore bloggers get jailed; Malaysian bloggers get sued, while their PM berates them for spreading lies and sedition; A US teacher gets fired for 'inappropriate content' on his MySpace page, even though he claims a hacker put up the material and he took it down immediately when he noticed it.

It's too easy for a random reader to take offense at a blog, or even a single post, and put in motion a course of action that is totally out of proportion to the situation. It's probably due to the clash between people who don't understand the 'net, and people who use it with ease -- so much so that they forget that the occasional, casual surfer tends to take information posted on the 'net way too seriously. It's probably the same people who are likely to fall for a Nigerian scam email that are also likely to confuse a 'net persona with the real person behind the website.

Taking action in the 'real world' for some offense taken from web content often goes beyond the pale. The web has its own rules about proper 'netiquette, and as such, deals with conduct breaches in its own way. The 'net, after all, is nothing more than a medium of communication, so if someone doesn't like something that's been posted, there is a direct line back to the author through which one can express one's displeasure. That's why bloggers have a 'comment' function at the end of their posts, and some display their email addresses too -- they want to know what people think about the ideas they share.

Commenting opens a door for dialogue and debate, not just between the author and the offended party but potentially amongst a community of interested parties as well who can just as easily voice their views, adding their collective wisdom to the discussion.

It is the community then that will ultimately decide how objectionable the material is, and not just the singular, subjective view of the offended party. And if the content is collectively deemed too objectionable, it can be removed quite easily, unlike, say, material in the print media which once distributed is virtually impossible to retrieve and destroy. In this way, the controversy that arose on the web gets settled on the web without having to spill over into real life.

Still, there's no point for bloggers to ask for trouble and needlessly incur the wrath of the 'real' world. People are more receptive of new (or different) ideas if they are presented politely, mindful of the sensitivities and taboos of 'real' society. We never know who might stumble on our blogs, so while we should feel free to share our thoughts, let's play it smart and try not to piss anybody off from the get go. After all, we blog because we want to communicate, don't we?

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