In the wake of the Kathy Sierra kerfuffle, there have been calls for a blogging code of ethics; the problem isn’t with bloggers, or even their blogs.
Civility and courtesy tend to break down behind the anonymity of the Internet. People who would never dream of cursing or threatening another person face to face lose that mental barrier when there is a keyboard and monitor involved.
It can be a rough and tumble Internet, when people post some pretty nasty stuff about others, whether it’s on a website that claims to harbor anarchic content, or just an email from a free anonymous webmail account.
(An aside to all the “anarchists” out there: anarchy means ‘without leaders’, not ‘without order’. Causing trouble isn’t being anarchic, it’s being chaotic.)
Tech book publisher Tim O’Reilly has stepped into the discussion with a draft of a blogging code of conduct. Bloggers would post while hewing to certain behaviors, while requiring a stricter management of commenters.
The response from O’Reilly’s commenters has been less than enthusiastic. They don’t like the sheriff-style badges he’s created (“Reminds me of some of the things America has done at its worst.”).
Or the ban on anonymity (“…if one wants to get himself hanged, only then he would in person criticize the regime”).
Or the quaint concept of civility (“An American, well-known in blogging circles, tried to raise the civility issue with a European audience a while back and it went down like a lead balloon. “)
The problem with a blogging code of conduct, as pointed out in a few places, is that it wouldn’t have mitigated the nastiness Sierra faced. It wasn’t bloggers, but commenters, who anonymously created the attacks.
Tony Hung neatly summarized the difference:
So, is it important to have a Bloggers Code of Conduct? No. And the whole issue of civility and collegiality is only one aspect of it.
But should we all have a comments policy that is clearly written and understood? Sure.
Even with the idea of a comment policy in place, it doesn’t cover sites that are created for the purpose of being “anarchic.” Some people are going to post hate, no matter what anyone, anywhere, thinks of it. Codes and policies are a nice idea, but a thicker skin and a competent lawyer to deal with truly outrageous incidents of threats and libel probably will serve people better.
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