In the eye of the storm

In the eye of the storm

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Seven things I’ve learned from online controversy

Two weeks ago I wrote the post that has had the biggest impact in the just-under-two-year history of this blog. At the time of writing, it’s attracted almost ninety comments and I’ve also had dozens of messages via e-mail and Facebook. There have been attacks and counter-attacks, accusations and apologies. It’s not my intention here to go back over the ground I covered in the piece, a critical report on a presentation by Lloyd Bingham and Andrew Morris at the ELIA conference in Barcelona on the subject of online behaviour by translators. Anyone interested in reading it can find it here. What I want to do is to give some idea of what it’s like being in the eye of an online storm, which is somewhere I’m certainly not used to being. So, here are seven things I’ve learned in the past fortnight.

1. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.

Despite all the fuss, I have no regrets whatsoever about writing the post. It was a subject I felt, and still feel strongly about and I haven’t changed my views. I’m not going to court controversy in the future but neither will I shy away from it. This blog is where I write what I want to write and no amount of cyber-kerfuffle is going to put me off having my say.

2. This business takes a lot of time.

One of the downsides of having so much traffic on your blog, however, is the time it takes moderating and replying to comments and answering messages. My productivity has definitely been down over the past couple of weeks as I’ve tried to keep up with it all, sometimes crafting replies late into the evening. So I certainly won’t be writing controversial posts just for fun.

3. It’s emotionally exhausting.

Not only does dealing with one of these situations take up a lot of your time, it’s also emotionally exhausting. Life becomes a rollercoaster: every time you receive a new message of support, you’re up; when you’re criticised or attacked you’re down. Generally I think I’ve done well at not letting things get to me, but I have to admit it’s a relief it now seems to be dying down, as people naturally move on to other issues.

4. Bad Internet behaviour can come from unexpected sources.

There really isn’t much need to elaborate on this point. Readers can judge for themselves who’s behaved badly by reading the comments section of the “Bashing the Client-Bashers” post. Equally, others comments show that it’s perfectly possible to disagree in a polite, reasonable way.

5. Censorship is best avoided.

I was very tempted to censor at least one comment on the blog by not approving it. In the end, I was glad I resisted the temptation, reasoning that it was better to leave readers to judge the writers by their own words. In one case, when I was concerned that a comment might prove provocative, I did ask for it to be edited. Fortunately the writer was good enough to agree.

6. I’ve made a lot of new friends.

The warm support I’ve had in comments on my blog, on Facebook and in private messages of various kinds has amazed me. Some of this has come from people I already knew and some from new contacts who I hope will become friends. I’m really pleased to have found plenty of independent and open-minded translators who, like me, don’t need anyone to tell them what they can and can’t do online or anywhere else.

7. It’s time to look forward.

The discussion has persuaded me more than ever that translator online behaviour simply isn’t a serious problem. A repeated theme of the comments was that rather than wasting valuable time on non-issues like this we would be much better served by concentrating on making ourselves better translators. It’s advice I’ve taken to heart and I feel energised to do better work and improve my own translation skills. I shall be actively looking for ways to achieve this in future.


  1. Cathy Dobson

    Simon – it can’t have been easy putting your head above the parapet but thank you for publishing your earlier post. I’m glad you don’t regret it as you raised some valid points and the comments on the blog itself were generally useful, as well as very revealing in places. I’ve no idea what might have happened "off blog", but hope that calm has been restored now and you can go back to concentrating on the important things.


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