There have been a lot of discussion on the philosophy blogosphere recently on the effects that blogging has had on the profession. These discussions appear to stem from this Leiter poll, where apparently 42% of respondents voted that blogs have had a "positive" effect on the discipline and 46% a "negative" effect. So far, the discussions have been primarily on blogging's (and specific blogs') effects on the discipline. Another discussion is emerging, however, in this Smoker thread: namely, what do we owe to each other online as members of a common profession?
I raise this question without hidden agenda or moral sanctimony. Although I started the Philosophers' Cocoon out of a sense that early-career people in the discipline might enjoy a safe and supportive place to share their work and discuss personal and professional issues affecting them, I did not start it under the belief that all blogs should be safe or supportive -- and indeed, as I'll now explain, when it comes to "online professional ethics", I find myself torn in opposing directions. I ask the question, "What do we owe each other online?", because (A) I want to be a good person and professional, (B) I want to know what this involves, and (C) because I'm not sure what it involves in this case. Allow me to explain.
On the one hand, I have always been attracted to the Millian view that complete freedom of expression (minus slander, harassment incitement to violence, etc.), no matter how offensive, etc., tends to benefit us all, at least in the longer run. When people speak their minds freely, truths -- kind, ugly, and eveything in between -- tend to manifest: we know what people's opinions and preferences are, and we can debate and criticize them head-on. Second, there are the considerable moral hazards of other- and self-censorship (which have been ever-present lately thanks to the Salaita case). Expecting people (including ourselves!) to behave "civilly" online lends itself to a kind of intolerance, and indeed, moral bullying. And I think there are very good reasons to fear, and avoid, these things.
On the other hand, I am also attracted to Jaded, PhD's view here in response to a comment by Fritz J. McDonald. Jaded writes:
I think we could de-escalate, commenters, bloggers, and tweeters alike by stepping back from the name-calling, calling people stupid, armchair psychologizing, divining true motives, etc. (I do love snarking though.)
Although Jaded isn't calling for censorship or muzzling one's opinions (neither of which I would ever advocate), Jaded is suggesting that it would be (morally) better for people to self-monitor their behavior and conform to certain standards of professionalism and collegiality. I find this position attractive, too. As I explained here (and as Jon Cogburn seconded here), the overall climate of our profession seems unusually aggressive as compared to many other academic professions. Because our profession has well-known climate issues, I'm inclined to think that we all share some obligation to contribute to improving things -- for instance, by behaving professionally, and indeed, kindly online. And indeed, I personally feel like I have duty to behave in such ways. I try to be kind, forgiving, and charitable online, and stay away from saying meanspirited things.
That being said, I once again appreciate the considerable moral hazards of self- and other-censorship. So, what is the right way to think about these issues? What do we owe each other online?
I am going to open up this question for general discussion, as I think (or at least hope) that we can have a friendly, productive discussion about it. Before I do, however, I want to lay down some ground rules.
The question of how we should comport ourselves online is, obviously, a veritable minefield. Such a conversation could devolve into criticisms of particular blogs, bloggers, etc.--and the Cocoon is not the forum for that sort of thing. The Cocoon's mission is to be a safe and supportive for all. And so I am going to insist on a very high-level discussion. That is, I am going to require that we discuss these issues at the level of broad generalities -- generalities that do not single out particular blogs or bloggers, but concern issues (viz. "Do we have an obligation to be nice online, to avoid armchair psychologizing, etc?") that pertain to all of us. Because preserving the Cocoon's mission is my highest priority as blog moderator, I am going to moderate carefully to ensure that these questions are discussed in a manner consistent with our mission. Also, if I sense that we are unable to have a safe and respectful discussion -- if commenters are unable to abide by the "no slagging other blogs, bloggers, etc./focus on generalities" rule -- I may have to (reluctantly) choose to close down discussion. Obviously, I realize that these moderating standards might not appeal to everyone -- but, if there are people who would like a broader, even more open discussion, there are plenty of other online forums to pursue such discussions. :)