10 April 2007

We the people of the Blogosphere, in order to form a more perfect cyberspace....

When Tim O’ Reilly and Jimmy Wales came together to propose a set of guidelines that would filter out offensive and abusive comments from blogs, it is perhaps unsurprising that they were met by a torrent of abuse.

For example the media site 910am described it as "weapons of mass stupidity" and carried the health warning "do not read on a full stomach". What has gotten people’s goats is a draft set of rules on introducing the concept of civility to the blogosphere. They have posted a seven-point programme that would attempt to address abusive comments on the web, while preserving the free spirit of the medium. Point one of the code is that anyone signing up to it would commit themselves to a "civility enforced" standard to remove unacceptable comments from their blog.

Unacceptable is defined as content that is used to abuse, harass, stalk or threaten others; is libellous or misrepresentative; or infringes copyright, confidentiality or privacy rights. Anonymous postings are also to be removed, with every comment requiring a recognised email address, even if posts are made under pseudonyms.

To back up the code, they propose a "civility enforced" badge marking sites which subscribe to the guidelines, and an "anything goes" badge to denote those that do not. The proposed guidelines can be interactively amended by web users, until a final version is agreed.

Many blogs already do some or all of what is proposed but It is the first attempt to apply a common framework to the blogosphere (pop 71m and rising)

The draft guidelines have prompted wide debate with varying responses. Dan Gillmor of the Centre for Citizen Media, a group devoted to grassroots media attached to Berkeley's graduate school of journalism, rejects the need for a code of conduct. He says bloggers require only one simple rule: be civil. To define unacceptable behaviour is to create a monster, he says, as "Who'd be the judge of it? The government? Libel lawyers? Uh, oh."

This is the draft code of conduct is set out on Radar O' Relly and is basically thus

1. We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.

2. We won't say anything online that we wouldn't say in person.

3. We connect privately before we respond publicly.

4. When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.

5. We do not allow anonymous comments.

6. We ignore the trolls.

The site expands on these points. O’reilly and Wales also propose an "anything goes" badge for sites that want to warn possible commenters that they are entering a free-for-all zone. The text to accompany that badge might go something like this:

This is an open, uncensored forum. We are not responsible for the comments of any poster, and when discussions get heated, crude language, insults and other “off color" comments may be encountered. Participate in this site at your own risk.

To be honest, I can’t see why the code has been greeted with such a harsh reception given that many bloggers do some of these things already. All it does is codify civility! Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a web-psycho’s attentions would welcome the code, I’m sure.. or would we?

Personally I don’t violently disagree with what is proposed although I can’t see that it will make a lot of difference. If you have a blog you set your own rules as to what is acceptable (the Poor Mouth runs on the “my blog, my rules” basis”) . I don't need a code of conduct for that and I expect all but a tiny few who have commented here don't need it either.

The problem is that the trolls and psychos out there obviously wold not comply with a code and would not react positively to any attempts to make them comply (the prospect of them getting beaten to death by a man mountain might, but I am a peaceful soul and would never suggest any thing of the sort! on the other hand I wouldn't mind an hour with the arsehole who cloned my old yahoo chatroom id and some pilliwinks...).

I don't see how banning anonymous comments will solve anything. How easy is it to create an id. What does jams o donnell really mean apart from the fact that I've read Flann O'Brien's book the Poor Mouth, what's benefit do you get from asking for email addresses on haloscan comment thingies if you get kissmyshinymetalarse@upyours.com? many of us that use pseudonyms do so to protect our anonymity anyway.

The maxim "don't feed the trolls" is good advice for anyone.

I must create a button (who am I kidding, get someone to do it for me) that says "this blog may feature use of words like poo, bum, boobs and willy. Enter this blog at your own risk."


Steve Bates said...

I look forward to your continuation. As you may well imagine, I have some strong opinions on the matter. :)

beakerkin said...


The reality is that far left blogs can opperate without interuption. Most of the blogs in my circle opperate in moderation because of a far left dolt named John Brown who spams sites.

