Moju, billed as “a collaborative blog and community space for Sri Lanka’s civil society” started off as an interesting experiment – to see whether the civil exchange of ideas and opinion on contentious, complex and emotional issues could lead to a better understanding of those issues. The conversation was in English. The contributors, some writing under their names (such as myself) others under pseudonyms, came from civil society, donors and expats and on occasions, the diaspora. What started off as a really small group grew exponentially. Early content was some of the best content on conflict, peace, democracy, governance, gender, rights I’ve read anywhere on the web. Intelligent, engaging writing and equally interesting comments made visiting and writing for Moju a singularly enjoyable experience.
Moju claimed a few firsts – amongst them, the first review of David Blacker’s book A Cause Untrue and the first interview with him – both of which were posted on Moju before they appeared anywhere else in the media. I followed up with interviews with Delon Weerasinghe, Winner of the Gratiaen Prize 2005. There was, in those early days, posts such as The gentle radicalism of opening space (the copy here is from Google Cache) by J. Bask, generated a lot of interest and discussion. In Servings of Kottu with a taste of Moju, I explored some of this content more in depth.
Steadily, however, Moju became what I called the spittoon of the deranged. Comments full of hate, badly written, with spurious logic, that sought not to engage with the issue, but to instead deride, in the most juvenile and insulting manner, the person who posted the article became increasingly frequent. Original writing soon dried up – posts were often copy and paste jobs of articles posted elsewhere on the web. Authors who didn’t want to suffer flaming and online insults, simply did not write. The conversation became stilted and usurped by those who didn’t have a point to make, but did so anyway.
Moju’s editorial policy, or lack thereof, was partly to blame. Moju was never moderated – InfoShare simply did not have the interest, or the human resources to devote to the task. As Vajra noted, “Our policy of intervention is as minimal as we can make it, and is not designed to favour any group over another.” As the blog grew in popularity, so did comment spam in particular, and comments in general. Akismet took care of most of the former, but the latter required human intervention, which was not forthcoming. The resulting situation was one in which any comment, from anyone, saying anything, had a place on Moju.
It was clearly unsustainable and was the anti-thesis of Prof. Samarajiva’s experience with Lirneasia’s blog up until July 2006.
Moju shut down today.
The problem with any website that attracts a wide spectrum of visitors is that it is going to have to deal with the same trolls and undesirables that Moju attracted. Dissent, surely, needs to be celebrated, but not at the expense of civility and online etiquette.
David Pogue’s interesting post in this regard has this to say:
The real shame, though, is that the kneejerk “everyone else is an idiot” tenor is poisoning the potential the Internet once had. People used to dream of a global village, where maybe we can work out our differences, where direct communication might make us realize that we have a lot in common after all, no matter where we live or what our beliefs.
But instead of finding common ground, we’re finding new ways to spit on the other guy, to push them away. The Internet is making it easier to attack, not to embrace.
Hopefully, Groundviews picks up from where Moju left off, and those desirous of engaging conversations on contemporary issues have a new home to visit, and contribute to, in the growing Sri Lankan blogosphere.