There are times when what you intend to write happens to align with the stars -- dark stars, in this particular case -- and you are caught by surprise. I was planning to post an entry today on Office Talk, and the topic was -- and still is -- the regrettable blogger expression, WTF. What caught me by surprise was the blogger meme today about Kathy Sierra's bout with hate mail, a situation so weird and creepy that practically every busy blogger felt compelled to say something about it. A common theme in many of these posts is that the blogosphere has become a mean and inhospitable place. I've been complaining about nastiness in the blogosphere for several years now. But this latest episode finally may have brought the problem to the fore.
What on earth does this have to do with WTF? As many of you know, WTF is shorthand for something unmentionable on many blogs -- unmentionable only because we rather not speak the words, not because we don't want to communicate the intent of the words. The intent is to signal contempt for the person we are calling out -- like, "hey Bruno, WTF?" -- when we are ready to write an especially pointed and opinionated blog post. What's remarkable is how many bloggers have grown accustomed -- inured -- to the phrase. It's a nasty way to talk to someone -- and I say talk only because so many of us are convinced that blogging is conversation -- and using shorthand does little to mask the hostility. Why even bother?
As a sign of respect to Kathy and others who have been victimized by bloggers in more extreme ways, I'm keeping this column short. But I'll end with what I think is a good policy for cutting off the mean, the nasty, and the stupid: if people post anonymously, and they have no good reason for posting anonymously, shun them. Over the past several years, I've learned that very few bloggers -- with the exception of the thick-headed and the psychotic -- will act nastily if their indentities were known. And as for silly, nasty euphemisms like WTF, just stop using them. Better yet, spell out clearly what you mean to say and see if you dare click the publish button. Be real, be yourself -- if you still like writing out "what the fuck?", because you are an asshole -- or you are trying to make a point -- at least people will know how to respond to you. Anything else, as law enforcement officials like to say, would be cowardly.
Somewhat related: See Larry Sanger Raises the Bar for Wiki Citizens
NEXT ON OFFICE TALK: "THE A-LIST"