Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fr. Michael Orsi in HPR: Calumny in the Blogosphere...

I have not been able to post to this blog with the frequency that I would like. In fact, I am rethinking the pattern I've laid out for it. I want to focus on the virtues, and related, already listed. However, I won't worry about sequence, necessarily. Rather, the topics listed will become blogger labels.

For now, I want to pass along a virtue related article available on the web. It was in Homiletic and Pastoral Review - a periodical I highly recommend for subscription. They always upload one article per issue, and keep them online. This is a highly respectable periodical, published by Ignatius Press and

The article is written by Rev. Michael P. Orsi and is entitled, Calumny in the Blogosphere. I'll start you out here, then let you finish reading at HPR.

Calumnious blogging is a serious offense against God's
law. Those who engage in it are
jeopardizing their immortal souls and the souls of others

Calumny in the blogosphere

by Michael P. Orsi

Calumny is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary (1992) as a “false statement maliciously made to injure another’s reputation.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) places calumny as a serious sin under the Eighth Commandment, “Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” The Catechism states, “He becomes guilty of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them” (2447). The Catechism notes that calumny offends “against the virtues of justice and charity” (2479).

Calumny and its close relative detraction (derogatory comments that reveal the hidden faults or sins of another without reason) have been part of life since the dawn of time. But opportunities for breaking the Eighth Commandment have proliferated with the advent of the Internet, especially since the rise of the phenomenon known as “blogging.”

“Blog” is one of those punchy little contractions we live with today, an example of the technological shorthand so beloved in our culture of email and text messaging. A blog (short for “weblog”) is a personal website or online journal. Blogs perform a variety of communication functions, combining elements of both private conversation and broadcasting, usually incorporating a forum for interactive discussion.

Blogs are vehicles of global self-expression, something unprecedented in the history of human discourse. They are a means by which the average person—with creativity, initiative and the investment of time—can reach limitless numbers of readers anywhere in the world. They elevate the marketing presence of entrepreneurs and small companies to levels that used to be attainable only by major corporations. And they have transformed journalism, breaking the monopolies of resource and licensure that once restricted entry into the world of mass communications.

There are tens of thousands of blogs today: personal, educational, commercial, political, philosophical, religious—you name it. In fact, the presence of Catholics in what has come to be called the “blogosphere” is one of the great untold stories of modern evangelism and religious communication.

An especially compelling element of blogging is the ability to project one’s ideas, observations and opinions with near-complete anonymity. It is common blogger practice to adopt an online persona—usually some cute name or title with relevance to the main focus of the blog. Likewise, readers who comment on blog postings or participate in discussions can set their views before the world without revealing themselves. Service providers that host blogs routinely permit such anonymity, and the law has upheld the practice (in only a handful of court cases have providers been forced to unmask their blogging clients).

But the power to reach a wide audience while remaining in the shadows has proven a source of great temptation. All too many online commentators have been dazzled by this technology that magnifies personal identity and stokes the ego while providing a shield from the consequences of their words. Whole new avenues of calumny have been the result.

In the area of business, disgruntled customers have taken to the World Wide Web to vent their dissatisfaction with products, companies and providers of professional services—sometimes in the well-intentioned hope of helping others avoid real problems they encountered, but other times out of what seems mere peevishness. (Doctors, hospitals and other health services, in particular, find themselves increasingly the targets of online criticism.) Taking their cue from real customer outrage, some businesses have found blogging a perfect means of slamming the competition. They pose as dissatisfied buyers, denigrating or starting false rumors about competing firms or products.

Employees also see the Internet as an ideal outlet for gripes about their managers, their companies, even their customers—often doing their blogging on company time. In cyberspace (as in everyday life) it’s hard to separate justified frustration from mere grumpiness. What for one person can be the healthy airing of legitimate grievance, for another can be little more than high-tech bellyaching. But there have been instances where pokes at the boss or the airing of corporate dirty linen have become so severe as to cost jobs and spur lawsuits.

No area of life has felt the impact of blogging more than politics. Candidates and elected officials have discovered how quickly and effectively the flames of protest can be fanned by online opposition. Just ask John Kerry. One needn’t debate the validity of charges leveled against him by the Swiftboat veterans to see the potential of blogging as a political weapon. Depending on whose ox is being gored at any given time, blogs are either the ultimate expression of grassroots democracy or something close to populist chaos.

The essential problem with anonymous blogging is that masked comments can easily turn malicious, intentionally or otherwise. Growing concern about online threats and character assassination among teenagers using social networking services like MySpace and Facebook has spawned the terms “cyber-bullying” and “cyber-stalking.” There have been cases of violence—even suicide—attributed to blog campaigns launched against targeted individuals. The walking wounded are showing up in hospitals, psychiatrists’ offices and high school drop-out statistics.

Calumny does not exist apart from the other realities of life. Like all sin, it is nurtured by social conditions and the particular circumstances in which individuals find themselves, circumstances that can provide the rationalizations and self-deception that blind us to the seriousness of our words and actions. For instance, we live in a society that puts a high premium on winning. It’s easy to convince ourselves that anything goes, as long as we achieve the results we want and don’t get caught doing what we know in our hearts we shouldn’t do.

Continue reading Calumny in the Blogosphere at HPR...

Homiletic and Pastoral Review Homepage

Since this article came out in May, the Ignatius Insight Scoop featured a blogpost on this and some of the comments are well worth reading, as well.