Mormon Blogging Safe Zones
As I alluded to in my Dynamics of Mormon Stories Communities post, I will be attending Sunstone. Chanson doesn’t appear to have an official post announcing it, but throughout some of the last few Sundays in Outer Blogness, she has alluded to some aspect of the logistics. The panel, Do Good Online Fences Make Good LDS Neighbors?, should address some of the boundaries between various Mormon communities on the internet and the role of boundary maintenance between the groups.
The original idea was to have a representative of the major communities be on the panel…the problem…chanson couldn’t find anyone to represent Nothing Wavering. I suggested J. Max Wilson, who began Nothing Wavering after writing a series of posts critiquing the various LDS blog portals.
Apparently, that didn’t work out, and chanson contacted Bruce Nielson as well. Bruce has now written a post at Millennial Star explaining his reasons for declining the invitation to Sunstone, as well as providing a theory for the boundaries that exist at the various sites in the Mormon blogging world.
He bases his distinction on the concept of “safe zones”:
First of all, you think Nothing Wavering is the “super conservative end” of the Mormon blogs. This alone means you’ve bought into a certain view of how the communities are split up that I believe to be inaccurate. My feeling is that ‘conservative and liberal’ aren’t always meaningful ways to describe the communities as they currently exist. My views is that all of the communities are actually broken up by which of three rough groups that community has created a ‘safe zone’ for – believing, ‘questioning’ (sometimes non-believing, but that is considered a bad word), or ex/anti Mormons.
For example, you can easily find people that would rightly be called ‘conservative’ on what you called ‘the core bloggernacle.’ In fact there are quite a few highly conservative people on the ‘core bloggernacle.’ But the one trait I perceive they will always have in common is a willingness to make a “safe zone” for “questioning members.” And I believe the desire to make such a safe zone is often very well intended. But I think it also often comes at the expense of some believing members. (Though these communties may not be aware they are losing such people since they show up a few times and then disappear aftering finding hostility towards their more “conservative” views.)
I believe the reverse is true of Nothing Wavering. There are many ‘questioners’ that participate on the Nothing Wavering community, but they always share one thing in common — willingness (at least while on Nothing Wavering) to create a safe zone for all believing members. But both of these communities can be very hard on anti or post Mormons unless they [the antis] are willing to severely temper themselves and enforce the safe zone that is in place. Meanwhile, the anti/ex community has created a safe zone for anti/exs, etc.
In short, I don’t actually believe that the ‘conservative vs. liberal’ labels you are trying to attach are correct, per se. Yes, if you have a safe zone for “questioning members” you’ll tend to be somewhat less conservative. And, yes, if you decide your safe zone is believing members (as with Nothing Wavering) you’ll be somewhat more conservative. And, yes, to someone that is a post Mormon, Nothing Wavering will probably get (in my view falsely) labeled as “Super Ultra Conservative.” But the real common denominator to me is “who are we making this blog safe for.” Not what “where does this blog land on the conservative or liberal spectrum.” (I actually don’t believe that “liberal” and “conservative” are effective labels for a religious context. But to explain why would require making this email even longer than it already is.)
I thought that his formulation of “safe zones” was exactly the kind of thing that we should be discussing at Sunstone, and I commented to him that I would probably try to introduce (read: rip off wholesale) something about it for my part of the discussion.
Nevertheless, there was still some disagreement about the boundaries. Bruce disagrees that “liberal” and “conservative” are good boundary dividers, but similarly, John C disagrees with the idea that Nothing Wavering represents believers and By Common Consent (or the rest of the Bloggernacle) represents questioning, non-believing, or ex-Mormons.
I don’t think that the idea of boundaries (and boundary maintenance, either explicit or implicit) is controversial, but determining what the boundaries are is pretty tough. I guess one issue is that when people are pushed out of a community by the mechanisms of boundary maintenance, this generally happens because they didn’t understand or comply with that community’s standards…of course, since they didn’t understand that community’s standards, they often won’t understand similarly why they were pushed out. So, their accounting of why they were moderated, or banned, or dogpiled, or whatever else will be quite different from what an insider to that community will say.
I’ve been there. But even more than that, I now see it happening all the time. People get dogpiled at BCC (or banned, or whatever), and then they try to figure out what happened with their friends (who are also outsiders to BCC). Their friends say, “Well, you were completely polite, I don’t see why this happened either” and so the entire group of friends and the banned person all go away believing that BCC is not for believers, or not for doubters, or not for (insert any demographic here.)
But that’s a pretty surface issue, I believe. What I am more interested in is implicit boundary maintenance — so, even within communities where the permabloggers who run the show are loathe to suspend, moderate, or ban, and who want to create an open environment, the community still sets standards for what is acceptable and unacceptable discourse. (This sounds like a natural extension of Jana Riess’s second tip that bloggers must keep in mind — a blog belongs to its community.) And because the permabloggers have eschewed the use of powerful “top-down” tools like moderation or banning, they have to be a lot more creative in how they set the tone and redirect things.
The reason I’m interested in creative solutions is because, of course, Wheat and Tares faces many of these problems. Even as I read things like Anil Dash’s bluntly named “If your website’s full of assholes, it’s your fault” (which, on nearly all points, I agree with), I wonder if there are ways of ensuring these things without heavy-handed moderation.