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'Blogging. You've invented blogging'
When I first encountered outfits like Medium and Substack, my response was something like: “great, you’ve invented blogging”. With the added risk (at least in the case of Medium) of writers getting their work zapped for crossing any one of a number of ideological lines.
Blogging was something I did when I thought I was a novelist who needed a current affairs/commentary scratch-pad and nothing more. I didn’t think what I wrote was good enough for paid publication until outlets who did pay money started approaching me to write for them. And yes, I know I had a successful novel to my name already, which did make me somewhat different from people who were pulled from blogging obscurity into the mainstream press.
At that point (at least for me), blogging tailed off and finally disappeared. I mean, no-one but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money (as someone much wiser than me once said). I’m not alone in this. In terms of dates, 2010-12 (roughly) seemed to be the point — at least in Australia — where those who were going to leave blogging and have careers in commentary and journalism made their collective move.
However, that heuristic is a bit shorthand, too. Quite a few of Australia’s bloggers already had media careers. Kerryn Goldsworthy (who did pull the blogging pin in 2012) was a Miles Franklin Award judge and (until very recently — she’s just retired) a distinguished books & arts reviewer across multiple outlets. Nicholas Gruen (one of the few prominent commentators who still blogs, interestingly) was a well-known economist and economic analyst long before blogs were a twinkle in Wordpress’s eye. There are others in similar vein.
Relatedly, some people are still at it, and seem to have retained at least some of their old audience. Some of those people are more or less prominent, too, and they come from across the political spectrum. And none of them have been cancelled for anything they’ve written.
One former blogger I know did have an obsessive individual pursue her for something she wrote in a blogpost, but that was in 2010, before we really had a name for what is now called “cancel culture”. And by this, I don’t mean criticism. I have been writing in more or less public forums and publications for decades. People are allowed to disagree with you, vehemently so. Any commentator who thinks it’s possible to get everyone lined up and facing in the same ideological direction is away with the fairies.
Cancellation takes in a number of behaviours unrelated to criticism. In my experience (and that of my blogging friend), it means contacting employers with a view to getting people sacked; making reports or complaints to professional associations (salient for lawyers and doctors, especially when the aim is disbarment); stymieing other employment or publication opportunities; stalking and harassment, and defamation.
Defamation is rarer outside the US for the simple reason that some people in Commonwealth and EU countries do litigate (because relevant laws allow them to do so), and then things get messy. Stalking and harassment have also become more common since blogging’s heyday, and are most salient when considering, say, Kathleen Stock’s situation. I have annoyed a lot of people in my life with things I’ve written, and while I’ve experienced trespass and been followed, no-one has ever set flares off outside my office or carpeted the underpass I walk through to get to work with posters abusing me by name. That is next level.
But that so many people are happily blogging away as they always were, under their own names, and often saying quite spicy things, suggests there is something about social media that encourages or even facilitates “cancel culture”. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, but there’s clearly something going on.
Of course, it may be harder to cancel bloggers because old blogs (and other forums, like Usenet and Google Groups) are tricky to search. You’d have to be a really determined offence archaeologist to go through every single post and comment from someone on one of the bigger historic Australian blogs with a view to doing them down. And that’s before you confront the reality that, as people left blogging, they let domain names lapse and generally stopped bothering.
Sites also decayed for other reasons, too — plugins stopped working, pictures stopped loading, and everything gradually turned to digital shit. Yes, some blogs have been at least partially preserved (in Australia, by the country’s National Archives, no less), but “user-friendly” is not how I’d describe them. This, for example, is what remains of Larvatusprodeo, for many years Australia’s most prominent centre-left blog.
So, instead of fighting in comments threads on blogs, we fight on social media in ways that are more visible. And then we take it offline, and try to destroy people’s lives.