The situations run like this: somebody posts something contentious. Other people take issue with the original contentious post. Whether or not they initially confront the OP, at some point the discussion gets carried over to people's own LJs. Drama ensues.
The way I see it, if I see a post I strongly disagree with, especially if it's a drive-by thing rather than someone I know personally, my most likely response would be to make a followup in my own LJ. However, I have seen several instances in the past few days of people taking serious offence at exactly this response.
Assuming one doesn't actually want to cause offence, what are the alternatives? I could post a response as a comment to the post or thread that has offended me, but it would be hard for that not to be read as an attack or flame. I might intend to attack the ideas rather than the person, but it's really hard to convey that, especially online, especially with a stranger, especially if the OP is sensitive about criticism of their ideas. And if I want to get some opinions from my friends about the issue, even worse. If even some of my friends happened to agree with me, it would look a lot like I was inviting a pile-on against the OP.
Yes, I'd be addressing the OP directly and making it easy for them to respond, which has some merits. But at the same time, it seems less than courteous to start a potentially vicious argument in someone else's journal. This seems even more the case if I want to argue with a comment posted by person B in person A's journal; then I'm potentially offending both A and B.
I could make a Friends Only post about the issue. As far as I'm concerned, that is tantamount to talking about someone behind their back; I would be pretty reluctant to go that route. While I might start out with the intention of criticizing their ideas, it's difficult to be confident that things won't get nasty. (And anyway, everybody has different standards of what counts as a personal attack.) It's unlikely that the OP would find out about my post, which is good in that they wouldn't be offended, but bad in that they would have absolutely no way of defending themselves. Conversely, while I hope my friends would be sensible enough not to invite drama, it's possible that someone might report my FO post to the person concerned, so this approach wouldn't even have the merit of not offending them.
I could make a public post about the issue, but obfuscate the person's identity and not include a link to the original post. This strikes me as a compromise which is liable to be the worst of all worlds. I wouldn't properly be able to follow up the discussion. I would likely be misrepresenting the person's argument by summarizing it instead of letting their post speak for itself. And they would still be unlikely to be able to find the post or defend themselves, whereas if they did happen to stumble on it, they might recognize their post and feel attacked anyway. Not mentioning their name would put me on a bad footing; it would look as if I were ashamed of my position.
I could keep my opinion to myself, on the basis that if I can't say anything nice I should shut up. Well, ok, but that means no discussion is happening. If the post in question is on a topic of general interest (rather than personal), it seems reasonable to want to discuss it. Are there any other possibilities I haven't thought of? What would you guys do in the circs? What would it depend on?
My take on this, and it's fairly tentative (791point43, you're the expert on this – any thoughts?) is that these conflicts arise from different constructions of what an LJ is. In some ways it's a place where people have personal conversations with their friends but they happen to take place in public, perhaps analogous to, say, a group of people going to a restaurant together. In this case I probably shouldn't be reading at all beyond my own friends list, let alone responding to what I see there. Nor should I be adding strangers to said friends list just because I happen to like their writing.
For some people, an LJ is more like a blog. In the general blogosphere, outside LJ, the standard etiquette is that if you have a lengthy and detailed response, or a hostile response, to a blog post, you take it to your own blog rather than starting a flame-war in the comments. You leave a trackback in the original blog to let the blogger know they're being talked about (or, for many systems, this happens automatically). But you certainly link back to the original post that prompted your thoughts. That's kind of the paradigm I'm working on as a default here, but the question is, where does that break down for LJ?
What if LJ is more like Usenet? A lot of people I come across are Usenet expats, so this is particularly relevant. (Though it must be said that my own Usenet experience is pretty limited, so I may have wrong impressions here.) It's a public forum and the point here is the discussion. If you didn't want discussion, you wouldn't be posting. Obviously a decent person tries to be as polite as possible, but you definitely respond directly to something you disagree with. In this scenario, it doesn't matter if discussion threads get long and convoluted, and it probably doesn't matter if things get heated.
Where this breaks down is partly technical; LJ is just not that well geared to long discussion threads (both in number of posts and duration of discussion). But it's also partly social. For many people, a journal feels more like a personal space than a Usenet newsgroup; attacks here are going to be taken to heart much more than attacks would be there.
The other extreme would be to treat (strangers') journal posts as opinion articles in a media forum. Just the same way I might make a post linking to an dissecting a newspaper article, I could do the same for an LJ post. I wouldn't write personally to the author of the article, because that would be an inappropriate direct attack. I probably wouldn't write to the editor of the newspaper, either, unless I felt really strongly that the original article was so terrible it should never have been published.
My other question is, does it make a difference what sort of audience a journal has? I read some LJs that seem to me to be highly public (eg misia, ginmar, ozarque, papersky). I don't know any of these people personally, and more to the point, they have a large readership (in the hundreds) of people who also don't know them personally. In effect, they're minor celebrities. Should the standards for these journals be different from journals that are mostly read by a few tens of people who have some direct relationship with the writer? If so, how to decide whether a journal fits into the 'public' or the 'personal' category?
One heartening thing, in amongst all this depressing drama: I really love ozarque's response to someone who was pursuing a discussion in a way that seemed inappropriate to her. Whether or not one agrees with her assessment is not, I think, important here. I really admire the way she's handled the situation.
Given the complexity of the stuff I've rambled on about behind the cut, it's likely that at some point people are going to end up offending eachother. And what then? I've seen too many people recently slinging nasty insults at the person who offended them, whether it's for attacking them directly or for moving the discussion to their own space. Surprisingly enough, this just amplifies the drama and makes everyone look bad.
ozarque's approach isn't perfect; it hasn't completely defused the situation. But it has made it possible for her to continue the discussion she wants to have without getting sidetracked into a flame war. And to me, it reads as being extremely respectful of someone who is taking a different approach from hers, and that's something I find particularly admirable and would hope to imitate myself if I ever have to deal with such a situation.
Today is the 41st day, making 5 complete weeks and 6 days of the Omer.