A lot of eggs got broken trying to make this omelette. And now it is full of shell.
One of the class of blogs I follow a bit is gluten-free cooking. A few weeks ago, there was a post about a US food blogger being suddenly widowed, and a call to help raise funds for her. A group called Bloggers Without Borders formed, and started to collect donations and facilitate auctions.
At the time, I wondered about the validity of this. The call for help seemed to stem largely from the fear that the family would not be able to afford health insurance and might have to sell their apartment. I have to admit, I would prefer to see Americans putting their energy into getting universal health care, rather than setting up fundraising organisations to help people who used to be able to afford $1800/month on insurance.
But this stuff is my recreational reading, not my real life, so I drifted off into other things for a bit. Until a new post popped up on my page revealing that the whole enterprise had erupted into an uncomfortably public fight.
The widow posted that she would be putting the money raised into a college fund. Some donors were shocked and said if they realised that was a possibility, they would not have donated.
I have no doubt all these people meant well. But instead they have ended up with an unseemly brawl that must only be making the widow’s life more difficult.
This is probably a scenario that has played out many times before. But somehow social networking seems to amplify it. The number of people involved is bigger. The territory is bigger. The amount of money raised is bigger.
I am sure that similar problems – about who controls money, what purpose it is raised for, the worthiness of recipients – are all totally familiar to people professionally involved in charity work. These are the kind of complications that people can foresee and deal with when they know what they are doing.
I wonder if it is actually inherent in the world of blogging and social networking that amateurs go clodhopping into areas they know nothing about, scorning the knowledge of established organisations and professionals. So many food bloggers are self-taught domestic cooks that have become self-taught writers who self-publish. Perhaps they are naturally positioned to assume they don’t need any expert advice.
And I also wonder if there is some way social networking dooms us to relearn the lessons of how humanity behaves in groups. The problems of flaming, stalking, character assassination, privacy – all of these are areas we have explored and learnt to manage first in villages, then cities, then in publishing. But somehow our rules and know-how seem to have been flung out the window by this new form of community. We are faced again with the problem of how to deal with the nastiness people are capable of.
Blogging creates community. But community is not always automatically good.
For those who need to read the originals, here are the links: