Read the comment thread to this post, and then come back and comment here on whether mentioning one of the thread’s contributors by name would make me a “bully.”

(Seriously: the thought hadn’t occurred to me, and if I’ve a wrong view of netiquette, I’d like to know.)

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22 Responses

  1. Larry Sheldon says:

    If you write anything more than a 2en dash, somebody will be offended, cite some obscure netiquette, or something.

    Your blog, your rules.

    If somebody doesn’t like it, let them complain–it ups the traffic count.

    Follow the rules your mother taught you and the the world deal with that.

  2. Susan Kuo says:

    No, you provided notice to the contributors. Up to them to partake.

  3. dave hoffman says:

    Susan, but what if I hadn’t provided notice? I am having trouble wrapping my head around the idea that notice-less discussion about people on blogs constitutes bullying…

  4. Susan Kuo says:

    From where I sit, lack of notice could be construed as bullying, depending on the intent of the person posting as well as the impact on those intentionally implicated by the posting. For example, were I to comment positively about another’s post without providing notice to that individual, then this most likely would not be construed as bullying by that individual (and, as the positive commenter, I probably would not feel like a bully). If, however, I were to make negative comments about another’s post without providing notice to that individual, that individual might very well feel bullied (and I might feel like a bully – after, if not before, the fact).

    While I’m blathering, I should clarify my earlier response. (Brevity may be economical as to space, but costly in other ways.) Assuming that one’s intent is benign (and, having no reason to believe otherwise, I assume that yours is), providing notice allows folks to continue an off-topic discussion in another venue. If one’s intent were not benign, then the provision of notice would do nothing to mitigate an intent to bully or any bullying that might ensue.

    One last thought: After reading the earlier discussion, I think that the sticking point was not so much the definition of bullying, but rather, from whose viewpoint should we define bullying – that of the “bully” or the “bullied.” I think that both viewpoints are valid. Sometimes, the viewpoints coincide. But when they do not and someone is feeling bullied, I’m not inclined to gainsay those feelings.

  5. A.J. Sutter says:

    Susan Kuo’s comments seem sensible. I’m skeptical that “bullying” should be a strict liability offense arising from certain actions, regardless of intentions and other context.

    But apropos of correctness, I was intrigued by a comment of Dave’s in the PrawfsBlawg thread: “When I picked a contract casebook, I was told by a senior colleague that it would be crazy to use Randy Barnett’s book, because he was so ‘extreme.’ (I doubt that s/he had read Randy’s extremely well-edited book, that is as free from editorial intervention as any I’ve seen).”

    Given that you’re referring to a specific colleague, isn’t your use of “s/he” a little much? I mean, isn’t your colleague one or the other? (Or if your colleague is in transition between genders, or doesn’t self-identify as either, mightn’t this politicized pronoun focus attention on your colleague in exactly the kind of way you seem to have been at pains to avoid?) If you want to make it more difficult to guess your colleague’s identity, the simple phrase “my colleague” seems to finesse the issue nicely. Is there some other “norm” I am missing here? 🙂

  6. Of course it isn’t “bullying.”

    You post, someone comments to praise or criticize, readers decide. That is the marketplace of ideas.

    Only a moron who has nothing but rotten skins to sell in the marketplace of ideas needs to take a negative term like “bullying,” and then re-define it to protect her inability to bring anything meaningful to the marketplace of ideas.

    Naturally, that is classic academic liberalism at its core… so don’t expect the notion to go away anytime soon.

  7. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    No, it would not. That seems intuitively obvious, as a matter of practical, common sense; the impression is confirmed by how no analysis in the referenced, spirited, thread supports any such assertion.

  8. Nonsense. A blog author can’t possibly contact each and every source she cites or quote she discusses before she posts a blog entry. It’s unreasonable to expect that, because it’s cumbersome, and because it could make it impossible to post about a topic in a timely manner, before the topic becomes moot or simply outdated.

    A blog author should expect that, by putting her opinions out on the internet, she will be quoted in another blog. The quote may be favorable or unfavorable. She’ll get praise, or someone will take issue with what she writes. If she doesn’t want that, she shouldn’t be writing for a blog.

  9. dave hoffman says:

    Susan, thanks for your super-helpful & clarifying comment. I guess I think I agree with most of what you’ve said, except that I disagree that we’re all understanding the word bullying in the same way. I’m concerned lest an eggshell plaintiff perspective chill expression, and your view (that we ordinarily defer to individuals’ subjective perceptions of how they are treated) is difficult for me to buy unless we talk about more specifics of when that deference would be inappropriate.

    AJ, maybe the colleague is Pat, from SNL. Did you ever think about that?

  10. dave hoffman says:

    As for Mark’s comment, Dan Markel has, I think, a pretty good point over at Prawfs (scroll to the end of the thread).

