Controversy vs. Community

Community outreach

All this talk about community has me thinking…

Every time there’s a discussion regarding rates, content sites, web vs. print or another topic one can consider controversial, comments go through the roof. Some are respectful, others aren’t. While I do try to delete the most harmful and abusive comments, it’s true many people simply enjoy a good argument.

I also notice other blogs benefit from the same controversy by jumping into the action, sometimes in hopes of gaining traffic by adding their own fuel to the fire. Suddenly their own blog comments, which usually range in the 0 to 7 range, have 50 or 60 comments going. Train wreck time. Controversy works for everyone.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying other bloggers shouldn’t weigh in, just saying that comments and traffic go up for all involved with these situations.

While I believe these types of discussions are important, I often consider the cost. Out of 3500 daily visitors, only a handful of people truly get into the discussion. Does controversy make the majority of the community uncomfortable? Do they not want to get involved? Do we lose followers and community members when heated debates ensue? What sorts of comments encourage community conversation, if not controversy? These are things I think about often.

Controversy happens on this blog all the time. Some of the things I write or the decisions I make don’t sit well with other writers and bloggers. I don’t mind that people disagree. I do mind when it turns into something heated or when people twist my words around. While I enjoy having lively discussions with lots of comments, and I enjoy a boost in traffic, I don’t enjoy controversy and negativity at all. It makes me uncomfortable and I’m guessing it makes this community uncomfortable too. I’m generally not confrontational or in your face. I like a peaceful blog.

What makes you participate in a discussion? Does controversy or negativity keep you away?

Comments

  1. Kevin E Blake says:

    I think civil controversy is healthy in a community. Having someone in our community question what we are doing or thinking should cause us to examine our behaviors and thoughts more carefully. Make sure we haven’t fallen into ruts or gone off on some magical thinking bend.

    But the key is civil controversy. Unfortunately the internet has always brought out the worst in some people. Because they don’t have to deal face to face with the consequences of their actions they behave abominably.

    And though it is infuriating and extra work to delete their comments you’ve also learned whose opinions you can trust.

    • Agreed, Kevin. But if a community becomes a controversy magnet – even when the moderator tries hard to build a respectful community – people will still stay away. I think there will always be passionate people visiting this blog and certain topics will always ignite passion.

  2. I agree with Kevin, controversy is ok as long as it’s civil. Consider it more of debate — like what should go on in Congress, rather than the scratching and clawing that tend to be more accepted (but shouldn’t be) in civil forums today.

    That being said, I remember in college editors placing an editorial or two designed to generate letters to the editor. Don’t know that it’s bad on occasion, but too much and it’s yellow journalism. I think it’s the same with blog controversies.

    For example, the debates that have been here several time on rates are fine — (everybody is entitled to my opinion :) )– as long as arguments are well thought out and it’s not just “you’re stupid for that opinion.”

    When James (Men with Pens) posted here a lot, I sometimes disagreed with him, but I certainly respected the thougthtful discourse

  3. I don’t like drama but that doesn’t mean I won’t stand up for something I believe in. However, I try to avoid communities and people where it just one big dramafest after another. That gets tiring after awhile.

    I think it’s okay to have a difference of opinion over an issue as long as everyone involved is respectful. It’s those people who jump into the mix just to stir up the muck that I try to avoid as a matter of course.

    • Me too, Arwen. Some people just like to make us squirm, while others fire off to send traffic their way. Intelligent discussion: good. Negativity: Not so good.

  4. I write about autism for About.com, and it’s a hugely controversial topic. The issues can be a matter of life and death, which means the drama does sometimes get a bit intense. Mine is one of the few sites where folks are free to say what they believe to be true without fear that their perspectives will be censored.

    Even if the conversation gets heated (I don’t allow flaming, but there’s plenty of debate), I think it’s important for people to know their voices will be heard.

    To be honest, though, I don’t really understand how or why freelance writing is controversial. To me, it’s like sexual preference: if you want to go one way or another, it’s none of my business and certainly not my place to comment on your choices.

    But maybe I’m just weird!

    Lisa

    • Hi Lisa,

      I don’t understand why it’s so controversial, either. It’s the rates thing, I think, that ignites so much passion. And so many writers feel it’s their way or you’re doing it wrong. I like to think the writers who come to FWJ are grown up to see all points of view, but make their own intelligent decision – without being called names or insulted.

      I also allow all sides of the story as long as commentators are respectful. Once to name calling or abuse starts, I hit the moderation key.

      Thanks for weighing in.

  5. I agree as well. A good healthy argument can be a good thing. We can all learn something either from the argument or about each other. It does tend to bring some people out of the wood work. And it probably does scare some people off. But I think everyone can learn something when something like that happens. Something interesting always seems to come up.

    • Thanks, Chris. I do enjoy all perspectives…and I even learn a thing or two.

      However, I also know we lost a few members of this community because of the commentators who can’t stop turning everything into an argument. I do try and keep all discussions (including disagreement) positive. I hope that keeps you all coming back!

  6. Healthy debate is part of human evolution. I’ve posted about it on my blog over the years, and at various forums, and I regularly talk about this with friends and family. The great minds of the past, such as Aristotle, Galileo, Plato, Socrates, Leonardo, and etc., never would have accomplished all that they did within their lifetimes without their peers constantly challenging their ideas and theories, thereby forcing them to look at their concepts and re-arrange, re-configure, and adapt them to overcome the challenges.

    Complacency breeds stagnancy. Stagnancy means we are standing still as a species. Me, I love evolving. I honestly believe that the only way to better oneself is through constructive debate and argument. If your ideas are never challenged you never know which areas of your life you might need to adapt/change.

    We (humans) need debate and discussion in order to keep evolving. The only way that happens is through healthy debate/discussion of ideas/concepts.

  7. Healthy debate is good. It gives people the opportunity to gain different perspectives of an issue, learn as well as share, and drill down our own perception of the topic at hand.

    But, controversy unfortunately does seem to be very popular. It makes for great ratings in television, higher traffic to a website, more buyers at the news stand. Sensationalism is one of the major issues I think journalism faces these days. The news seems to be filled with many opinions, too many speculations, and very little actual journalism. It’s all about shocking people into watching, reading, buying.

    I can certainly understand why you wouldn’t enjoy negativity Deb, I don’t think anyone does. I try to look at negative reaction as an opportunity to further explore my point of view, or to better explain why I feel the way I do. If you can pull something positive out of something negative, you’ll feel much better about it. :)

    • Thanks, Burnman. I always say there are no haters, only opportunities. This also applies to negative situations. I like to assess negativity and see how I can turn them into a positive learning experience. Bonus points if it’s a lesson I can apply to a blog post for this community.

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