On Controversies and Misconceptions

Posted March 26, 2014 by Debby in Columns / 0 Comments

Okay, I don’t want to make this too lengthy, but this drama keeps flaring up in my mind, and while I feel like I’ve spoken out about a lot of my thoughts, there are lingering issues that I think I will only let go of when they are made known to the reading public. Hence, this post. This is what’s been running through my head, and I need to get it out there, but if you do not feel like reading it, by all means don’t, and here, have a happy bunny and be on your way.

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Last week, the blogging community was awash with drama. In case you have not heard about it, these three posts give an accurate picture of what has been going on. Long story short, a Goodreads user has been manipulating people for months, asking them to share eARCs with her. Repeatedly she was told that this was illegal, but she carried on this behavior. This sparked professional posts (not naming anyone) to get the word out about piracy, and her friends tried a last ditch effort to reach out to her in private and confront her about her actions – that it was wrong and illegal. She took this public in a status update on Goodreads, where she claimed she would stop, but hid behind a thousand excuses to try to minimize the issue and what she was doing – and had been doing – for months. She tried to spark sympathy from people who didn’t know the full story and point fingers at the people who outed her, making herself look like a victim. People stepped in to correct her when she lied on that status update, and to raise awareness about what was going on and why what she was doing was wrong.

Eventually, as these things always go, that status was deleted. However, it sparked a new round of drama in a blog post which commented on this situation and connected this to blogger behavior – insinuating that we, who stepped in, behaved badly, fostered a mob mentality to attack this Goodreads user, and, in effect, bullied her.

This blog post has been a weight on my mind for the past week. The post was based on a limited number of facts and created a faulty picture of what was really going on. Reading that post as an outsider (like Amir pointed out in her post), yeah, wow, we were rude and bullied this person. But that’s what happens when you don’t take the time to investigate and then tell the full story. There was no bullying going on here. SHE started the thread, outing herself. People were outraged for good reason, and tension been building for months leading up to this. The comments left on the thread were professional, aiming to educate people on piracy and to correct misconceptions. There was no name-calling. Nerves were struck when she said she “didn’t feel guilty”, and after the thread she has been reported to be asking people for eARCs again, showing she still didn’t learn her lesson.

I commented to try to correct the blog post and my points were dismissed – saying that they were commenting on behavior IN GENERAL. I offered resources where the blogger could read up on the FULL situation – on everything that was going on – as she even pointed out in the post that she “didn’t read everything” – and I was met with an excuse that she “was too busy with exams, but she may take me up on that some day.”

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No.

If you do not have the time to look into a controversy – the full range of ALL of the facts – you have no business posting about it. When you post about a controversy, whether you like it or not, you’re setting yourself up as an authority on the subject. Discuss it on Twitter with friends all you want, but when you post it on your blog, you’re opening it up to readership that was not involved, and the range of what they know will be limited to exactly what you are posting in that post. When you get the facts wrong and are corrected, you have a duty to your readers to correct yourself and own up to it.

Adding a note at the top calling people out in an accusatory tone, linking to their comments, in effect only saying “THEY have a different story” is not enough. In that note itself you’re closing yourself and your readers off to your narrow view of what happened. You’re already giving our comments zero credibility and pointing the finger at us as if we are now taking that bullying behavior to you. In actuality, we’re doing the same thing as we were in the original controversy – in calm, level-headed comments, we’re trying to clarify what really happened. But people are looking to YOU as an authority on the subject. YOU need to correct YOURSELF when you know the full range of facts – when you know that you have not told the full story – when you know that you were wrong. The only people your readers will be listening to is you, which is why there are still comments coming on that post saying that it’s a witch hunt and that we’re terrible bullies. You may feel comforted by those comments, but if you take a step back, you’ll see that they are coming from people who only know as much as YOU told them in that post.

Adding poorly marked and unannounced disclaimers in later to provide clarification is not enough. You may feel like that should settle it but it doesn’t. Why? By that point, DOZENS of readers have read that post. They’re not going to check back and read the post again and then know exactly what you misrepresented. They rarely read the comments – where that misrepresentation was corrected. At the very least announce the addition of disclaimers via social media, so your followers there would know but don’t just brush it off. However, by this point, even that would not be enough.

