Feminist ethics and digital communities

A discussion in another blog reminded me that I hadn’t yet got around to HTMLifying my exploration of feminist ethics in digital communities. I’ve put it up here.

I’m particularly interested to hear responses to these questions:

In a blog comment community, who has the right to participate in the production and enforcement of norms, and how are those rights allocated? Should the blogger, who has the power to pull the plug, have the ultimate right over their “own” space, including a comment community? Under a traditional ethical system, she would retain this absolute right, and that right would prevail, in a conflict, over commenters’ rights to be heard and to participate in community norms. From a feminist ethics viewpoint, the situation is less clear-cut. Rather than focussing on bloggers’ rights, the feminist ethicist looks at the responsibilities of bloggers and commenters. To what extent do (or should) bloggers feel a responsibility to care for their comment community as a shared social space, to encourage connections, to facilitate a more democratic production of social norms? What value does a blog hold without its readers, commenters and linkers?

And going back a step, do you feel a sense of community in digital spaces? Which ones and why? How would you evaluate whether participants feel a sense of community?



Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism

Tags: ,

8 replies

  1. Interesting topic. Some of the best debates on politics and ethics I have are online, in coms semi-open to comment, within guidelines.
    Being open in their comments policies allows a good mix of people to join, while having some comments guidelines limits the trolling & 101 type questions that distract from engaged discussions.
    It’s the same as offline communications ethics really. Communication always involves negotiating boundaries. If people share responsibility, and concensus, about how to do that it’s so much easier to focus on communciation rather than the business of communication admin and conflicts.
    The online spaces I feel a sense of community in share these reponsibilities like the relation between the host of a party/public reading and their guests/audience.
    The blogger/host is responsible, in choosing a public medium and faciliating input, for indicating the type of input they welcome (or not). Typically via own image, topics initiated and comments policy.
    Commenters then may consider what’s been put in the public blog realm as an “input invite”; with the proviso that behaving like the online equivalent of an obnoxius or “gatecrashing” guest/audience member is neglecting their commenter responsibilities, and leads to losing their invite.
    As someone who doesn’t have enough online time for the host responsibilities I feel are implicit in promoting a solo blog; commenting in group blogs/online communities like that is handy for finding community on interests such a obscure areas of queer health, that would take much longer to do offline.

  2. Good thoughts, outfox.
    One ethical dilemma I was on the fringe off was the issue of what to do on a group blog if a previous contributor wants the blog to delete their articles. If you just delete the articles holus-bolus then all comments to those articles are lost as well, leading to a dilemma:
    * leaving the comments in place may negate the purpose of the author in wishing their articles deleted in the first place.
    * deleting the comments may offend those commentors who wrote thoughtful responses which are now gone.
    I’d be interested in others’ thoughts on the correct course to follow in such situations.

  3. tigtog-
    Heh, is this in light of the mini-explosion on the “Ads That Make You Go Grr” entry ;)?
    “Should the blogger, who has the power to pull the plug, have the ultimate right over their ‘own’ space, including a comment community?”
    Yes, I think so. A blog is a space that the blogger spends time maintaining, therefore she (or he) gets to decide what goes on it. I don’t think that in the name of the “free speech” that trolls are so fond of, that a blogger is obligated to host 1000 comment arguments with trolls and never ban anyone or delete anything.
    “To what extent do (or should) bloggers feel a responsibility to care for their comment community as a shared social space, to encourage connections, to facilitate a more democratic production of social norms?”
    One of the best things about feminist blogs are discussions, and there are even a lot of commenters who say such smart stuff that I wish they would start their own blogs!
    However, wrt comments, that determines a lot how often or how much I read a blog. I don’t go to Pandagon or feministing very much, or if I do, I only read the posts, because they’re usually up to their eyeballs in obnoxious trolls. I usually read blogs that are reasonably well moderated. Some disagreement and debate is fine, but I don’t read feminist blogs so I can read some misogynist asshole spewing woman hatred.
    “What value does a blog hold without its readers, commenters and linkers?”
    Pretty much every feminist blog I read I found via another blog. There are some exceptions, I guess – Feminist Reprise and Screaming into the Void are both excellent blogs, but neither of them host comments. I enjoy the bloggers’ writing, but sometimes I wish I could participate more, but hey, it’s their blogs.

  4. LM, no, nothing to do with the other thread: this is Lauredhel’s post and relates to the thesis she just completed to finish her latest degree. Still, the issues of moderation in that thread do tie in nicely to the questions Lauredhel is asking.

  5. Outfox:

    If people share responsibility, and concensus, about how to do that it’s so much easier to focus on communciation rather than the business of communication admin and conflicts.
    The online spaces I feel a sense of community in share these reponsibilities like the relation between the host of a party/public reading and their guests/audience.

    Thanks for that. I find it interesting that you’ve used the sorts of words commonly used in feminist ethics – “communication”, “consensus”, “shared responsibility”. Many bloggers use words like “rights”, “obligations”, and “power” – the mainstays of traditional ethics.
    What I find especially interesting is the way in which a traditional ethical framework tends to become the default, neutral, fallback position in the case of differing expectations. Someone will end up saying “Well, I have a perfect legal right!” and that sort of position becomes unassailable. In the paper, looking at the Alas dispute, even commenters very much on the feminist ethics side of things tended to re-cast their arguments in traditional ethics terms, using ideas like “informed consent” and labour arguments to try to get their message across.

  6. tigtog:

    One ethical dilemma I was on the fringe off was the issue of what to do on a group blog if a previous contributor wants the blog to delete their articles. If you just delete the articles holus-bolus then all comments to those articles are lost as well, leading to a dilemma

    That’s a particularly difficult one, isn’t it? Trying to think this one through, I ended up going back to thinking about Usenet. A person could/can delete their own articles from Dejanews/GoogleGroups, but they couldn’t delete the followups.
    There’s no escaping one particular legal right in the case you’ve described, which is that of the original author to withdraw their own words, unless they have signed the copyright over to someone else.
    I think one possible intermediate solution would be to put a placeholder noting the deletion in place of the post, but retain the comment thread, perhaps deleting quoted parts of the post if the original poster insisted.

  7. littoralmermaid:

    Heh, is this in light of the mini-explosion on the “Ads That Make You Go Grr” entry ;)?

    As tigtog said, nope. I wrote this last year, before I even started blogging at Hoyden, for a university class.

    I usually read blogs that are reasonably well moderated. Some disagreement and debate is fine, but I don’t read feminist blogs so I can read some misogynist asshole spewing woman hatred.

    I understand that completely. Different bloggers negotiate this particular aspect of blog hosting very differently, don’t they? Some seem to feel an obligation to host “free speech”, or possibly even to showing the world just how nasty the woman-haters are – because so often, feminists aren’t believed on that one!
    Others control their comment sections very tightly, on some or all posts, deleting derailments (though defining those is very tricky) and distractions.
    Yet others stand with their metaphorical hands on hips and reject the notion of any community involvement in the production of commentariat norms, saying “I have a perfect legal right!” (which they do, I’m not disputing that) and “if you don’t like it, piss off”.
    Then there are the situations where moderation seems, at least to some eyes, to be inconsistent and/or capricious. These are _perhaps_ (arguably) the situations where the most meta-commentary ends up taking place, with people trying to make sense of the ground rules of the space.
    Some meta-commentary also seems to arise out of very different expectations; for example, when those who value the absence of profanity and emotion in arguments come head to head with those who value the absence of oppression-cheerleading. Tigtog has talked about these contrasting definitions of “civility” in the past.

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