Why Mormon Blogs Can’t Be Civil

Jeff SpectorMormon 26 Comments

Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words, Hymn no. 232

Let us oft speak kind words to each other. At home or where’er we may be;
Like the warblings of birds on the heather, The tones will be welcome and free.
They’ll gladden the heart that’s repining, Give courage and hope from above,
And where the dark clouds hide the shining, Let in the bright sunlight of love.

[Chorus] Oh, the kind words we give shall in memory live And sunshine forever impart.
Let us oft speak kind words to each other; Kind words are sweet tones of the heart.

– Joseph L. Townsend, 1849-1942

It seems to me that online conversations in the form of blogs, instant messages or emails follow slightly different rules of human discourse than face to face or even telephone conversations. Civility, it seems, is not a requirement and many contentious and confrontational exchanges happen online that would never happen in a more personal encounter. There are websites such as http://www.atra-tr.org/netetiquette.htm , http://www.albion.com/netiquette , and http://www.the-eggman.com/writings/etiquitte_1.html that address the issue of etiquette and rules of engagement on the Internet.

Elder M. Russell Ballard wrote this in the current issue of the Ensign:

“As you participate in this conversation and utilize the tools of new media, remember who you are-Latter-day Saints. Remember, as the proverb states, that “a soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). And remember that contention is of the devil (see 3 Nephi 11:29). There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true. We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have, always guided by the prompting of the Spirit and constantly remembering the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, which reminds us of how precious are the children of our Father in Heaven.” Elder M. Russell Ballard, “Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet,” Ensign July 2008

So why then do we read Latter-day Saints on the blogs and on the internet in general who are not nice to one another?

Here are a few reasons I came up with. Some are typical Internet reasons and some uniquely LDS reasons.

1. Anonymity – The computer gives us a power to say or write anything we want without having to look the other person in the eye. Body language and emotions, as expressed in one’s face, have a lot to do with how we converse with one another. The blog and internet is devoid of this, except for using capital letters, smiley faces, etc. We are willing to say things that we might never say in person because we do not have to look the other person in the eye. I even notice this in phone conversations at work. Now that we have gone to a more dispersed workforce where you may work with someone you have never met in person, you tend to, if you are not careful, express yourself in much harsher ways you never would face to face. Even though some of us use our real names and do not hide behind pseudonyms, we are still anonymous to 90% of those we chat with over the internet. We will never meet them, so there is no need to be polite.

2. Written Words – Written words can be very flat emotionally and it takes a skilled writer to write in such a way that reflects the proper emotions. It is likely that the way something is written is misinterpreted by the reader in terms of how the writer feels about what he/she has written. Most of the time when a message is misinterpreted, the writer is accused of being mad or upset because of the way it is written. Sometimes they are, but usually they are not. Other times a message is just a flame and serves no other purpose than to invoke anger.

3. Anger/hostility – Much like politics, no other subject invokes emotions like religion. On the Bloggernacle, there are many that are upset/mad/hostile to the LDS Church and their messages reflect that. On the other hand, those who are strong believing members can be very intolerant of those who struggle with their testimony and how they feel about the Church itself. Each group needs to approach the other in the spirit of understanding and, as Latter-day Saints, extend the hand of fellowship, no matter what the circumstances. Having said that, those who feel wronged by the Church need to be respectful to those for whom the Church means a great deal. Insulting remarks about the church, church leaders and its history has no place among the blogs, no matter how strong the feelings.

I am constantly amazed that LDS people cannot be civil with each other on the blog. Maybe I am overly sensitive and it is not a problem. Some of the 300+ messages about SSM in California proved to me that we have a problem.

Comments 26

  1. There is a reason the meek and merciful are blessed – and it isn’t because it’s easy to acquire those characteristics.

    The rancor of many threads is the single biggest disappointment for me since I started frequenting the ‘Nacle.

  2. Mormon blogging… have you looked at Mormon involvement in politics in the last 30 years?

    We’re not exactly a people that do things half way, especially in matters that the church gets politically involved in. If I remember correctly the Birchers among us went absolutely crazy over the MX Missile statement. The stories of Evan Meechams impeachment get pretty crazy, as do the stories of the International Womens Year and the ERA.

    The only thing that the Bloggernacle removes is the superficial ‘Minnesota Nice’ that guards our usual interpersonal reactions.

  3. Have you compared bloggernacle dialogue with average blog dialogue. You may feel better about us after that. Of course, maybe you won’t. [insert ironic rude parting remark here]

  4. Post
  5. lol…Jeff….NOW i read this!! Great post and thank you for it.

    angrymormonliberal says “We’re not exactly a people that do things half way, especially in matters that the church gets politically involved in.”

    I wonder if there is something in the Mormon Political Psyche where we feel we have to “always be right” since Mormonism is “most right”? I am definitely guilty of that!

  6. Overall, I think the Bloggernacle blogs do a VERY good job of maintaining civility. It’s the more public forums, like Otterson’s column and pretty much any comments on the SLTrib web site where things tend to descend very quickly into dueling “I testify that Joseph Smith was a True Prophet of God” vs. “Joseph Smith was a pedophile” statements – regardless of the subject matter at hand.

