In the Wake of Controversy

Google Analytics is fascinating. For instance, this past week and a half, my readership shot up to more than 10 times the average of the previous week (thanks to my inadvertently controversial post, “I am a Conscientious Objector in the Spiritual War”), before dropping back down to pre-bump numbers. The majority of these referrals came from Facebook.

Yet when I look at the statistics for time spent actually viewing pages on the website, a shocking 60% of those viewers spent 1 – 10 seconds on the site. Another 20% spent 11 – 180 seconds viewing the site. Which means that about 80% of readers from this past week spent less than three minutes actually reading the contents of the site before navigating away again. Only 12% of visitors spent more than 10 minutes on the site (and keep in mind, this includes my own multiple visits which involved reading all of the comments I received and trying to compose thoughtful responses to as many of them as I could).

As an experiment, I timed how long it took me to read the article myself. Keeping in mind that, because I wrote the article, my reading of it is probably a bit quicker than someone who is reading it for the first time…. My time: four minutes, thirty-eight seconds.

This shines a very different light on the kinds of accusations I’ve received about the article and the kinds of misunderstandings circulating about it. For one thing, it leads me to believe that a lot of the derisive and accusatory comments that appeared in threads on places like Facebook may have been written by people who had literally not even read the article. Of those who bothered to click through to at least view the page, more than half of them didn’t stick around long enough to make it through the first paragraph. Only one in five spent enough time to read the entire article while taking time to think about what they were reading (or, almost unheard of these days, read it through twice).

And again, these numbers include those who kindly took a moment or two to leave a comment or compose a critique of the article. Several of the latter returned to the site multiple times and ended up writing replies that were longer than the article itself (which, statistically, they were unlikely to have actually read all the way through, a suspicion confirmed by the kinds of arguments they offered in rebuttal).

Does this make me feel better? In some ways, yes, a little. It means most people weren’t really angry at me… they were just angry.

In other ways… not so much. Despite the huge bump that controversy lent, my readership numbers seem to be leveling out at about the same average they were at pre-bump, with perhaps only a slight uptick in new readers. Which means that those 60-80% of angry non-readers out there are now happily going on with their lives holding a very skewed opinion of the value of my work. An opinion based not on having actually read my writing, but on the loud, angry, snowballing opinions of other non-readers looking for a good FB rant. (It also means that while writing controversial posts might temporarily boost readership numbers and bulk up comment threads, it seems to have little to do with how thoughtfully and carefully people are engaging with the writing itself.)

How many potential readers will this controversy turn away based solely on unfounded rumors? I know of at least one person who, had she discovered my blog under different circumstances and uninfluenced by baseless opinions, might have discovered she and I actually have a lot in common. Knowing there is even one person out there who could have been a potential ally and is now convinced that she is “not welcome” to share in the community I strive to build with my writing… well, it bothers me. It bothers me much more than the hundreds of new visitors gratifies me.

But then, that’s why I keep writing, I guess. Tomorrow is a new day. There is always a chance to reach out to someone new, or to transform a former adversary into a colleague to share with in mutually respectful and open discussion. That won’t happen if I throw up my hands and let the angry mob win. It will only happen if I show up to my work day after day and do the best I can.

That’s what I try to do, anyway. Today, I had to get some things off my chest. Tomorrow, I plan to return to my 30 Days of Druidry creative writing project and let controversy pass into poetry while I return again to my center: peace, poesis and wild, holy earth.

Alison Leigh Lilly
Alison Leigh Lilly nurtures the earth-rooted, sea-soaked, mist-and-mystic spiritual heritage of her Celtic ancestors, exploring themes of peace, poesis and wilderness through essays, articles, poetry and podcasting. You can learn more about her work here.

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