Crowdpounding July 17, 2015

We all know what crowdsourcing is and most of us think it’s a special form of social support that can do much good. I propose in this post that we disapprove of crowdpounding.

First, Ellen Pao at Redditt has recently been crowdpounded by those she calls “trolls,” and that will refer to persons who, often incognito, use the internet and especially Comments or Twitter feeds to pound on someone with heavy denunciation, name-calling, accusations, and speculations.

The Internet started as a bastion for free expression. It encouraged broad engagement and a diversity of ideas. Over time, however, that openness has enabled the harassment of people for their views, experiences, appearances or demographic backgrounds. Balancing free expression with privacy and the protection of participants has always been a challenge for open-content platforms on the Internet. But that balancing act is getting harder. The trolls are winning.

Second, you may well know that Julie Rodgers, formerly on staff at the Wheaton College office of the chaplain, has chosen to affirm same-sex marriage. She’s now being crowdpounded and crowdaffirmed. Eric Teetsel wrote what is not surprisingly a conservative response and it is on the whole quite reasonable. Here are his concluding words:

We must not allow vulnerable students to meander down the alluring path of affirmation, or to shrug off the debate over biblical sexuality as a tertiary theological question not worth the time, effort or strife. Hiring Rodgers and giving her access to students as a voice of wisdom and authority was an error for which Wheaton owes students, parents and the entire alumni community an apology. But, for now at least, that era is over, and for that we can be thankful.

Enter, now, crowdpounding and crowdaffirming. Crowdpounding is groupthink in the accusatory and denunciatory mode. It grows on itself like kudzu or a clematis and multiplies fast. Crowdaffirming is the positive side of group adulation of a person. It’s all a pyrrhic victory, no?

I cringed in reading only some (I had to stop reading) the Comments after Pao’s piece and I waded through only a dozen hotheaded conversations after Teetsel’s piece. Crowdpounding is to rise up verbally into very strong comments, accusations, vituperations, rants — call it what you want — in comments so that the comments (1) incite others and (2) become uncivil and uncharitable in impact. When one can garner hundreds of comments that become a sickening example of Christians warring amongst themselves about who is most faithful, then you have an example of crowdpounding. Some people specializing in creating posts that lead to crowdpounding. It reminds of political rallies.

Crowdpounding is pounding a person. It is the Girardian scapegoat mechanism coming into play; it is mimetic rivalry in a Comment box.

The Comment box on such blogs thus becomes a platform for the culture war of whatever sort.

The blog or website owners are to blame for a lack of moral monitoring. The Commenters for incivility.

The Comment box becomes far more seriously an opportunity for Christians to exhibit their worst nature and to fail to communicate in love with one another or with anyone. I have no opinion on Pao, having never been to Redditt, but I do cringe in watching how Rodgers has been treated. She’s become a hero to the crowdaffirmers and a devil to the crowdpounders.

I can name websites, some of them well known, that simply do not monitor with Christian discernment the culture that is being created in the Comment box. So worried are some about censorship that they fail at the deeper level of charitable communication and discernment. The deeper level of moral formation.

How then shall we respond? Our approach at the Jesus Creed is this: We ask you to speak to others and about others in the Comment box the way you would communicate with others in a public coffee shop. Think of the other person as someone you like. In other words, ask questions and inquire and talk and exchange ideas.

Pao is right. The trolls are winning. The worst part is that far too many Christians don’t see the damage they are doing.


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