    But you know, the other day I was reading some of the comments on the Times Picayune, and I was just flabbergasted. The racism, the venom, the smugness…wow. Just wow.

    So I stick to the stories and don’t even bother with the comments. Life is too short to spend even a minute with nasty people, whether they are Mormon or not.

  7. Very interesting view. I often see this expressed in other venues as well. I always find it interesting that after General Conference we always have to be reminded to be civil on our way out of parking lots. I think it sad that I was once flipped off after leaving General Priesthood Meeting cause I slipped in front of a guy in the parking lot.

    I think it is a combination of the
    “We are always right”,
    “We are put upon by others and we are tired of it”,
    “I can prove it to you by my ‘testimony’, which is an emotion based sentiment”
    Probably a few others.

  8. After having written #1, I really am grateful that the general tone in the Bloggernacle is so much better than the tone on most other blogs I occasionally visit. The SL Tribune comments are appalling.

    I’m sure my disappointment is a product of my wish that we were closer to what we want to be.

  9. I agree with those who have said earlier that the blogs are generally more civil than many of the other open forums like the SL Trib and so on. Its really disappointing to see that level of vitriol used, and I wonder if non-Mormons in the SL Valley and other parts of the Mormon Culture Region feel like it is their only chance to get a hearing for their grievances about having to live among the “GD” Mormons. Luckily, few of those people frequent our blogs (or are skillfully weeded out by comment moderation) and for that I am thankful.

    Another look on the bright side: we get so riled up about these things, on all sides, because on some level we do all care about the Church and Mormonism, no matter what our current status is.

  10. As a site administrator, I think about this problem all the time. I am not convinced that any one factor is to blame, but certainly those you cite are at play. I believe in commenter momentum; very often you will see people start down a road of ever-increasing incivility that either results in their banning or voluntary departure. It’s a curious thing to see, but it happens all the time. Kudos to those people who are only occasionally incivil.

  11. We should start a ‘nacle campaign: “Think about what you’ve just written before hitting submit!” I don’t have a way with words at midnight. Perhaps some savvy marketing folks could come up with a more pithy way of saying the same thing.


  12. These problems are inherent in internet disucussion. I’ve been at it since the first time I went off on someone for summarizing Shakespeare as a white man, on a Prodigy account, in 1994. I’ve seen online fights lead to really ugly real life scenarios – violence and rumours of violence, seriously.

    I agree with Ray that the general tone on the bloggernacle is much better than the USENET groups I frequented between the mid 90s and 2004, or so. I’ve described it as a comparative field of daisies, and I think that’s about right …

    … but … maybe it’s just that the SSM thing has been foregrounded lately, or maybe I’m just increasingly sensitive to it. Things seem to have been more rancorous over the last couple weeks.

    I don’t know there is a collective solution to it. Individually we can try to not be more sensitive. The blogs are moderated, mostly, so that helps. One of the reasons I chose not to use a ‘nym is that I knew I’d be more tempted to go off on people and mock them behind a name. With my name out there … it’s a small Mormon world, and who knows who is watching. I definitely try to keep myself more in check, for that. Kind of like playing poker in Vegas. You never know when your bishop might be in town for the weekend.

    I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an A+ flame on the bloggernacle. I’ll do it sometime, just to show how it is done. 😉


  13. I agree with those who’ve said that the b’nacle is generally much better than the comments on other sites, even reputable news sites for crying out loud (no I wasn’t including SL Tribune or DesNews in that remark, but there are pretty clear battle lines drawn there). Personally, I just won’t comment if the quality of comments is that poor in terms of respect, give and take and listening. IMO, here we do a fairly good job of keeping things civil. The SSM post got ugly here and there, but still not as bad as many I’ve seen on other b’nacle sites. And I’d rather have respectful disagreement than always polite “me too” concurrence.

    It’s funny because at church no one calls out bad behavior, even when they should like sharing speculation or even false doctrine from the pulpit. Generally speaking, everyone politely skirts it. I have seen people respectfully correct it. In the b’nacle, though, it never goes unchallenged. Perhaps that’s good for the medium and the health of the dialogue. Even getting the blood boiling once in a while.

  14. #12 – How about, “Say unto others what you would have them say unto you.” I know someone said something like that sometime ago. 🙂

    Seriously, I fail occasionally and respond too quickly, but I have a rule to re-read what I have written prior to submitting it and making sure I wouldn’t get ticked if it was being said to me. The only exceptions I make are when something is said that I think simply is egregious and need to be addressed bluntly, but even then I usually regret my bluntness after I submit it.

    When it becomes a true habit, it happens even with comments like this – where I know there isn’t anything objectionable in what I am typing. I have read this three times as I’ve added each paragraph. It works for me – when I remember to do it. When I don’t, I end up adding something that I don’t need to add – like the word “stupid” when I deleted some sentences from some comments on another thread. That was a result of responding too quickly and not following my own rule.

