The New York Times, in “A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs,” asks:
Is it too late to bring civility to the Web?
The conversational free-for-all on the Internet known as the blogosphere can be a prickly and unpleasant place. Now, a few high-profile figures in high-tech are proposing a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse.
Last week, Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher who is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, began working with Jimmy Wales, creator of the communal online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to create a set of guidelines to shape online discussion and debate.
Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.
Disclosures first: Tim O’Reilly published my book and is a valued friend. Jimmy Wales, also a valued friend, is an advisor to this center and I’m an investor in his company.
Big issue: They’re creating a bit of a monster, as they discuss asking people to put logos on their work defining various categories of behavior. Who’d be the judge of it? The government? Libel lawyers? Uh, oh.
(They are pushing on a string. I know, having tried a while back to do the same thing with a notion several of us called “Honor Tags” — a short-lived attempt to persuade online creators to label what they were doing to serve as disclosure and, yes, honorable behavior. Of course, they have the ability to get the attention of the New York Times, and I didn’t at the time, so maybe this effort will get more traction.)
I don’t believe there’s a need for a “code of conduct” for bloggers and commenters beyond the simple notion at the top of the NYT story: Be civil. That includes other concepts, such as Disclose your biases. And stand behind your own words. It’s about honor, nothing more.
Note that there is a big difference between the average blogger who attracts lots of comments and the commenters. The blogger almost always identifies himself or herself. That alone tends to lead to better behavior on the blogger’s part. Not always, but usually.
Some of this goes to the recent “Principles of Citizen Journalism” that we posted; if people followed those notions we’d have fewer of these problems, but that doesn’t go to the issue of rancid comments on other people’s sites.
It’s essential for bloggers to be clear what their own rules are about their own sites when it comes to comment policies; that’s why the BlogHer community guidelines are so useful in this context. And then they should be even clearer that the rules will be enforced. If I invite someone into my living room, that’s not permission to spit (or worse) on my carpet. I will invite anyone who does that to leave.
The law is clear on all of this: We are not responsible for what others post on our sites if we’re simply providing a forum. But that does not mean that we have to put up with incivility. We can — and should — remove it.
Readers also have to take some responsibility, too. Namely, be extremely skeptical of anonymous speech.
I wrote in a recent posting that people who don’t stand behind their words deserve, in almost every case, no respect for what they say. The exceptions come when someone risks life or freedom or livelihood by being a whistle-blower or truth-teller. When the purpose is to take down other people, anonymity is most often a hiding place for the dishonorable.
We readers (in the broadest sense) are far too prone to accepting what we see and hear. We need to readjust our internal BS meters in a media-saturated age.
We should start with this principle:
An anonymous or pseudonymous attack on someone else should be presumed false, unless proved true.
Back when I was working on the Bayosphere project, dealing with forum and comment postings was one of the more time-consuming parts of the operation. We posted these guidelines, which we compiled from our own notions of how things should work, plus liberal cribbing from several other well-run sites:
- In short, we aim here for civility and mutual respect. Beyond that, we encourage robust discussions and debate.
- Members may be blocked from the site for vandalism, making personal attacks on other members, publishing others’ copyrighted material or for violating the guidelines and comments policy.
- Violators may be blocked from entry for 24 hours, for longer periods for repeat transgressors, or permanently, depending on the severity of the infraction.
- Using anonymous proxies to vandalize the site or otherwise causing disturbance will not be permitted. Moderators will block the IP of anonymous proxies indefinitely.
- Offensive, inflammatory or otherwise inappropriate screen names are not permitted, and the use of these will be prevented through blocking of accounts. Members blocked for having an inappropriate name will be permitted to rejoin Bayosphere under a new name.
- Remember, we need your help
- This is a community. If you see material that violates our site rules and guidelines, please contact us.
- Please also make suggestions, on our forums or via e-mail, on how we might improve these terms and guidelines.