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21st of September, 2017

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Blogwars

“You’d have to set up little ‘blog policemen’ on these entries to shoo away onlookers - ‘Move along, nothing to see here!’ But no, people stand there looking at the dead animal at the side of the road, at two people full of pride making complete fools of themselves in public, and then go and write whole blog entries about it.” Stefan Niggemeier, media journalist and photoblog author, on a dispute in the blogosphere. The two “complete fools” Niggemeier means here are ‘DonAlphonso’, author of the A-list blog “Rebellmarkt”, and Peter Turi, also a journalist, and author of the “Turi2” blog. The start of the argument goes a long way back, but the current escalation began when ‘DonAlphonso’ repeatedly referred to Peter Turi in his blog as a “blogging failure” - Turi struck back by calling Meyer a “moaning minnie”. What started as a minor skirmish developed into a heated conflict, with both sides receiving support. Over the course of the dispute, old scores were settled, fervent slanging matches went on in several blogs, and threats of lawyers were made. Finally, Peter Turi shut down his blog - though it’s unclear whether this was directly or only indirectly related to the argument.

The argument between Turi2 and Rebellmarkt is not a one-off. The introduction of the “social web?, and all the technologies that constitute it, has made it possible for social relationships to occur in part or entirely on the internet for the first time. Weblogs aren’t just a new form of website, they’re also a new form of cohabitation – “virtual living rooms? home to human relationships. Together with weblogs though, a new form of argument has also developed. Unlike the well-known phenomenon of “flame wars? - conflicts which take place in a forum or chat room – this new form of dispute is taken more seriously and carried out with much greater engagement. These new conflicts have a different dynamic, follow different rules, and have serious, irreparable consequences for those involved. These are blogwars. CausesIn his article “The extraordinary anger in weblogs?, ’Axonas’ names “communicative unbedding? as the main reason for blogwars:
“Direct social checks are largely absent in a digital network. Generally, you don’t meet people there who can have any influence on your own immediate personal sphere, so the majority of online ‘buddies’ are virtual friends in this sense. Forums and email lists try to compensate for the lack of social checks by enforcing netiquette, via the use of permission authorisations and moderation. If you look at current forums though, this doesn’t seem to have generated any learning effect, even after years of existence. In weblogs, even these rudimentary controls of communication are absent. In the world of weblogs, there’s no ‘Big Brother’ of internet access, equipped with powers similar to forum moderators. Using my weblog, I can access the diverse public sphere which constitutes the “blogosphere”, and do whatever I like in terms of aggressive communication, which, apart from legal measures, knows no bounds.“
In a certain way Axonas is right - on the internet, an environment which can regulate people who violate social norms is often missing. Behaviour which would lead to a strong backlash in real life is easily possible on the internet without any problems – the phenomenon of “trolling“ is well-known. However, Axonas overlooks the fact that in contrast to the rest of the internet, there is no “communicative unbedding“ in weblogs. On the contrary: Weblogs are a communicative space in which social exchanges take place. If you blog, you’re not doing so in isolation, but surrounded by an environment of other bloggers and visitors. This social network functions in a similar way as in the real world - it defines a general moral code of what’s right and wrong, and enforces it. A blogger who doesn’t stick to the rules valid in his part of the network will meet with resistance - objections in their own weblog or those of others, loss of readers, and deletion from blogrolls. So how come there are still blogwars? Precisely because of this social network. In contrast to the early days of the internet, much more social activity takes place in the “social web“ than before, and where there’s social activity, there’s also competition, arguments and fights. Unlike in earlier days, bloggers really have something at stake in these disputes; a weblog almost always represents an important aspect of someone’s life, which they maintain with lots of effort and may rely on for a number of reasons. And since the stakes have risen with Web 2.0, they are fought for more strongly.

Development

Blogwars often develop at extreme speed. The blogosphere is a highly-networked environment in which information flows more quickly and uncontrollably than ever before. Thus, it is often impossible to predict how a conflict will develop: Some blogwars only last a few days and end with little in the way of consequences, while others drag out over months and leave the losers badly damaged. Despite this, an attempt will be made here to classify the different phases of development of blogwars: The initiation phase, the escalation phase, the main phase and the closing phase.

Every blogwar starts with the initiation phase. As with every form of conflict, the starting point is a conflict of interests - in other words, two parties with different interests which contradict one another. In the case of a blogwar, this may be many things: Political disagreements, personal disagreements, rivalries or misunderstandings. It’s also not unusual for one blogger to attack another simply for the fun of the fight; in this case the blogwar is self-serving. There are also some bloggers who deliberately use blogwars to get attention, to keep their blog interesting and gain new readers.

Whatever the original reason for a conflict, it’s almost always infinitessimally small, and in no relation to the effort made on its behalf. The disagreement escalates to a real blogwar in the escalation phase - the two adversaries attempt to outdo each other, and use up more and more resources and time doing so. At some point, when the relevant arguments have been exhausted but the dispute continues, the conflict crosses over into the personal sphere, and the warring parties begin to attack each other directly and on an individual level.

