A Blogger Code Of Conduct? No Thanks!

Over at the New York Times, they’re flogging a utopian project: a blogger code of conduct,

“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.

A recent outbreak of antagonism among several prominent bloggers “gives us an opportunity to change the level of expectations that people have about what’s acceptable online,” said Mr. O’Reilly, who posted the preliminary recommendations last week on his company blog (radar.oreilly.com). Mr. Wales then put the proposed guidelines on his company’s site (blogging.wikia.com), and is now soliciting comments in the hope of creating consensus around what constitutes civil behavior online.

Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Wales talk about creating 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.

“If it’s a carefully constructed set of principles, it could carry a lot of weight even if not everyone agrees,” Mr. Wales said.”

There is a lot of problems with the idea of a “blogger of code of conduct.” For example, who writes the code? Why should bloggers who don’t even know who O’Reilly and Wales are accept a code of conduct that they come up with? Then there’s the fact that there is a lot of different types of blogs and plenty of internet publications that don’t consider themselves to be blogs at all. Is an internet forum going to accept these rules? Would a political blog have the same rules as a tech blog? What papers like the New York Times have to abide by these rules on the net? How would it all practically work?

But the biggest problem is, as the man who claimed to have invented the internet might say, that “there is no controlling legal authority.” Any set of rules without a method of enforcement is useless — and let’s be clear, “relying on the community to police itself” isn’t a method of enforcement. 95% of the people reading the net don’t care about some silly badge system and nothing you can do is going to make them care. Of course, you could make something like this work by getting governments around the world to put the force of law behind it, but that cure would be worse than the disease.

PS: If you have a blog with “threatening or libelous comments” on it, just delete them and don’t worry about the “cries of censorship.” Your blog is like your home; it’s your house, your rules. Also, I’ve found that while you will have some complainers about deletions, the vast majority of people strongly prefer a tightly controlled comment section. I run mine like the Stasi and the biggest complaint is generally, “Why don’t you ban so and so, he’s annoying!”

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