So much for the discussion

13 Nov. Update

I emailed Heitham following his message with explanations, asking what he thinks about feasibility of my research idea (surveying bloggers). Unfortunately i haven’t heard from him since then (about two weeks now), which makes me think if approving my comments wasn’t just a reaction to this post. In other words, i wonder if the comments would get approved without me publishing this post.

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29 Oct. Update

I received a reply from Haitham today explaining that it was a technical issue and that my comments are up. I still think it would make an interesting research to inquire into bloggers’ practices, particularly when it comes to blogging about the conflict.

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It is always interesting when you personally encounter supporting evidence to your research in th daily life.

Just about a week ago I presented Dori’s and my research at AoIR. The study showed how the blogosphere discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is oriented towards violence and polarization. Just a couple of days ago, I commented on a blog dealing with the conflict and had a chance to experience one of the aspects of this mechanism myself.

Trying to organize my thoughts about the OneVoice incident, I follow the blogosphere buzz on the topic. This is how i reached Sabbah’s Blog, written by Haitham Sabbah, as far as i understand son of Palestinian refugees currently living in Bahrain. According to his own explanation:

The blog topics encourage healthy discussions on political, cultural, religious and life in Arab World, however, my chief interest is in the intersection between politics, individual liberty and freedom in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine. The vast majority of my blog posts touches on this in one way or another, and try to create a better understanding of what is going around and speaking the truth which is always hidden in Western media when it comes to Palestine/Israel conflict.

Browsing through the blog (which has an authority ranking of 244 according to Technorati) i saw a number of posts that drew my attention, so i left comments. After all it is a blog, and it is supposedly a discussion. Interestingly, when you live a comment on Sabbah’s blog, there is disclaimer: “Comments are free, facts are sacred but NO ZIONIST PROPAGANDA!” There is no criteria for what considered propaganda for Sabbah, but here is what I learned.

I commented on two posts. The first, titled “NO Hebrew, Arabic mix”, was a framed presentation of Haaretz article about protest to an opening of a mixed Arab-Jewish school in one of neighborhoods of Jerusalem. The second, titled “The crime of sitting next to women”, was yet another framed Haaretz article about a case of religious fanaticisms in Israel. When i say “framed” i mean that Sabbah actually re-posted the entire article, or the most of the article, preceded by a short paragraph that doesn’t leave much room for interpretation he would like to provide.

On the first item I left the following comment:

But what about ignoring the fact that this school was actually built, that the project exists, and how about making a different passage in bold, for example: “The Hand in Hand organization has two other bilingual schools, one in Gush Misgav and one in Kfar Kara, in addition to the one at Pat, which is co-managed by principals Dalia Peretz and Ala Khatib. The organization also has two kindergartens in Be’er Sheva.” Unfortunately, the nature of the news is such that they tend to pick on the negative, what good does it do amplifying it?

And here is my comment on the second item:

You don’t have to focus on the particular case to show some of the absurds that the orthodox community expresses in Israel. You can look at the protests against the gay parades, the lack of public transportation on weekends, and the list is long. But i still don’t see how is that making Israeli democracy “so-called”. Actually part of the ridiculous things that happen in Israel regarding religion is a result of organized groups taking advantage of the democratic mechanisms.

Sorry, but i find this particular post kind of funny in light of your disclaimer for comments that forbids Zionist propaganda :) There are substantive issues for criticism in Israel, but I don’t think that the particular link you make is one of them.

Please judge yourself whether it was or was not “Zionist propaganda”, but none of my comments was approved by Sabbah. This led me to assume that there was a technical problem or maybe they were considered “Zionist propaganda” and not, as i naively assumed part of “healthy discussion”. So, I sent Haitham the following message:

Hello Haitham,
I left a couple of comments on your blog the other day, but I see they are still awaiting moderation. I noticed that there is a bunch of new comments left after me, so I wondered if there is a particular reason that mine are not getting approved. Please let me know if there is any technical glitch or if you think I abused your blog policies.
Thanks!
Dima

 

I left the comments on October 26, and sent Haitham an email on the following day. However up until today i haven’t heard back. I assume that Haitham got my message because nothing bounced back and i saw him continuing blogging. Thus, after seeing another comment being approved on the same post while mine is still awaiting moderation, my conclusion is that he is not really willing to discuss, but rather to propagate his opinions (here are two screen-shots of my comments awaiting moderation: comment 1, comment 2).