  11. Paul Horwitz says:

    Thanks for setting up this separate discussion, Dave; I had hope the comments on my post would be, you know, about the post.

    I did nevertheless put my thoughts somewhere on the comment thread over at Prawfs. I just want to add something here about Larry Sheldon’s comment. It seems to me there’s some tension between “your blog, your rules” and “follow the rules your mother taught you.” The statement “your blog, your rules” is true enough but also quite incomplete. You have the power to do what you want on your own blog, but that doesn’t answer the question of what you ought to do on your own blog — both as a general matter of wanting to win respect on the broader blogosphere, if such things matter to you, and because, on your own blog and everywhere else, you ought to behave as your mother taught you. My mother taught me to be respectful and courteous without backing off from your principles. I can say what I think is right without being rude about it. I politely stated on the blog that I didn’t think I was strictly speaking obliged to contact Prof. Bernstein in advance; but nothing prevented me from doing so, it seemed polite in the circumstances to do so, and so I did.

    One last point: conversations on the web often devolve into personality conflicts and unnecessary sparring that detracts from the substantive issue at hand. I find that deeply counter-productive. By contacting Prof. Bernstein in advance, I made clear to her and the world at large that I was interested in discussing the substance of her comment, not in engaging in some kind of personality conflict. Isn’t that supposed to be the point of blogging among academics? Prof. Bernstein herself said that she considered her comments fair game because they had been posted to the world at large. But by proceeding as I did (and by Prof. Bernstein proceeding as she did, in the spirit of open dialogue), both of us did our part to try to make the conversation productive. Shouldn’t we all welcome that? It might not have been bullying if I had acted differently — that is my view, at least — but I think the conversation was potentially more productive given that both she and I attempted to act in the spirit of mutual respect and openness.

  12. Bullying is the repeated and deliberate abuse of power by one person or group of people over another person or group. See B is for Bully:


    No bullying around here.

  13. sigh says:

    [I deleted this comment, for the reasons explained later in the thread. -Dave]

  14. David Case says:

    Taking a comment posted in the public domain and commenting on it in another cyber location without notice to the original commentator is not “bullying” in and of itself simply because somebody chooses to say it is. It may constitute a degree of impoliteness (but a mild degree it would seem to me if lack of notice is THE only issue), but “bullying” is a term with specific substantive meaning and perjorative freight. Calling this bullying is stretching that term to the point of rendering it meaningless.

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’

  15. Sigh and David both hit it right on the head.

    I love the Humpty Dumpty reference. This is what I was talking about when I (admittedly impolitely, I’m sorry) I made the “classic liberalism” crack. Natch, it is a disease that infects both sides of the aisle.

  16. Anon says:

    [I deleted this last comment, which, on reflection, focused too much on personalities, and not enough on the idea that this thread is about. I think we’d all prefer to have a discussion that avoided making others feel attacked! To the extent that others want to join in here, on the topic of what constitutes bullying online, feel free to do so, but I’ll be watching the thread to be sure it is civil. -Dave.]

  17. Frank says:

    To Marc J. Randazza: I don’t think that calling those you disagree with “morons” helps clarify anything here. Adverting to a “marketplace of ideas” doesn’t add much to the conversation, either. Every marketplace has certain rules. By so quickly upping the ante to name-calling, you’re risking having the same tactics used against yourself.

    You may be happy to take that risk, but not everyone shares that predilection. (Here Thomas Edsall’s fascinating reflections on the Republican party as the home of risk-lovers, and the Dems as the natural abode of those favoring security, are particularly compelling…they’re in his book “Building Red America”).

    Anyway, check out this presentation by Danielle Citron:


    It’s a compelling description of how quickly online discussions can get out of control.

  18. Susan Kuo says:

    Dave, I agree. I don’t think that folks were operating under the same definition for bullying. But the impasse appeared (at least, to me) to stem primarily from a mismatch of perspectives. Compounding the gridlock was obvious resistance to the use of the word bullying in the first place. As noted above by David Case, this word carries a lot of baggage. My guess is that many, if not most, folks would be dismayed to be accused of being a bully. One way to avoid this label might be to keep discussion directed at issues, not people, and to invite any subjects of discussion to join the fray. This may help to keep the pool of eggshell crown wearers to a minimum. Nonetheless, there are surely extremes to which few would go as discussants, even the most empathetic of us. Where these extremes lie for me would depend on the particulars of a situation.

  19. Frank,

    Agreed… hence my 5:26 apology.

  20. Belle Lettre says:

    I take this up (at length) from a sociological perspective here.

  21. Joe Hodnicki says:

    Not bullying in my opinion Paul. There’s another facet to the opportunity to respond issue, namely using or not using trackbacks to ping another blogger when one discusses the content of a post published on someone else’s blog. Opinions anywone. See http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/law_librarian_blog/2008/08/sending-income.html