Digital Democracy

A blog for the course New Media and a Democratic Society

Speech, Democracy and Playing Nice: Blogs as democratic tools

Posted by clocke22 on September 26, 2010

I read John W. Maynor’s “Blogging for democracy: deliberation, autonomy, and reasonableness in the blogosphere” for this post. Maynor examines the potential for blogs to promote deliberative democracy. Some of the key issues he discusses are a blog Code of Conduct (CoC), the theory of autonomy and “the three Vs”. CoC is a set of norms and rules for a particular site. Maynor presents six key priniciples: 1) responsiblity not to post (or conversely, to take down) offensive content; 2) to act as you would in person; 3) private resolution of conflicts; 4) taking action against unfairness; 5) not participating anonymously; and 6) ignoring trolls. The theory of autonomy is based in part on the idea that increased autonomy, or self-direction, will lead to an increase in self-governance. Finally, the three Vs that challenge autonomy theory are value (reliablity and accuracy of information), volume (information overload), and velocity (the speed at which new information hits the web).

I chose blog posts from The Volokh Conspiracy and The Huffington Post  for this blog post. At the Volokh Conspiracy, I selected the post Speech Hostile to Gays Constitutionally Unprotected, Speech Hostile to Whites Constitutionally Protected?, which discussed the differing treatment of judges in Mississippi who spoke out on various issues and the current nomination of a Missisissipi Supreme Court judge to a federal position. Volokh criticizes the nominee’s stance in three different cases, where judges were subject to discipline for speaking against gays or African-Americans but not when speaking against whites. The comments (89 when I first selected the post, up to 128 at the time of writing) were generally much more thoughtful and detailed than those I encountered on Youtube. The Code of Conduct Maynor refers to was defintiely not adhered to among these posters. While there were very thoughtful comments and quite a bit of feedback from Volokh at first, the thread sort of devolved into a quarrel between “Alessandra” and other commenters on her offensive comments about homosexuality and some off-topic discussion about sexuality. Some comments were outright offensive towards homosexuals but were not removed fromt he comment thread. While Volokh’s post was detailed and well-researched The value and volume Vs came into play because I was weary of their assertions. Also, the sheer number of comments can be overwhelming. Overall, despite the pitfalls predicted by Maynor, I think the Volokh blog is actually a better example of blogs assisting with deliberative democracy.
On The Huffington Post, I looked at Troubled Times: When Mark Zuckerberg’s Inspiring, Courageous Generosity Is Not Good Enough, which discussed Zuckerberg’s donation of $100 million to the Newark public school system as a possible PR move for his potrayal in the upcoming “The Social Network” movie. There were 434 comments when I first printed the article and more than 600 upon writing this post. Despite the value (lots of facts and figures about the education system) and volume problems (more than 600 comments is a lot!) with the comments, the commenters made a lot of good points and helped illustrate the autonomy theory in that this type of discussion seems like if it were localized, lead to political action.


6 Responses to “Speech, Democracy and Playing Nice: Blogs as democratic tools”

  1. Xuerui said

    I like your summary of Maynor’s three major theories in his article. I do agree with you that comments on political blogs are much more thoughtful and detailed than those we observed on YouTube. That may due to different functions of those websites. Sometimes, CoC is hard to implement especially on political forums like this blog which provide a place for users freely express their views, including those may be offensive. The boundary between freedom of speech and libel offend is not quite clear in some situations.

  2. clocke22 said

  3. I think Maynor’s three Vs stand up more in my experience articles and comments online than his theory of CoC. It’s great in theory to have everyone not post anonymously and act as they would in person. It seems you found (I did too in the comments I read) that people don’t act as they do in person. These ‘flame wars’, while not as intense as on Youtube, do seem to still exist where people lose sight of what they are arguing, or concentrate on one particular point, when someone else writes something they don’t agree with.

  4. You say that the comments to the blogs differ from comments to YouTube videos. I wonder to what degree that has to do with the medium, the content, and the audience? Are users more able or comfortable in responding to the written with written text and not as familiar/skilled with commenting upon visual texts in writing? Would videos devoted to the same concerns of these blog posts containing the same amount of information and same tone of voice and level of intellect still attract very different comments? Does responding to writing automatically make people consider their own writing more? Maybe this connects to value in some way – we trust the written word more than the visual and take it more seriously? Yet fights still broke out with comments slightly de-railing from the topic at hand, violating some of Maynor’s CoC, so maybe the idea that the internet is intended for free speech – a component of democracy but not necessarily contributing to deliberative democracy – does hold influence over internet users.

  5. […] 30 Sep… […]

  6. “The value and volume Vs came into play because I was weary of their assertions.” Ha ha! I know what you mean! I sometimes wonder why people comment on these posts when there are already 100 or more comments, because who would ever read all of them? It’s like shouting into the wind.

    There are now 650 comments on that Zuckerberg post! Amazing!

    Your analysis on the second post was rather skimpy.

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