  15. me and my wife are quite saddened with some of these blogs and bloggers too. We have anonymous LDS bloggers who come to our site and get mad or angry with us because after commenting, we leave a link of something we blog that they completely hate like opposing SSM or Promoting the First Presidency message.

    Great post and i will be quoting some in my entry today.

  16. I really can’t remember the last time I read something on a major mormon blog that was lacking in civility, but I don’t read the SL Trib stuff that some people have mentioned. People disagree on ideas, but I haven’t seen personal insults about someone’s body odor or anything like that. Can somebody produce example threads that show the problems that you are talking about?

    I have seen threads where people seem to take offense for no apparent reason. See comments #40, #55, etc. on the following thread: http://mormonmatters.org/2008/06/24/white-washing/#more-538. Is this thread an example of the lack of civility that is such a problem?

  17. Evans, are you saying some of us are occasionally uncivil? Is that your accusation? Would you care to back that up with some FACTS, or are you just doing a drive by insult here? What is your problem man?

  18. Bill and Ann: don’t you two know that contention is of the devil? (Mosiah 29:7, 3 Ne. 11:29, D&C 10:63, Prov. 13:10, and the mother of all contention scriptures pertinent to bloggers, Titus 3:9) Don’t make me get our my GA quotes on contention! You both need to do some serious soul-searching and repentance!

    But seriously, I too have remarked two things on LDS-oriented blogs:

    1) For the most part, people are honestly trying to be civil, caring, and collegial in their comments. I think that’s why we keep coming back: we feel like we can contribute positively to a conversation about something we truly care about, and we may even learn something new about the world and about ourselves along the way. 3 cheers for most of us most of the time!

    2) Contention escalates rapidly, often without warning. What starts out as friendly banter and argument (in the academic, rhetorical sense of the term) becomes a shouting match, a competition to see who can say the meanest thing and have the last word. I guess it helps us understand how fallible we truly are, when we find our emotions rising, tempers flaring, etc. Every time I lose my patience, though, I learn to control myself better the next time around because I recognize the stirrings of the primal beast within, and can squelch it before it gets out of hand.

  19. Ann comment #9 video is AEWESOME!! Thanks for sharing that. It made my day 🙂

    A great motto to adopt on this subject is “kindness begins with me”. We cast our bread and it comes back. Often I find that LDS blog authors cannot resist purposely place controversial ideas, or wording that will incite and agitate in order to get commentary and higher traffic ratings. Sad but true, the “natural man/woman” (SteveS “primal beast”) in all of us must be tamed regularly!

  20. My most frightening childhood moment was a brawl at a church basketball game so I’m never surprised by contention in even LDS blog comments.

  21. Post

    I am a little surprised at the comparisons some are using to explain why Mormon Blogs are nicer than others. but, I thought when I wrote the article, that like Hebrew National, “we have to answer to a higher authority.” And that our discourse would reflect that.

    Kinda like, “Hey, I’m a good guy, I only beat my family once a week!”

  22. I’ve learnt a lot about how to be civil from the LDS blogs I’ve visited frankly,but maybe that depends where you’re from.I really appreciate the honesty and integrity of the discussions I’ve witnessed,I find it truly refreshing to be told what someone really thinks as opposed to what they think they ought to think.We’re not at church,and i can take responsibility for correcting my own thinking.
    We’re only first generation mormons here and my childhood was full of abuse and intolerance.I think nowadays I just can’t be around it.There have been times here and elsewhere when the participants have modelled a whole new way of communicating,and that’s not to mention the concepts being discussed.I think I’ve learnt more in the past year on the nacle than I have in years of church attendance,not that I would swap them.I so appreciate the fora and the individuals contributing.you cannot know the good you do.Please keep sharing and teaching-I really didn’t know there were people like you out there and it increases my confidence in the future of the church and the world.
    Also,i have an alternative to which I can point my adult children as a witness of truth and it’s fruits,some of you will know how precious that is.Respect.

  23. wayfarer – welcome to MM!

    Jeff Spector – “I only beat my family once a week” Do you really think it’s like that? There was a post on (I think) BCC a few months ago where everyone was lamenting incivility in Mormon Blog comments, and a few people did the Martin Harris thing (“Lord, is it I?”) and sort of came clean or apologized; lots of others said, “oh, no, I don’t think you were so bad, and the moderators keep out the real baddies.” My perspective is that commenters on Mormon blogs are more prone to being too easily offended by others, falling into prideful arguments, etc., than actually being abusive or uncivil. If we all took it upon ourselves to just not get hooked in, not get offended by others, regardless of what they say, wouldn’t that be a wonderful world? There’s no offense when none is taken (it’s like a tree falling in the forest). But then again, maybe that’s why I’m Hawkgrrrl and not Dovegrrrl.

  24. Hawk,

    Not all discussions turn into brawls. In fact most probably don’t. But the ones that do (SSM, W & PH, B&PH) seem to take on a bitter life of its own. As I said in the article, people say things they would never say to someone’s face. That’s the major difference.

    And then the comparison to other nasty blogs: Well, we should be way better than those are.

    But each comment starts with ourselves and what we are willing to do. If we don’t jump in, nothing happens.

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