The escalation phase is also the stage in which supporters, in double or even triple figures, normally enter the blogwar on both sides. Participants rarely join in due to the content of the disagreement; as in a real war, it’s mostly about loyalties, alliances and old scores. Alliances are often made according to the motto “the enemy of my enemy is my friend“.

In the main phase, the conflict reaches its peak: Both sides attempt to do as much damage to the opposing side as possible, by trying to attack them at vulnerable points and harm their credibility. To this end, substantial numbers of blog entries and comments are made, listing old and new arguments, often combined with damaging information and threats. If the conflict is large enough, a majority of the blogosphere will assume a position and either declare solidarity with one of the two parties or neutrality.

The disagreement is normally concentrated to one or two weblogs. These are often, though not necessarily, those of the original disagreeing parties – though what may also happen is that a blog with a wide readership starts to follow the blogwar, and thus the attention of the blogosphere is diverted there. Having a home advantage in a blogwar is something which shouldn’t be overlooked: Not only does the blog generate attention and gain new readers due to the conflict, but the “host? is also in a better position in the conflict - he has the support of his own readership, who are well-disposed towards him, and he can affect the discussion at any time by making or deleting entries at will.

After a while, the attention of the blogosphere will drop away, and the blogwar enters the closing phase. Whether or not there is a victor at the end depends mostly on the goals of the participants, and these vary. If the objective was to get attention and thus increase the number of readers of your blog, then all participating bloggers will normally have achieved this and can be seen as ?victors“. If the blogwar was really about something outside of the argument, though, such as personal differences, revenge or rivalry, then the blogwar itself is only a side skirmish. The Turi-Alphonso conflict was a case like this: The antagonism between the two parties stretches back to a time when neither of them had a weblog. It is therefore irrelevant whose arguments were superior, whose credibility was damaged and whose reputation was tarnished after the argument. No-one won, as there was nothing to win. The only effect is that both sides have lost time and credibility - and were mentioned in an article by Stefan Niggemeier. The protagonists

Peter Turi versus DonAlphonso was a disagreement between two bloggers. This form of blogwar is far from the only variant, however – bloggers just as often seek targets who are active outside of the blogosphere or even outside of the internet. Different combinations of this may be:

Blogger vs blogger Blogger vs companies or organisations Bloggers vs private individuals

Blogwars develop differently depending on who is involved. When bloggers fight amongst themselves, they are on more or less equal terms. The disagreements often have the character of a ritual fight; the two adversaries make lots of threats, make contact only briefly, then each goes their own way. This is different when one of the participants does not have a blog. In these cases, a blogwar rapidly becomes a gauntlet; since the person under attack cannot defend themselves, they are helpless, and at the mercy of the attacking blog – something which is known in the German blogosphere as “die Sau durchs Dorf treiben? - literally, “parading the pig through the village?. The party under attack is unable to adequately defend their own position but comes under attack from all sides. The consequences in such cases can be devastating – especially if it is not an organisation or company under attack but a private individual, a human being with feelings.

The victims

Blogwars, just like real wars, rarely occur between equally matched opponents. It’s much more common for one or more blogs to “attack? a considerably weaker opponent. When this happens, it’s often a nasty shock for the party under attack. A victim can already suffer massive damage before even understanding what’s actually happening. Even when an off-guard victim discovers the attacks in good time, they often react incorrectly - defending themselves with inappropriate means, neglecting good argumentation or spelling and just making everything worse.

At some point in the course of the blogwar, the victim will notice the consequences which threaten him. The first thing they’ll notice is what’s happening with Google. Searches for the name or online pseudonym of the victim will no longer just display harmless internet pages, but also the results of the blogwar - defamations, aspersions and attacks. The victim will be afraid, and justifiably so, that the allegations listed will be noticed by employers, colleagues or family members.

The victim will also be confronted with a multitude of different insults or threats, often so many that it’s impossible to respond to them all. The most unpleasant comments here aren’t those made by the “leader of opinion“ - the blogger who started the blogwar – comments or blog entries made by the ?ground troops“ normally hit harder. These comments are often loaded with prejudice, and explicitly insulting.

A victim will see the conflict “overflow? and be taken up by other blogs, which then add new aspects and information of their own. They will see how some bloggers, for whatever reason, trawl the internet for information, looking for “dirt? to use against them. In this way, information which seemed completely harmless before, such as publicly managed photos, a personal homepage or entries on dating sites, becomes ammunition for the attacking forces.

The effects experienced by the victim depend on how robust they are and how much experience of conflict they have, as well as on how much is at stake. A steely A-list blogger is certain to deal with a blogwar differently than a labile teenager with little internet experience. If you let the conflict get too close to you, you will suffer from effects similar to those of bullying – panic, stress, sleep disruption and neglection of other tasks.

In addition to mental problems, the victim can also sustain real-world damage. Especially for people looking for work, or those who rely on maintaining a good reputation in the “global village?, negative Google results can be problematic. For a programmer, online journalist or someone in the marketing sphere, a lost blogwar could mean the end of a career in certain cases.