Why? This post has now raged across the blogosphere. What sparked my writing this post was seeing the post linked to in a massively popular blog’s weekly round up. And it was described as,

“Blogger drama again! A twitter-esque summary – Girl asks to borrow books from people who get approved “advanced reader copies” through Netgalley & Edelweiss. Girls gets called out eventually. People start calling her bad names and bad behavior ensues.”
THIS is how you have put this story into the blogosphere. THIS is how readers remember it. THIS is what they understand happened FROM YOU, because you, like it or not, set yourselves up as authorities on the subject.

I’m a full believer that you should blog however you want to blog, but when you make a mistake – a big mistake – you need to act professional, fess up, and fix it, or risk coming across as rude, irresponsible, and dismissive. What that post told me is that those bloggers (1) do not do their research before posting something big and controversial (2) do not take ownership of their words and mistakes (3) do not think about the hypocrisy of their words in that they (4) do not care about the feelings of others. One of the blog owners commented that “anything hurtful is bullying”. I already firmly disagree with that statement, and Mel has a great post about what bullying actually is, but by their own definition, they have bullied me and the other people involved in this situation.

This post, intentionally or not, has labeled me and a group of other bloggers as bullies (named or unnamed – everyone involved in and affected by the Goodreads piracy situation). It is EXTREMELY hurtful to see lies being spread about yourself and see the accuser not fessing up, apologizing, and admitting to mistakes when they are corrected. Attempts to clarify what really happened were dismissed or poorly broadcast, and thus this misconception is now running free through the blogosphere. I cannot even begin to describe what that does to a person. I was hurt. I was angry. I was disappointed. I felt ignored. I felt dismissed. I felt insulted. I’ve lost the urge to blog. I’ve lost the urge to read. I’ve lost the urge to be on social media. And others in this situation have felt the same.

The true intentions behind that post were noble. (1) Piracy of eARCs is illegal. (2) Be respectful. (3) Stop mob mentality. The confusion arose because the post tried to tackle two issues: the piracy done by the Goodreads user, and blogger behavior in general (later clarified in comments as NOT being specific to this situation). But by combining the two into one post, is it really that hard to see that readers would connect the dots and think you’re accusing the people involved in the piracy situation of bullying? Why even raise that example if you later claim it’s not the best example of the behavior you’re describing? While your thoughts and intentions may be clear to you, please, for god’s sake, read over the post 10 times, from outsider points of view, and let some outsiders read it too to see if you managed to get your points across. As proven by the description in the round-up post I found, whether or not that’s what you intended, that is the message you sent out.

I think that’s all that I really feel the need to say. I’m closing the comments because I’m done with this. Let me leave you with this.

Do you want to write a potentially controversial post? A checklist!

  1. Investigate and get the full range of facts.
  2. Talk to people involved, on both sides, so you really know what was going on.
  3. Write your post taking the best form of the argument and using the best illustrative examples where necessary.
  4. Reread the post at least 5 times and revise as necessary.
  5. Have a couple trusted friends read the post and ask for feedback – whether you got your point across and whether you kept it professional.
  6. Have someone involved in the situation read the post, to see if there’s anything you got wrong.
  7. Post and wait for comments.
  8. SHOULD YOU make a mistake and be corrected by readers:
    1. Own it. Apologize.
    2. Update the post, so that it does tell the full story.
    3. Announce updates or added disclaimers via social media, so people who have already read it may become aware.
  9. SHOULD YOU get the entire situation wrong, thereby allowing a huge misconception to roam freely:
    1. See yourself as a reporter, because you have been REPORTING on a situation.
    2. Post a new post that retracts the old one, clarifies what actually happened and where you made the mistakes, and apologizes to the people involved.
    3. In the original post, link to the new one in a CLEAR notice at the top, visible to all, to correct your mistakes.
  10. Celebrate that you handled the situation professionally by looking up more happy bunny gifs.
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