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There's a kind of internet behavior that I find particularly difficult to deal with, but I've never been able to put it into words in a way that really shows how frustrating it is. Mark Goodacre has now done so:

I am finding the comments of the bloggers, as so often, more interesting and thought provoking than the article itself, which is a bit too grape-shot in its approach to want to present a precise and coherent critique of the SBL. There are so many points at which the author simply throws out a grenade and runs away, that it is difficult to choose only a couple of points for comment.

The issues he's dealing with are irrelevant to my point. It's what he calls grape-shot that I'm interested in. I often find that a post I want to comment on, or some commenters in a comment thread I want to comment on, have done something very much like what he's saying here. They'll leave a barrage of nasty little points in grenade-like fashion, leaving their opponent to pick up the pieces. Each point is of the sort that it could take several paragraphs to respond to adequately. What I've found is that those who hang around to see the aftermath will then get mad when you write such careful responses in the comments, saying that they don't have time to read a book. They'll then accuse you of trying to monopolize the conversation. But the grenade-tossing method of argument (if it can be called that) leaves no other way to respond except to let the damage stand without argument, and sometimes that would be immoral. It's a particularly devious kind of behavior, and I wonder if this kind of tactic deserves the name 'troll' even more than some behavior that commonly receives that label. I do like the image of grenade-throwing. That struck me in Mark's description, and I had to record my thoughts on that, if only to have something to link back to when I see people doing this.


Good thoughts.

I suppose how one would respond to such writings might be influenced on how much respect one otherwise has for the author. Respect and honor are pretty nebulous and too often unacknowledged forces in internet communication.

In the case of little to no respect I would think ignoring the whole thing is the simplest (and time honored) way to to respond. In honor based cultures (i.e. not ours) one only needs to respond to challenges from one's equals in rank. Responding to someone's challenge makes the statement that they are worthy enough to be responded to.

Unfortunately (at least in this sense) in our liberal-democracy culture we lack effective means of disciminating challenges from various people. Many feel that any statement from anyone should be worthy of response since one person's opinion is as good as another. All of that should be appropriately qualified to count as good analysis, but I think it's right.

In the case of a greater level of respect, due to perhaps freindship or knowledge of the author's standing in the area he or she is writing on, I suppose one could do anything from choosing only to respond to part of the arguments, pointing out that support is missing from some or all of th arguments, asking if she or he is planning to buttress th various arguments, or, if worst comes to worst, taking the time to actually respond to all of it. Not sure when (if ever) that last would be appropriate.

Somewhere someone (several years ago) came up with a classification system for various types of people who participate in internet discussion boards. I distinctly remember "grenade tosser" being one of the categories.

You said above, "no other way to respond except to let the damage stand without argument, and sometimes that would be immoral." I'm wondering what sort of situation you are imagining here. Could you explicate that a bit for me?

Ah, but what if it is someone I don't know leaving a comment on my blog? What if it is someone I don't know authoring a post on another blog about me? If I have no past with the person, it's hard to use that as a criterion.

Pointing out why support is needed for some of the arguments amounts to responding, in my book.

On your last question, some sorts of attacks seem to me to be the sort of the thing that need a response or need to be deleted, particularly if they involve attacks on issues of enough moral importance. I would also include slander of persons or groups, particularly Christianity, as that occurs often enough.

"Ah, but what if it is someone I don't know leaving a comment on my blog?"

Like me? :)

This strikes me as one of the challenges inherent in internet communication as a medium. One of my projects (which I doubt I'll ever get very far on unless a lot of other folks volunteer to help me) is trying to identify a set of practices, rules and guidelines for how christians should communicate on the internet. One of the components of such a set pf practices has to be disclosure/transparency. It is impossible to communicate well without some knowledge of the other(s) in the conversation. Yet, due to the ease of communicating directly to all sorts of people via the web, people often neglect any sort of "personal" information, preferring to just "get to the point" of whatever is on their mind.

Obviously one also needs to be somewhat careful about disclosure and be aware of the risks that go with it. But that goes for all sorts of communication.

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