Strategies and tactics

First, it is important to advise against engaging in blogwars at all. Apart from the fact that most conflicts are best solved by other means, it’s rare for anyone to really profit from a blogwar. Even in conflicts where one party is clearly at a loss to the other, the winning side will also have to accept losses; those involved in a blogwar inevitably lose credibility. They’ll gain new readers, but not the sort of readers a blogger wants – fight chasers and rubberneckers, a public only reading out of a desire for sensation and scandal.

Not everyone, though, has the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not they want to participate in a blogwar. Some are drawn in against their will. In cases like this, it’s important to know the rules of battle and the methods used in fighting a blogwar.

• The most important weapon in a blogwar is information. Information on the opponent, on yourself, and on any third parties involved. The information of most interest is that which extends beyond the online sphere - the real identity of the opposing parties, where they live, the names of their employers, etc.

• However, it’s also just as important to know what information the other side has on you. At the start of a blogwar, it is therefore wise to not only research what’s worth knowing about your enemy, but also to investigate what information Google and Technorati contain about you. If you recognise “vulnerable points“ during the research, there’s little sense in removing these. You can assume the enemy will have taken screenshots of them as proof - plus most webpages are archived in the Google cache. An exposed cover-up attempt can be worse that the information covered up itself. It’s better to leave the information there but prepare yourself with a good explanation.

• If you take part in a blogwar, you need to be well-informed, and quickly informed, the whole time. Within the space of a few minutes, new developments can arise, new “fronts” can be opened or others reduced to shreds. There are different ways of keeping track of information like this, which are best made use of in parallel: Tracking programs such as Statcounter, blog search engines such as Technorati, and manual research. It’s important to regularly check the visitor movements and referrers on your own website; this is a quick way of seeing whether another blog has linked to it, whether someone has distributed links via email, and which search terms people are using to reach your blog from search machines. It also goes without saying that you should regularly visit blogs involved in the conflict and follow discussions in the comment threads. In some cases, you may have to react to new developments very quickly.

Once the relevant information has been gathered, you need to decide how to proceed further. For many people, who have no experience with the blogosphere or who can expect a clear defeat for other reasons, the most advisable alternative is not to respond at all. After a while, the attacker will have used up all of their ammunition, lost interest and moved on to other things. Lots of things can then be dealt with more simply afterwards. If you nevertheless decide to actively take part in a blogwar, you should keep a few important rules in mind:

• Nothing is more dangerous than poorly thought-out comments. It’s essential to double-check all facts you state and all arguments you make. Responses should be coherent, convincing and well-formulated.

• If possible, don’t carry out the conflict on your enemy’s territory. Only leave comments in other blogs to link to your response - on your website, managed by you.

• Anyone who becomes too personal loses credibility. Even when sorely tempted, always refrain from using expletives. Always remain calm and level-headed, use objective arguments, and draw attention to the lack of objectivity of other arguments.

• Only play as fair as your enemy - but don’t play less fair either. It can be useful to have “dirt“ on your opponent up your sleeve, but it’s not always wise to use it and is only rarely in your own interest.

In many cases, especially those where you have no way of defending yourself, it’s advisable to contact a lawyer. German law has a number of options open here: You can file for injunctive relief or make a claim for damages, or make a complaint of defamation or libel. If you really want to continue the dispute by legal means, though, you need to be clear that this may become very expensive, and that victory is far from guaranteed. If you still decide to go ahead, make sure you hire a lawyer familiar with such disputes – this is more the exception than the rule. It is strongly recommended to hire a lawyer who specialises in intellectual property rights, or to specifically look for a professional with internet experience - for example, via the German Lawyers’ Union.

After the blogwar

Even though this is often forgotten in the heat of battle, every blogwar ends sometime. Once oil is no longer being poured on the fire, the interest of the blogosphere will wander over to a new topic, and the shadow will be lifted again as quickly as it was cast. Once the blogwar is over, it’s important to quickly return to normality, pick up the pieces, and carry on again in one way or another. A blogwar doesn’t always have entirely negative results, though - if the argument was witnessed by a majority of the blogosphere, participants will discover that the number of visitors to their blog will have increased by multiples. Some bloggers will treat this as a challenge to show that they can do more than just argue.

In the end, even though the euphoria after a victory may be large, and the 5 minutes of fame may be addictive, blogwars aren’t really worth it. Blogs are tools, not weapons. They’re about creating something. Representing yourself. Sharing your knowledge. Being part of something. Making friends.

Remember, blogging is supposed to be a Good Thing.

This article is a translation of a german text that was first released on my weblog “buchstaben in bewegung“. It attracted some attention in the german blogosphere, so an aquaintance of mine, Niall McCourt, translated it. I´ve asked Rube if he could publish it here, so he gave me permission ;-). I´d like to bring this article to a greater audience, so if you feel you´d like to pick it up and republish it somewhere, go for it.

Niall is a freelance translator. If you think he could do a job for you, email him.

Comments

Libby

Yikes. I just dropped by to say Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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