I've been on the road a lot in the last month, so away from a full-size computer. For rest and relaxation, I've been on Twitter quite a bit. Hey, it's fun compressing messages! Except some things are too complicated to talk about in tiny bursts. Like Bullying. Someone started a Twitter hashtag, #FTBullies, meant to call attention to bullying at Free Thought Blogs. If you don't define your terms carefully, the accusation seems absurd. If you do define your terms, then...well, yes, it certainly goes on at some of these blogs (not all) and of course at many other blogs as well.
So, definition time. I think bullying in this context is not aimed primarily at inflicting suffering. The point of it is not really personal, but to quickly excise certain claims that are deemed "beyond the pale." To accelerate the excision, the usual methods of persuasion--argumentation, evidence, reasoning--are set aside, and new methods are employed. To bully a claim off the table, you do things like: deleting comments, editing comments, mocking, straw-manning, piling on, insulting, and generally making life unpleasant for the person who made the claim. They then withdraw, and the claim vanishes. Wonderful.
Now, it's kind of bad calling this "bullying" because bullying is always bad, by definition. Non-rationally driving a claim off the table is occasionally just fine. I don't think we need to spend time talking people out of just anything they might say. Sometimes speed is of the essence. Sometimes we don't want to dignify a claim, or the person making the claim, by putting a lot of time and energy into a rational refutation. Back when I was blogging at Talking Philosophy, I once deleted the comments of some Holocaust deniers who dropped by for "rational debate." No thanks. I've closed threads here when I thought people were saying things not worth discussing. But it takes a lot for me to do that. The last time I did so someone was challenging the idea that women are raped more than men. Not. Worth. My. Time.
There's a problem, though, if a blog community sets the parameters so that the permitted claims fall within a relatively narrow range, and a very wide range of claims are subject to being bullied off the table. That's my problem with some Free Thought Blogs, some of the time, but also with lots of other blogs. That's the thing about blogs--they tend to be micro-communities in which everyone agrees about the vast majority of what's up for discussion. They do tend to try to preserve ideological conformity by using bullying techniques a lot. I've noticed that in many different blog communities--not just atheist blogs, but also blogs dealing with animal rights and also blogs about feminism. This is observed, documented, and made much of in Cass Sunstein's book Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide.
The only reason it's worth observing that this sometimes goes on at some Free Thought Blogs and at other atheist blogs is that it's especially ironic, given that these blogs aspire to open, reasoned debate. When a debate topic is within the narrow parameters of permitted disagreement people are plenty open and reasonable, but otherwise ... often not.
Will I be giving examples? No. I'm not naming names either. That's a fool's errand and a waste of time. Please keep comments on a general level. What is blog-bullying? Is it always bad? Is it just a way of quickly excising "horrid" claims, or is there more to the psychodynamics? That's the kind of thing I'm trying to talk about here.