Reviews of former Gawker editor Emily Gould's New York Times Magazine piece have been... I'll say "mixed" rather than "vitriolic," to be nice.
Naturally, when you have an online op-ed piece about people commenting online to blogs you write about yourself, the reactions that people have to a piece like this speak volumes. The whole basis of the piece boils down to Gould relating the story, in exacting detail, of how she opened her arms wide to the flood of audience response available in the blogosphere, and how it destroyed her. Gould's piece is as candid a bit of full disclosure as you'll ever find in the New York Times, she's astonishingly open about her need for attention and her desperation to find acceptance online.
The nature of the disclosure implies that Gould is, at least in some fashion, past all of this now, though that thought seems not to have occurred to the bloggers responding to the piece. When a writer says that while an editor for one of the most famous and wide-reaching blog sites in the world, she kept a personal blog that gave intimate details of an illicit relationship with coworker, assuming that no one would ever find it, you are given the freedom to respond to that in a number of acceptable ways. Some people might say "that's a grave mistake, but, y'know, I can see myself doing something similar in that situation," or they might say, "you have to doubt the intelligence and general aptitude at her job of someone who would make a mistake that boneheaded," or anywhere along those lines. We all read and respond to things differently.
The issue is that the pervasive response to this disclosure is the same response that most bloggers give in this situation - they don't view it as disclosure, they act as if they've just stumbled upon the information themselves through their own powers of digital investigation. The response is near-gleeful - "can you believe how stupid this girl is? Who would do something like that? I can't believe she thought no one would find out! How pathetic is she?"
But that's nonsense. No matter their exultation, these bloggers didn't exactly just make the digital equivalent of barging in on Eliot Spitzer with a prostitute here, they read a New York Times article. How you discover information should always make a difference - nobody discovered and leaked Gould's secrets here, we're not reading some sordid "TMZ" accusation of depression and poor judgment. She wrote a piece about how she dove into the viciousness of the internet blog world, and it ate her up. It's a confession. Nobody gets to play holier-than-thou here.
It's not surprising though. Couple this with the outrage at Buzz Bissinger, and you start to see that this is the tip of the iceberg in how the blog world defends its own. There've been millions of articles on the internet and free speech, and how allowing people to say what they think is an important part of our freedoms as citizens, and that's all true. But the blog world's belief goes deeper than that - it feels, basically, that the internet is a venue where you shouldn't have to called on whatever it is that you say.
In public conversation, we can't say certain things, but all that disappears once someone's behind the protection of an online alias and the knowledge that most of the people reading what you right don't know you from Adam. It's freeing, and it allows people to be a lot more honest. We need to accept that sometimes that isn't a good thing.
Pieces like Gould's highlight the problem with open communication like this - her life was about posting scathing pieces on the internet, occasionally opening parts of her life up a little to a ravenous audience. She lived and died with every response, between those who loved her and those who despised her. But ultimately, her readers didn't really know her, so when she made a few missteps, her email box became clogged with viciousness and degradation, and people would stop her on the street to tell her how much they despised her. Our response to that should be "it's terrible that people would turn so harshly against someone they've never met," but instead our response is "well, that's the price you pay."
That's really why the blog world is eating Gould alive right now. We defend to the death our right to be assholes, and she called us on it. We don't want to be called on it.
Well, maybe we should. Maybe the Megan Meier case is an anomaly, but I don't think it is. We're entering an age where virtually all of our contact with other people is, well, virtual, and people feel freer and freer to allow the internet to be not just the online version of ourselves, but a whole different person entirely. A person free from social niceties and emotional baggage, a person free to say whatever they want, however they want.
I'd just like to point out that those people aren't necessarily the people you actually want to be around.