Monday, April 09, 2007

A Blogger Code of Conduct?

A few high-profile bloggers, including Tim O'Reilly (who coined the term Web 2.0) and Jimmy Wales (creator of Wikipedia), are proposing a blogger "code of conduct". The intent is to clean up the content of online discourse, coming on the heels of the Kathy Sierra death threats last week. Some in the blogosphere are criticizing the proposed code as a form of censorship. However, those critics are wrong, and the code of conduct would be a positive development.

Here are the details of the proposal. "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". It calls for:

several sets of guidelines for conduct and seals of approval represented by logos. For example, anonymous writing might be acceptable in one set; in another, it would be discouraged. Under a third set of guidelines, bloggers would pledge to get a second source for any gossip or breaking news they write about.

Bloggers could then pick a set of principles and post the corresponding badge on their page, to indicate to readers what kind of behavior and dialogue they will engage in and tolerate. The whole system would be voluntary, relying on the community to police itself.

This proposed code of conduct would have a net positive effect for several reasons. First, reserving the right to delete threatening or libelous comments ought to be viewed as a common-sense approach to mediation. We're not talking about constructive criticism or opposing viewpoints - we're talking about threats and libel. In the wake of the Kathy Sierra ordeal, and her subsequent consideration of never blogging again, it is evident how damaging such anonymous comments can be, both on a personal-injury level, as well as at the societal level, taking into account the chilling effects such threats have on free speech.

Second, the code of conduct is not a form of censorship because it is voluntary. Bloggers can still write about any topic they wish, and leave and allow comments as they wish. The voluntary approach to mediation is simply an attempt at blogosphere self-regulation, and it will act as a signaler in the marketplace of ideas, allowing people to better consume and participate in the blogs they prefer.

The truth is that there really is too much crap (and crappy people) out there, which ultimately diminishes the power of the blogosphere as a whole. I see no problem with voluntary efforts aimed at self-regulation - so long as they remain voluntary at not imposed from external authorities.


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