This is, apparently, an act of “bullying.”

Ann Bartow, in comments to prawfs (h/t Dave):

Posting somebody’s personally identifiable comment from another blog without giving them notice and opportunity to respond is viewed by me and many acquaintances as a form of bullying, and I’m glad you aren’t engaging in it here.
* * *
Dave, if you took a comment I made here, where I know I made the comment and can watch the conversation and continue to participate in it as I choose, and put it up at another law prof blog as the lynch pin for an entire post, without giving me any notice, I would consider that bullying. And I’m confident that many people share this view (although there may be somewhat of a gender divide) because it’s been the topic of fairly extensive discussions I’ve participated in.

Bartow claims there’s an argument for this, but all she posted was a bunch of undifferentiated links on bullying in general (which I agree is a big problem), and then refused to continue the discussion in a flurry of accusations of deliberate misreadings, implications of censorship in comment moderation, etc. So let’s probe our intuitions here. Did I, merely by quoting her comments, “bully” her just now? (By somehow intimidating her with the fury of all five of my regular readers, perhaps?)

I don’t want to send this claim down in a hailstorm of mockery. Well, no, that’s not quite true. I do want to send the claim down in a hailstorm of mockery, because it strikes me as, frankly, ridiculous. But I recognize that this desire is a little inappropriate, and so I can’t reflectively endorse it. Like a good little Kantian, I’m calling on reason to kick in and handle matters. I’m hoping someone else actually has an idea what the argument might be for this claim, and can post it.

The closest thing to an argument anyone’s offered for it yet is Susan Kuo’s comment on con-op (Dave’s post linked above). Which comes out roughly as follows: It’s bullying when a) there’s malign intent, or b) someone feels bullied, which is fairly likely to happen when negative remarks are made about someone’s comment without notice. That doesn’t seem right. For one thing, one might feel bullied when someone disagrees with one even with notice. (In fact, one might feel more if one gets e-mails saying things like “hey, I just took apart your silly comment on Daily Kos here.”) The principle Kuo endorses —

After reading the earlier discussion, I think that the sticking point was not so much the definition of bullying, but rather, from whose viewpoint should we define bullying – that of the “bully” or the “bullied.” I think that both viewpoints are valid. Sometimes, the viewpoints coincide. But when they do not and someone is feeling bullied, I’m not inclined to gainsay those feelings.

– seems to be subject to way too many counterexamples like that. I might, for example, feel bullied if the criticism I receive is too good — if the arguments are too devastating. But surely we wouldn’t want to condemn that as bullying.

Instead, I suggest we ought to determine whether “bullying” has occurred, in any context, from a third-person perspective.

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2 Responses to “This is, apparently, an act of “bullying.””

  1. Peter Borah Says:

    I think the key phrase in the original comment is “opportunity to respond”. A blog comment is part of a conversation. If it gets misunderstood, then the commenter can simply attempt to clarify things and defend herself.

    If, on the other hand, the comment is lifted out of context and placed somewhere else for criticism, then there’s no conversation. If the commenter doesn’t know about it, she can’t defend herself. All you can have in that situation is a one-sided ridiculing of the comment. Which, while I’m not sure I’d go so far, is certainly similar to bullying.

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    Hmm… does that argument depend on there being something special about the blogosphere? Suppose you say something to me in a (public) conversation, and, then, later, I recount it to someone else in another (public) conversation, along with criticism — is that problematic in the same sense?

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