I think some of you might be waiting for me to comment on the rather large controversy that happened last week between me and Heather Armstrong . I certainly understand this curiosity; however, except in a general way, I don’t plan to do this. In this section of my blog, I am always trying to remain as objective as possible to the issues I discuss. Although I may not always succeed in this, I do always try. On this particular topic, I have no objective feelings: therefore, it would be impossible to even attempt an objective analysis of the facts. What I decided to do, therefore, is make some general observations about online controversies that might serve as a usable takeaway for the people who come here to read about the business of blogging. See below.
1. There is a fraction of the audience who loves a fight.
Controversy for controversy’s sake is something that is greatly appealing to a portion of people. Temporary attention and traffic comes along with this.
2. There is a fraction of the audience who hates a fight.
Controversy of any kind is something that is repugnant to a portion of people. Temporary attention and traffic loss comes along with this.
3. It is more common to feel before thinking.
Most people to react to a controversy based on their feelings about the issues discussed and/or participants in the controversy before they weigh any kind of argument. It is unusual for a first reaction to a controversy to be based on logic over feelings. Though opinions might change over time, it is futile to attempt to inject a logical argument (for either side) into the overall reaction to controversy, because it mostly operates outside of logic. The process of uncovering all of the nuances of a disagreement takes far too long to uncover for most observers to bother.
4. Controversy is, generally speaking, not an effective online traffic-building tool.
Traffic spikes that result from controversy tend to be temporary (with a very few exceptions). This is true whether you are at the heart of the controversy, or if you are merely weighing in on the controversy from the sidelines. People come to figure out what happened. Then they leave. Most of them will not return unless their controversy-driven visit to your site happens to result in them finding something they had not found before. Therefore, if you are hoping to cash in by being part of a controversy, or weighing in on a controversy, this is probably not going to happen.
5. The only way to avoid controversy is not to blog.
While it is true that some bloggers attract controversy more than others, there is no way of putting your life and your opinions on the internet (or any other portion of the public sphere) without putting yourself at risk for controversy. People will develop good and bad opinions of you and your thoughts regardless. Some of these might be articulated in a blog post someday, and still others may not ever see the light of day. Even the most universally beloved bloggers have found themselves the targets of criticism on occasion — that is part of the business.
6. You cannot control criticism, but you can control how you react to it.
Given that criticism and controversy is a part of blogging, if you find yourself at the heart of a controversy, there is no point in attempting to shut it down or control it in any way. The only thing that you can do is accept it, and base all further actions on those things that you can control. Despite how it may feel, you can control what you do in the face of criticism, and you can control what you do when you’re in a storm of controversy. Decide what your best-case scenario is — given the current circumstances — and act accordingly. If you’re too close to it to decide, ask a trusted friend or, better, an uninvolved observer, for their take on your best course of action.
Finally, to all of you who have sent your support, and to those of you who continue to read here, please know that I am so grateful to have a community of readers who are interested in discussing these topics with me. The number one most common comment I receive from readers contains the words, “I don’t always agree with you, but . . .”, and I cannot imagine having it any other way. So thank you.