The local ‘blog’ scene hit the headlines this week, and not in a good way. And in the process I was quoted in both of the articles in question.
What I hope to do in this post is to clear up some things about the whole issue.
Why the title ‘The long, slow suicide of BIAW?’
Well, BIAW is one of two forums that I know off dedicated, at least nominally, to Bermuda related topics.
One is Bermuda Sucks, which has largely ceased to function as a dynamic forum, although it limps on, zombie-like. The other is BIAW, which originated as a schism within the Bda Sucks forum, and largely eclipsed that forum over time.
Now, BIAW has been in the news on and off since its inception, and not usually for good reasons.
It got into the headlines this week for first accepting Dr Brown as a member, then expelling him for no good reason, and then readmitting him, partly due to internal forum protest and partly due to the bad press the forum received for expelling him in the first place.
The message from BIAW Admin announcing the expulsion of Dr Brown.
Now, whether Dr Brown chose to join the BIAW forum with a particular agenda or not, I do not know.
Nonetheless, the action of the site, in first admitting him, and then expelling him, was, I feel, one of those pivotal moments in a blog/forum which, years from now, will be looked back and used as a useful reference point.
For a long time the BIAW site, and the Sucks site before it – indeed, online blogging in general in Bermuda – has had a bit of a PR problem. It has been seen, quite frankly, as the domain of conservative White males, be they Bermudian or ex-patriate or PRCers.
Sure, there’s been some non-conservative, non-White and non-male voices both on those forums and the blogs in general. However these voices have always been in the minority, and the dominant voices (conservative, White, male) have tended to squeeze out and, arguably, hound those alternative voices to the point of eliminating them, in a practical sense, from online discourse.
To be frank, there is a very large chunk of the populace who views the forums as racist, chauvinist and politically biased.
Despite this, there have been some alternative voices who have persisted. I was one of them – am one of them, as per this site.
From time to time some of these diverse voices have essentially gone on strike from the forums, and gradually migrated away from the forums and blogging in general and to new online media.
The rise of comment-enabled news media (principally Bernews, but also the RG) and, particularly, Facebook (especially in 2012, with the catalyst of the General Election), have largely become ‘the place’ for online discourse.
Of the blogs, only a handful soldier on, and none of them with regular consistency – which facilitates readers drifting away from the blogs and to the new media, becoming a bit of a self-reinforcing circle. Bloggers burn-out, or see the new media eclipsing them; they reduce postings; people increasingly go tot he new media; bloggers see viewership stats go down and eventually bloggers just give up.
However, I digress.
As said, the forums are dominated, in my perception, by conservative White male voices. In many ways it becomes, as another poster has called them, a ‘circle jerk’ – not really a discussion but a bunch of people slapping each other on the back in mutual agreement.
That’s pretty boring. Not just for readers, but for posters themselves. One can only self-congratulate so much before running out of things to say.
I’m not sure how to measure it, but I do get the impression that much of the dynamism, of interesting discussion, on the forums is generated not by the dominant voices, but by the minority voices challenging the dominant discourse there.
Without diversity, even represented by an extreme minority, of alternative voices, the forum becomes stunted. It loses its dynamism, its vitalism, its interest. it can continue, but more as a ‘zombie’ forum, a ‘living dead’ forum which limps on, alive, but barely.
Now, Dr Brown’s joining BIAW provided an opportunity, a pivotal one at that, for BIAW to become perhaps the most dynamic and diverse forums, rivalling even the FB threads. It could have encouraged more and more diverse voices to that site, stimulating some really constructive discourse and frank exchanges.
That potential was, however, aborted by the forum expelling Dr Brown without reason.
That single action cause protest by most core posters there, but it particularly led some of the more established alternative voices to question the forum at a very fundamental level. And the result of that questioning is that those alternative voices have now essentially left the forum (I myself have essentially left through boycott – I’m ‘on strike’ from it).
What that means is that the forum is now even more unbalanced than it was before. And as such it runs a very real risk of a long slow death, hence my calling it a ‘suicide’.
It doesn’t have to be. It’s always risky to make such predictions (cue Mark Twain’s ‘the report of my death was an exaggeration’).
I think that IF BIAW can, somehow, encourage its alternative voices to return, and encourage new alternative voices to join, develop a clearer moderating policy (particularly one which minimises personal attacks) that fosters constructive conversations, and somehow improves its public perception, THEN it may not simply survive, but thrive.