Leaving the normative aspects of the particular incident aside for now, i would like to link it back to the study mentioned in the beginning. It is really interesting to see how the blogs are getting utilized as particularly individualized means of expression. Of course there are platforms where discussions happen, but it seems that there are more instances of Haitham’s behavior where people tend to control opinions presented in their personal spaces. Seemingly, the comments section is one of the features allowing the discourse thus making “new” media more democratic compared to the mainstream. However, as this particular example shows, this space can be utilized to construct a particular type of narrative and discourse, thus preserving and even amplifying dynamics of content selection in the MSM.

In general, the whole issue of comments in the blogosphere is being under-researched, and it could be really interesting to see how this space is used by both readers and bloggers. I think one way to address that would be surveying the bloggers. However i wonder, what my limitations are, as an Israeli, to conduct such a survey. I think i would need a Palestinian partner to undertake such a study.

Any thoughts or comments?

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5 Responses to “So much for the discussion”

  1. lisa Says:

    Seems like you’re being silenced, but there are other explanations. Some comments may automatically pass moderation because no hot-button keywords were found, or by a helper who moderates ones that are obviously okay. I also don’t think it’s strange for a blogger to not respond to emails promptly.

    I think there are big problems making sweeping assumptions about “the power of blogs” or the “anachronism of main stream media”…

    Long tail blogs (my term) are completely different to mainstream blogs (which to me are just another arm of MSM).

    I don’t think anyone’s suggested the “comments” section makes blogs any more “democratic” than MSM. MSM websites generally contain moderated comments on news articles too, but nobody claims they’re more democratic as a result. Of course blogs can be just as selective about content selection as any MSM.

    The only difference (in content diversity) the web as a medium could offer is the much large range of content of the long tail websites (which has no analogue in MSM, especially print because of page real-estate concerns and the need to sell a physical newspaper). The diversity of content in fat head will always be subject to the moderation policy, moderators and the level of transparency at which they choose to operate.

  2. Dima Says:

    I truly hope that you are right about the technique / practice of moderating comments, and i am not actually being silenced. The later BTW, is a legitimate act as well, but if it is so, I think it deserves attention.

    I agree with you about the problem of making sweeping assumptions. This is probably i am having trouble with the Web 2.0 hype (but that requires more time and thought in order to formulate a solid argument). But i am not sure I understand the use you are making in distinction between the mainstream and long-tail (i think I like the term :) blogs.

    As to the function of comments, it has been argued that they constitute one of the features that make blogs more “democratic”. This is why i think it is interesting to study the practices of comment moderation. After all, once posted, the comments are integral part of the post and as such contribute to the discourse. Of course talkbacks on MSM websites are monitored and it actually reaches absurd sometimes. For example, i was once told by an editor of a large online newspaper that at times of pressure they just delete bulks of talkbacks without even reading them. This conversation took place about a year and a half ago and back then he claimed that over 50% of talkbacks are deleted without being read. But this is whole different (though interesting) story.

    And as to the content diversity, i think it is an empirical question. First, there has been research on how bloggers link in their posts. If i remember correctly, it showed that they link mostly to themselves or to the MSM websites. Actually in our study, Dori and I saw the later trend very clearly. So how diverse the content online is really an open question (this is before we got into reading practices to start thinking about the impact). The second point, which i think is related, is the quality of the content. I think this may be debatable, but i doubt that every post contributes to the discourse in substantive way. For example, think of the conspiracy theories widely available online. I don’t know what kind of contribution they have to meaningful discourse.

    Ok, i better stop here and get back to that article i have to finish :)
    Thanks for commenting!!!

  3. Haitham Sabbah Says:

    I haven’t received the email you claim you sent to me and after reading your weird assumptions here, I don’t feel sorry to remove your said comments and block you from commenting any further (just to prove to you that I didn’t approve your comments because you published this post).

  4. Dima Says:

    Haitham,

    Sorry to hear that i was subject to so many technical problems. Probably i got spoiled assuming that if an email doesn’t bounce back, it got delivered. I actually sent you two emails – one thanking your for approving my comments, and the other asking about your thoughts on feasibility of my research idea. Watching you reacting so fast to my last update reassures that you must be a technically savvy person with good internet literacy, so it is really weird that all my communication is getting lost.

    But I do not intend in getting into a shouting match. If you really wanted to communicate, you could respond more politely. I am sorry, but the action you took to block me out from commenting further, doesn’t really help to carry your point across. I wonder if removing my (probably also “weird”) comments from your blog and blocking me from further commenting makes you feel “righter”? Anyhow, i am not going to block you from commenting further.

  5. So much for the discussion 2 « ::: Think Macro ::: Says:

    […] much for the discussion 2 If you had a chance to read my previous post with a similar title, you may want to visit it again. In a nutshell, I posted an update about my follow up on the […]

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