Blogging is a very freeing experience. Your blog is your personal corner on the Web and it can be, literally, whatever you want it to be.
Want to make your site hot pink, use the “blink” tag heavily and load up an annoying midi right when the visitor arrives? That’s your prerogative but it’s also mine (and most of the Web’s) to stay away.
But most like you want people to participate in your blog and, also likely, you’d like the conversation there to be civilized, fulfilling and relatively on-target.
While that’s never 100% possible on the Internet thanks to the nature of online interaction, the topics you talk about on your site (and the way you present them) are the starters of the conversation and, as anyone who’s tried to start up a conversation on a date will tell you, the opening act sets the tone.
Obviously, you can make your blog about anything you want and none of these rules apply if it is about the topic of your blog. But if you stray off course and into these areas, be prepared for the quality of your conversation to go downhill very fast.
With that in mind, here are five blogging topics that you need to tread lightly in and be wary of the pointless flame war that may wait at the other end of the dialog.
This one should be obvious enough. Religious beliefs are deeply held, personal and very emotional. Though many people can discuss religion, even disagree with one another, without anger or hostility, many feel the need to attack at even the smallest affront, perceived or real, to their faith.
Religion is one of those natural subjects that is divisive, even when it shouldn’t be, and can cause heated arguments, bring out trolls and generally sidetrack any conversation. If religion is what you want to talk about, that’s fine, but don’t bring it in on a tangentially related topic as it can easily divert the entire discussion, and, sadly, that will most likely be in a direction you won’t like.
Politics, as a topic, is similar to religion in that it’s a naturally divisive subject that brings out the worst in some people. If you look at the discourse on nearly any political site, you will see what I mean.
To make matters worse, people often judge one another by their politics. This means that, if you hold a political view contrary to your readers’, they may, out of hand, dismiss everything that you’ve said on an unrelated topic.
In short, this is another are that, while many are able to discuss and keep a rational mind and respectable tone, it seems to attract those who are not.
Disasters and tragedies are not as divicive as other issues. Most people will agree that horrible events are horrible.
However, they do affect the mood of the conversation and steer it away from whatever else you wanted to talk about. If you mention something that sad or that heavy on people’s conscious and it becomes the focus of everything after it.
Worst of all, bringing them up at an inappropriate time can seem like pandering or poor taste. While it’s important to talk about tragedies, there’s a time and a place to bring them up and have a dialog about them.
Sports might seem innocent enough, but we all know people who are far too into their teams, their leagues or their sport. This one makes sports a dicey topic, especially when you’re reaching out to a national or international audience.
Even something as simple as getting the name of a sport wrong can be a flashpoint. Think of the controversy over the words “football” and “soccer”, for example.
While debates over sports won’t be as heated as other types of diversions, it can be a distraction to the reader and the commenter. So, unless you want a chunk of your conversation being about which team beat which last week, you need to be careful when talking about sports.
5. Fanboy Favorites
Do you prefer iPhone or Android? Mac or PC? XBox or PS3? Star Trek or Star Wars? The list goes on.
Some things have strong fan bases that consider themselves rivals, even if sometimes jokingly, with other equally passionate fanbases.
At its highest levels, fandom can reach levels of fervor similar to that of religion, creating people that will defend their chosen item against any attack. The reason for this is because many people treat the things they are fans of as part of their identity and, accordingly, take attacks on it personally.
If you don’t believe it, look in the comments of any tech site that covers Apple or Android products. Banal criticisms are met with harsh insults and accusations of “fanboyism” inevitably fly back and forth.
Talking about why you prefer PC over Mac (or vice versa) is fine but mentioning that you’re a member of one camp or another as part of an unrelated blog posts risks sending the entire dialog down a very difficult road.
In the end, what it comes down to is this. Human beings are strange creatures and our emotions don’t always make sense. We have flash points and anger points that are often very unpredictable and irrational, causing us to be distracted by things that are, in the big picture, insignificant.
While it would be nice if everyone could take a deep breath before they start hammering out their vitriolic comment, that isn’t going to happen and, as a blogger, if you want to keep your conversation focused and relatively free of trolls, flamewars, threats and other inhibitors of conversation, you need to be aware of these flashpoints and treat them accordingly.
This shouldn’t prevent you from talking about these things. If you want to talk about sports or politics, feel free to start a conversation about them. But it’s important to understand the reaction those topics cause and approach them accordingly. Using them without forethought in another topic, whether as an analogy, a related story or something else, you run the risk of distracting from your point and diverting the dialog.
If you don’t have a reason to delve into these areas, don’t. When you do, be wary of the danger that comes with it.
Sometimes, writing on the Internet can feel like you’re diffusing bombs, but that’s only because you are.