Blogger’s Code of Conduct – Do We Need Stinking Badges?
O’Reilly proposes seven guidelines:
1. Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.
2. Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.
3. Consider eliminating anonymous comments.
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.
He discusses each of those exhaustively at the link. Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales has proposed, not surprisingly, a wiki to cobble together a universal code of ethics which those which promise to abide by can signify through a nifty little badge on their site.
Not surprisingly, most bloggers think the very idea of speech codes offensive, with many expressing the sentiment of the Mexican bandit from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, “We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!”*
Andrew Sullivan proclaims that “the blogosphere is about freedom – not codes of conduct on sites for free exchange of views.” Similarly, Jeff Jarvis judges that, “This effort misses the point of the internet, blogs, and even of civilized behavior.” Citing Doc Searls‘ admonition that the blogosphere is a place, not a thing, he observes,
And when I moved into the place that is my town, I didn’t put up a badge on my fence saying that I’d be a good neighbor (and thus anyone without that badge is, de facto, a bad neighbor). I didn’t have to pledge to act civilized. I just do. And if I don’t, you can judge me accordingly. Are there rules and laws? Yes, the same ones that exist in worlds physical or virtual: If I libel or defame you on the streetcorner or in a paper or on a screen, the recourse is the same. But I don’t put up another badge on my fence saying I won’t libel you. I just don’t. That’s how the world works. Why should this new world work any differently? Why should it operate with more controls and more controllers?
Sean-Paul Kelley dubs the effort “inane.” He proclaims, “I’m an absolutist when it comes to free speech. It should be free, without any encumbrances. And this idea of ‘managed civil dialogue?”‘Well, it’s just an updated, neato, Orwellian concoction in the tradition of ‘weakness is strength,’ ‘war is peace’ and ‘freedom is slavery.'”
Ed Morrissey thinks this “one of those well-intentioned but doomed reform efforts that sound reasonable but will have no chance of changing anything” and argues it’s ultimately unnecessary. Dan Drezner agrees. Morrissey adds, “If a blogger gets threatened by an on-line commenter or another blogger, then the FBI should get called to investigate. If a blog has an out-of-control comment section where abuse and vitriol rule the day, simply stop reading that blog — or even better yet, start another blog and criticize it.”
Several prominent bloggers are at least sympathetic to the idea, though, if not O’Reilly’s proposed solution.
Tom Maguire observes that “Speech is already a lot less than free, at least among the political blogs” but laments that he has a “troll problem” and will likely take stricter countermeasures. Barbara O’Brien notes that she already days many of the things on O’Reilly’s list with positive effect. I do, too. Still, a proprietor’s self-regulation of his own space is qualitatively different than a set of outside-imposed standards. As Hawkins notes, taking a page from Jarvis and Searls, “Your blog is like your home; it’s your house, your rules.”
I agree with Bruce McQuain that the quality of discourse at the blog author level can strongly influence that in the comments section. As I’ve often observed though (this isn’t exactly a novel topic to those who’ve been around the blogosphere block a few times) commenter quality tends to fall geometrically as blog traffic increases. With rare exceptions, it political blogs with audiences with more than a couple thousand daily visitors–let alone more than 10,000 or 100,000–draw a lot of trolls looking for a large megaphone.
Cross-blog discussion of such issues strikes me as perfectly healthy. Blogs don’t need a set of government mandated guidelines. People should be free to chose which blogs they hang out at, picking those with a level of civility that suits their tastes. At the same time, it’s valuable for bloggers, especially those with a sizable audience, to think about this sort of thing from time to time and perhaps get some ideas for how to set the tone that they’d prefer for their own sites.
Scott Ott, taking a page from Al Gore’s book, offers the perfect solution: Civility offsets.