Silence Isn’t a Solution

Newspaper Opinion Section


With the increase in cycling infrastructure in American cities and towns there has been an increase in resistance to this infrastructure in the form of ridicule. Cyclists were never popular with motorists and have grown increasingly unpopular among pedestrians. Consequently, mainstream publications – both print and online – have begun to publish one scathing article after another, demeaning cyclists and targeting them for abuse.

Under any circumstances this sort of treatment would be unfair. But, in the case of cyclists, it is dangerous and could be deadly.

Since cyclists are not a formally organized group, with a single group identity, it is difficult to mount a vigorous defense to these vituperative attacks. The problem of how to respond was always there, but the advent of the Internet has complicated matters.

Many people who use the Internet know very little about it. Most of their knowledge comes from informal contact with other Internet users either online or in real life. Therefore, many Internet memes are based more in belief than in fact. And, those memes can interfere with or prevent proper responses to damaging words and ideas.

One such meme is that by denying an author pageviews, the effect of their words is minimized – or they are somehow punished. Internet users have grown attached to the idea that pageviews are the be-all and end-all – and something which lends credence to the content generating those pageviews.

Pageviews are just as likely to signify horrible content – which visitors disagree with – as they are an endorsement of the material presented. And, unless the website in question is generating advertising revenue from those pageviews, not viewing their content will not cause them any harm.

Even in the case of pageviews boosting advertising revenue, denying a site revenue does not mitigate the information they convey. One group’s refusal to view it does not prevent others from viewing it or negate the points made by the author.

What does this have to do with cycling? Everything.

Whenever another inflammatory article about cyclists is published, the cry goes out among a certain subset of cyclists that we (cyclists) should ignore whatever was said. We should, they believe, deny the article pageviews and not draw attention to it.

There are numerous problems with this line of reasoning. To begin with, it doesn’t take into consideration how information is shared online.

Readers who agree with the content will share it through email and social networking sites. Somehow, the group of cyclists who thinks that there is a way to not draw attention to content – by not visiting the article or mentioning it – have failed to observe the share buttons (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) found on nearly every blog and website today.

If cyclists ignore the insults and threats, they are doing nothing to prevent the author from gaining recognition and support from like-minded individuals. And, they are not challenging the negative portrayals being spoonfed to the public in order to change cyclists’ image.

Some go so far as to say that those cyclists who choose to respond should neither name the author nor link to the article. Nonetheless, the opposite is true: cyclists should name the author, the title of the article, and link to it.

By not acknowledging the specific article and linking to it, the original author is the only one who has any say on the subject. Referring in general to “disparaging articles about cyclists,” and not naming any specific articles, is an argument that practically refutes itself. The cyclist’s premise is a blind assertion. Simply denying the existence of untrue articles about cyclists refutes this argument.

To counter acerbic articles written about cyclists, it is necessary for cyclists to reiterate exactly what was said, where it was said, by whom and, finally, why cyclists disagree with it. Doing so directly benefits cyclists.

By naming the author, the response will be connected to the author whenever anyone searches for that author’s writing on the subject of cyclists. This assumes that the response was well written and utilized keywords associated with the initial article. What will be seen in a search engine as a result (particularly in Google) is the original article followed by responses disagreeing with it.

Disagreeing in this manner is more powerful than posting a comment, which no one will ever read if there are more than twenty comments on the article. And search engines do not index comments by topic as they do blog posts and articles.

There is no better way to show how many cyclists object to articles painting them in a negative light than to preserve their written responses online for posterity.

Another benefit of mentioning the author and linking to the article is the far greater likelihood of the publisher or author discovering what was said about their piece. If they have written a blog post, and the blog is accepting trackbacks or pingbacks (notification from your own blog to the blog of someone you have mentioned in your post), then a link to the responding cyclist’s post will appear under the original article or in the comment section.

Visitors to the original article can click on the link to the cyclist’s response to see what people on another website are saying about the article. This is a good way to generate traffic to a response, and to get a contradictory position in front of more people.

Even if a blog isn’t accepting trackbacks, or the article is posted on an informational site, whoever is maintaining the site will see an incoming link from the cyclist’s response in their analytics. Sometimes the author, or a member of the website’s staff, will visit the article to see what was written about them. This allows a cyclist to express displeasure directly to the people responsible for offending cyclists.

As tempting as it may be for cyclists to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that all of the negativity aimed at them doesn’t exist, silence is never a solution to a problem. To effect change, it is necessary to speak out.

Stating a position from the cyclist’s vantage point, and vehemently defending it, is the only way to combat ingrained stereotypes and to change people’s minds about who cyclists are and how they behave.

By vocally contesting defamatory articles, cyclists can show anti-bicycle partisans that they are here to stay, that they won’t be intimidated off of the road, and that they won’t let their rights be trampled upon.

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3 Responses to Silence Isn’t a Solution

  1. Matt says:

    Insightful, thanks

  2. Rebecca says:

    In this Thursday’s Brookline Tab (8/11/11) I’ve written an opinion piece denouncing their 7/21/11 article written by Teddy Applebaum titled“Police crack down on bike road hogs” with a subtitle “Police say obey” I also think that it’s important to speak out against defamatory journalism.

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