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Sunday, May 06, 2007

             Do We Really Need a
Blogger's Code?

Although speech is still free here at freespeechca, words have been in short supply here of late. The call of Spring and the tragic loss of Mr. and Mrs. Coyote's daughter recently have a lot to do with Coyote's absence from these pages. There are few more tragic things in my mind than a parent having to deal with the funeral of a child, the kids are supposed to come to ours, sometime waaaaay in the future. I ran into an article today that I thought should be discussed here though rather than somewhere else. The very name of the blog and some of the discussions with the Sentinel make the following relevant here and now.

Thanks to David Poque, the tech writer for the New York Times I was pointed to Call for a Blogger's Code of Conduct at the blog Radar, blogging home of Tim O'Reilly, publisher of the classic standards in programming so treasured by geeks and so familiar that they are referred to by the animal on the cover of the particular one. Perl in a Nutshell is nicknamed "the Camel Book" The tech writer for the Times is also a much more reliable writer than say Judith "kneepads" Miller and not as prone to putting spin on everything (say for Microsoft or Sony instead of Bu$hco).

The experiences of his friend (and writer) Kathy Sierra prompted Tim to consider the possible need for a code of blogger conduct.

Tim) was quoted in a BBC article a few days ago and a San Francisco Chronicle article on Thursday calling for a "Blogger's Code of Conduct" in response to the firestorm that has arisen as a result of Kathy Sierra's revelation that she's been targeted by a series of increasingly violent and disturbing anonymous comments on her blog and on a series of weblogs that appeared to have been created for the purpose of celebrating cyber-bullying.

Tim proposes seven steps in what he points out "are just a work in progress, and hopefully a spur for further discussion."

1. Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on
your blog.

There's an attitude among many bloggers that deleting inflammatory comments is censorship. I think that needs to change. I'm not suggesting that every blog will want to delete such comments, but I am suggesting that blogs that do want to keep the level of dialog at a higher level not be censured for doing so.

There are many real-world analogies. Shock radio hosts encourage abusive callers; a mainstream talk radio show like NPR's Talk of the Nation wouldn't hesitate to cut someone off who started spewing hatred and abuse. Frat parties might encourage drunken lewdness, but a party at a tech conference would not. Setting standards for acceptable behavior in a forum you control is conducive to free speech, not damaging to it.

2. Label your tolerance level for abusive comments..

3. Consider eliminating anonymous comments.

When people are anonymous, they will often let themselves say or do things that they would never do when they are identified. There are important contexts in which anonymity is important, for example, for political speech in repressive regimes. But in most contexts, accountability via identity changes how people behave. Requiring a valid email address for comments won't prevent people who want to hide their identity from doing so, but it's one more indication that accountability is valued.
4. Ignore the trolls.

5. Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so.

6. If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so.

7. Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person.

The next time you're tempted to vent your anger or frustration online, imagine you're talking to your mother. Or if you have no respect for your mother, imagine you're talking to a big, mean dude that you met on the street. Or simply imagine the person you're speaking to as a real person, standing in front of you. Would you say what you're saying to them if you were in the same room?

There's a lot more over at Radar, and if you have an interest in blogging, it is well worth checking out the link. David Poque has some interesting comments on the subject in his newsletter for April 26, and I imagine that column can be found at the Times, unless he too is behind the pay wall, like Mo Mo Dowd and Frank Rich. Of course some so called writers like Tom Friedman and David Brooks - I'm so glad they are behind the paywall, make it higher even, for them. O'Reilly ends his posting with:

......frankness does not have to mean lack of civility. There's no reason why we should tolerate conversations online that we wouldn't tolerate in our living room.

A culture is a set of shared agreements that allows us to live together. Let's make sure that the culture we create with our blogs is one that we are proud of.