07:07 AM

Blogger guidelines and a call for censure

Although Tim O'Reilly had published an original draft of a Blogger's Code of Conduct a week ago, today seems to be the day the press jumped on them as a news story. I talked to Tim last week about the Kathy Sierra story and a couple things from that conversation stand out.

  • Censure, not censor. He called on the community - the blogosphere, if you must, but really the relevant online community whatever it might be - to provide censure, public condemnation, of people who create hate sites or whose posts are over the line in terms of hate speech, threatening speech and personal attacks.

  • Have a sense of shame. Tim being Tim, he free-associated to an argument he once had with poet Robert Bly - a founder of the new age men's movement of the last decade - to the effect that shame has a place. There are some things we do that we should be ashamed of, that society universally condemns as evil.

Most of these have been criminalized - you know, rape, murder, child abuse. But on the flat screen of a blog, we are dealing with speech, not actions. And there are a few kinds of speech that are illegal (shouting fire in a movie theater) but in general speech is protected. Threatening someone's life, stalking, these sorts of things are not protected but in general, it's no crime to say some pretty awful things.

The remedy for having awful things said about you generally is tort - invasion of privacy, libel/slander, etc. But that's the expensive, painful, lawyer-filled approach. Short of litigation, is there a way to bring some self-restraint to the party? The guidelines are a good, reasonable start:

  • Own your words and your web space - in other words, admit that you are at least a passive participant in all that happens on your blog.
  • Take conflicts offline before responding online
  • Don't feed the trolls
  • Speak directly to those behaving badly

Jimmy Wales posted the draft on his Wiki and the community edited results are interesting. The one that has garnered the most push-back has been "We discourage anonymous comments." And indeed this goes to the central issue that has plagued Wikipedia, is plaguing the blogosphere and feeds real-world "gang mentality." I'd like to address that in some depth in a future post.