Shaping Discussion on Blogs

There are many cases in which a blogger may want to try to direct or control the flow of discussion on one of their posts. This can be done in various ways with varying degrees of success. Rettberg gives one example that highlights the difficulty of shaping the discussion without simply shutting it down. A blogger who goes by SouleMama had written a post concerning the fact that her family had caught whooping cough. In the post she asked that her reader’s not turn this into a vaccine debate, both because she disliked arguing and because the strain they’d caught was unaffected by vaccines anyway. This, and the example of Beckie0 below, illustrate the fact that an audience will steer the discussion in whatever way they want regardless of the author’s wishes. SouleMama ended up closing down the comments on that post because the audience couldn’t help but start a debate, even though she had asked them not too. In this case, which is far from unusual, appealing to the audience’s sense of pathos is only effective if the audience is sympathetic enough to listen.

Rebecca Brown (A.K.A. Beckie0) Is well known on Tumblr and Youtube for her topic-driven blog and vlog concerning Trichotillomania. Because that is what she’s known for, there is a presupposition from the audience that they can drive the topic in that direction, even if a post has nothing to do with Trichotillomania, as is evident in this Instagram picture she linked to in a Tumblr post. The photo and caption were about blueberries, but people started commenting about Trichotillomania anyway. She did try to call them out, as she has multiple channels for discussing Trichotillomania and this wasn’t one of them, and another person blatantly told her she couldn’t tell other people what to talk about. Excuse me? Super rude. This shows that, in the blogosphere, the original poster has very little control over how discussion unfolds. Beckie0 also often has trouble within the “Trich” group on Facebook, in which she had posted things concerning her condition to what she believed would be an understanding audience, only to find herself censored at every turn. I guess this would be an example of controlling discussion from the viewpoint of the one being controlled, and an excellent example of what happens when a blog (or in this case a Facebook group, which is sort of like a blog that anyone can contribute to) crosses the line from guiding the discussion to acting more as a blog dictator. Basically they’ve said “Yeah, this is a welcoming, understanding community, so long as you post what we want you to post.”

So what is a blogger to do? It seems that the human side of shaping discussion by leading towards (or even flat out asking people to avoid) certain topics often fails, so let’s take a look at the technical side.

On Tumblr, there are three main ways to have a “discussion” on a post. The first is that, if the author ends the post with a question, a box will appear at the bottom in which others can answer. This is controlled by a character limit, and isn’t very effective for back-and-forth discussion. The second is that, on a text post (as opposed to images or videos), there is sometimes a “reply” button. It is similar to the comment option here on WordPress, but it doesn’t appear on all text posts. I’ve been on Tumblr for 2 years and I still have no idea how they determine which posts do or do not get this button, as there doesn’t seem to be a setting to control it or anything like that. The most common method of discussion is to reblog and add your own comments. There doesn’t seam to be any way of preventing others from reblogging a post, so unfortunately none of these options offer any control to the original poster, so the audience can still say anything they want. On Tumblr, anyone can say anything. There is no moderation, it depends entirely on human decency, which isn’t always abundant.

On sites such as WordPress or Blogger, it is much easier for the blogger to moderate discussion on their own posts. There are a variety of settings concerning discussion available. The blogger can choose to restrict the ability to comment at all to registered, logged-in users, and there are multiple options for how individual comments must be approved. If the blogger doesn’t particularly care how people comment, then they can set it so that no moderation is required. For those a little more wary, the “comment author must have a previously approved comment” setting allows them to moderate each users’ first comment, and then from there they must trust that the user will comment in a similar manner in the future. Bloggers who desire complete control can set it so that each comment must be approved before it is displayed. One negative aspect of such a controlling setting is that it can be a LOT of work to read and moderate every comment, especially if you run a popular blog. And

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5 thoughts on “Shaping Discussion on Blogs

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  3. Glad you followed the observations through from Tumblr to FB, etc. But what strikes me is this:

    >So what is a blogger to do? It seems that the human side of shaping discussion by leading towards (or even flat out asking people to avoid) certain topics often fails, so let’s take a look at the technical side.

    Sure, I knew the technical side was there, and that it has a rhetorical dimension (if you require a log in, that tends to commit the commenter but it also might mitigate emotions), but you brought that back to the surface for consideration.

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