Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fr. Michael Orsi on blogging run amuck

A lengthy article in the Homiletic & Pastoral Review by Fr. Michael Orsi proved good reading. Do go read the complete article.

...But here we return to the concept of anonymity. Hiding out in cyberspace provides a certain emotional distance and avoids direct confrontation. This gives calumnious bloggers some distinct advantages over their victims. They can declare someone guilty without evidence, forcing them to defend themselves by having to disprove a negative. And they can be as outlandish and judgmental as they like while remaining shielded from the reactions and reproaches they would encounter in signed commentary or face-to-face debate. This contradicts the two foundational principles of American justice: (1) assumption of innocence until proof of guilt and (2) the right of the accused to face the accuser. But it tends to liberate bloggers from moral constraint by anesthetizing conscience.

There is a certain self-defeating aspect of calumnious blogging. The titillation of malicious gossip and the thrill of tearing down other human beings do have their limits. Insinuations and outrageous charges often provoke counterclaims that are just as wild. Mutual misquoting, distortion, hearsay and condemnation can spiral to heights of ridiculousness that strain credulity and eventually make readers lose interest. Even the element of anonymity can have counterproductive effects, highlighting the Kafkaesque unreality of the “kangaroo court” assembled in cyberspace. Readers can begin to suspect cowardice at work, or even to speculate about the psychological health of a blogger who will only comment from behind the mask of a fictitious name.

Still, the practice persists, and with the ubiquitous presence of the Internet, it touches the lives of believers in every parish today. Indeed, it presents us with a situation of serious moral conflict that pastors should address, because it violates the dignity of persons and undermines truth. And in the end, truth is the only basis on which a good society can be built. Thus, I offer the following recommendations about points that should be made regarding blogging:

  • Pastors should speak on the Eighth Commandment and its corollary injunctions against calumny and detraction.
  • People should be warned that what they read on blogs is not necessarily true.
  • Any anonymous blog or unsigned response has the weight of an unsigned letter and so should be quickly dismissed.
  • A blog that is particularly vicious toward persons can be indicative of psychological illness, or simply an evil person, and is therefore suspect.
  • Any blog that is unedifying and demeaning to another person should not be read. It is the equivalent of pornography.
  • Responding to these calumnious blogs, even for defense of the individual or for clarification, only encourages the offender and prolongs the life of the calumny.
  • Those who suffer calumny on anonymous blogs are, for the most part, better off enduring it. Seeking to correct misrepresentations usually has the effect of keeping controversy alive and adding to its interest value.
  • While reading such blogs is damaging to its target (since it causes unwarranted negative speculation about another’s character), it also hurts the reader since it causes scandal, sowing pessimism and despondency.
  • Calumnious blogging is a serious offense against God’s law. Those who engage in it are jeopardizing their immortal souls and the souls of others.
  • For anyone to make a judgment concerning a person’s character based on what is read on a negative blog is to be a formal cooperator in the evil perpetrated by the blogger.

Those involved in blogging would do well to keep in mind the words of Isaiah 33:15, which says of the good person: “He who acts with integrity, who speaks sincerely …, shuts suggestion of murder out of his ears, and closes his eyes against crime, this man will dwell in the heights.”

Complete article here.


  1. Great article, Joseph. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Glad you liked it. I hope it gets some traction.

  3. Why not keep it simple? Only read blogs where the owner has the decency to give their name. I do, and I post my photo in my "About" section as well.

    When you sign your name, or give an explicit "editor's note", it is a sign that you are not an online troll. I have suffered from such... God knows what havoc they wreak!

    It is one thing to be "edgy", it is one thing to be emphatic. Cruelty... that is something else. It is why I belong to no "online forums". Trolls seem to thrive there!

    Let a thousand opinions flower... but, ride the trolls out of town on a rail.

    "we seem to be of one mind, praise God!"