PARIS: Thought to be on the wane a decade ago, blogs in 2015 are alive and well as a powerful voice driving change in politics, human rights and lifestyle choices across the globe.
In some parts of the world, they are the only vehicle to raise taboo topics, often with dire or even deadly consequences for the authors.
In mainly Muslim Bangladesh, hardline Islamist militants hacked to death four atheist bloggers and a publisher in the past year for writing what they consider heretical material.
Blogging has become a massive phenomenon in the impoverished country in recent years, with bloggers, some of whom attract tens of thousands of followers, dealing with issues considered no-go zones for the mainstream media.
“Bloggers are the biggest challenge for the evil forces in the country. For telling the blunt truth without hesitation, the bloggers are becoming the targets of these bad people,” said top blogger Arif Jebtik, who himself has been threatened by Islamist militants for his writings.
“It is easier for the bloggers to reach a general crowd with sensitive issues such as politics, religion and human rights over the Internet, since the national media sometimes has censorship and tend to avoid focus on these topics,” said Imran H. Sarker, head of Bangladesh Online Activists’ Network (BOAN).
Bloggers—with their ability to reach vast audiences uncensored —have been a thorn in the side of authoritarian regimes elsewhere around the globe, with Saudi Arabia’s Raif Badawi among the most famous examples.
The outspoken advocate of free speech was arrested in 2012 on charges of “insulting Islam” through his writing, and has since been convicted to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, sparking international outrage.
He received the first 50 lashes in January and subsequent beatings have been continuously postponed.
Blogging in the kingdom “is not very popular… because we can get into a lot of trouble,” says Eman al-Nafjan, who has written the “Saudiwoman’s Weblog” since 2008 (http://saudiwoman.me/).
In Ethiopia, six bloggers from the Zone 9 (http://zone9ethio.blogspot.com) website were arrested in April 2014 and charged with terrorism. Two were released in July and four were acquitted of the charges in October.
Around the world, the blogosphere remained vibrant in 2015, with some 76 million sites on WordPress and 360 million on Tumblr.
Shift to lifestyle in West
In the West, lifestyle blogs on everything from fashion to food to travel have continued to grow in popularity in 2015, even as political blogs have been ceding ground to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Take the case of Sarah Dawalibi, a passionate traveler who in 2009 decided to start a blog to keep her friends and family in France up to speed on her adventures around the world. Six years later ‘Le Blog de Sarah” (http://www.leblogdesarah.com) has become a veritable reference bible in the country, with some 30,000 people reading it each month.
“People have more confidence in a blog than in a travel magazine,” says Dawalibi. “Lots of readers ask bloggers for advice. They have a feeling that they know you, since when you blog, you reveal quite a bit about yourself.”
Blogs — short for web logs — appeared in 1999 with the Blogger site, which for the first time allowed people to create a website without knowing programming codes. By the mid-2000s, blogs became the center of debate on the web, before the emergence of Facebook and Twitter in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
“With the surge in subscribers to Facebook and Twitter, the prominence of blogs begins to decline as the number of users on these social media platforms increase,” says Antoinette Pole, a professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey and a specialist in political blogs.
“Currently, much more discussion and debate occurs through Facebook or Twitter. While blogs still exist, their popularity indeed appears to have waned over the last 3-4 years. That said, their utility is in their ability to provide greater depth, almost akin to a website. And, still some genres of blogs remain popular.”
In the fashion world, bloggers like Chiara Ferragni (www.theblondesalad.com) or Linda Tol (www.lindatol.com) have become as influential as fashion magazines, becoming so popular that they have even launched their own collections.
‘Started blogging on a lark’
Most of the traditional media, including AFP, have also waded into the blogosphere, giving their reporters and writers a chance to write more personal takes on their work and postings.
“I started blogging in 2002 on a lark, inspired by some other sites I was reading and to spare my friends, who didn’t always share my interests, from having to listen to me talk endlessly about books and politics,” says Maud Newton, who in 2002 launched one of the first literary blogs (http://maudnewton.com)
“I was astonished when, within a year or two, it began to be mentioned and cited in publications like New York Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, the Evening Standard, The New Yorker, and so on.
“Over the years, my blog led to my writing for many newspapers, magazines, websites, and hybrids of these. Eventually I became a columnist for the New York Times Magazine.”
Standing out in the blog crowd – since anyone and everyone can create their own blog, thousands are created every day – depends on the genre.
“If you are a food, fashion, or travel blogger then the images on your blog are critical,” says Pole. “This is a major draw for blogs of this ilk.”
“In contrast, if you’re discussing sports or politics or even literature, images probably are not as important, so the writing becomes paramount.”