Brown is far from the only unhinged lefty to misbehave. Renegade Eye and other far left sites opperate without the constant
threats and misbehavior.

Andrew Brown said...

Without wanting to sound like a ditto head, I pretty much agree that this is what a lot of us do - more or less - but those that don't probably won't change their ways.

Still its interesting that these guys felt that there was a need. And certainly from a UK perspective there's been calls from outside the 'sphere to get a grip, so maybe its time for those who aren't all that happy with the proposed code to at least think about how they conduct themselves.

Elizabeth-W said...

I like the rule about not saying anything you wouldn't say in person.
I think blogs should have ratings, like the movies. If I came across a blog rated NC17 I would think I could say anything I wanted, but if it were PG I'd be more restrained.
Now, I'm trying to decide what I would rate my blog? pg13?

Aaron Murin-Heath said...

It's a decent idea for those want it.

Offering readers a guide as to the content and style of a blog is a great way of informing the 'consumer.' People make better choices when they are fully aware of what is available.

If someone knows that their comment may be met with a torrent of abuse, they may decide against it.

The vitriol that has come from many bloggers is nothing more than hot air and self-serving bluster.

Anonymous said...

My blog my rules. I am not prepared to make "Anonymous", who posts helpful comments provide a pseudonym. I am not prepared to say I agree with every comment that is left. I have anti-spam moderation; sadly, I think it deters rather a few genuine would-be commenters, but it probably deters trolls as well

Anonymous said...

It bothers me that there are people out there who behave like bullies in the playground. Call me a wimp, but I didn't start blogging to get into verbal punch-ups with total strangers.

Thankfully, my blog host enables me to ban specific IP addresses from posting comments.

Anonymous said...

Good post Jams, I'm just glad that Wordpress gives me more flexibility with these morons.

I delete them without a second glance.

jams o donnell said...

Looking over at YDD I get the feeling that you don't quite agree with Wales and O'Reilly Steve!

I'm not sure that leftists get it easier than rightists, Beakerkin. I know for experience in chat rooms for sure that rightists can be utter lunatics too. I know one leftist blog that seems not to have any problems but that is because it stifles any dissenting comments! As far as I am concerned there is no call for teh behaviour of teh likes of John Brown. He does not appear to be of sound mind.

And that's the problem Andrew, teh code will be accepted by those who behave in a courteous manner anyway. THose that don't will stick two fingers up at the code. Sadly I don't think it will acheive anything at the end of the day. It doesn't mean that the vociferous detractors shouldnt think about conduct though.

jams o donnell said...

Ah Elizabeth I think this blog would get Certifiicate puerlie! Most of us moderate the tone of our comments in accordancce with the nature blog. The more strident the posts perhaps the more robust the comments!

You're quite right about a lot of teh vitriol aaron. Most of it is tales told by fools.. full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. Those that cross the line into teh criminal are a different matter and must be for the authorities to deal with (I know of one chatter who did resort to that in the face of death threats.

MY blog, my rules is the only way to operate a blog, Bryan. I agree that dissent is an essential part of teh blogging experience. If we didnt have it blogging would be pretty boring.

jams o donnell said...

Agreed Gert, what purpose would it serve but to turn anonymous into anonymous called, say, bongo wibble!

I didn't either Roger. Some may blog to deliberately court controversy but if you don't you shouldnt have to put up with "overtly robust" comments!

It sounds like a good featuire Chris. Sadly I am a total imbecile when it comes to IT so blogger is the option for me! I see that some blogspot users do have a haloscan comment thingy I might see how one can put that into place one day.

Agnes said...

I am not against anons: it depends always) on the comment. However, spamming is more personal (except commercial ones)on such blogs like yours. With more professional (oriented ) blogs is a bit different, but then, the reactions and comments are part of the blog, hence I am against moderation of any kind. (Except spamming and comments revealing personal informations; but that is a different issue.) Life is not perfect, hence I don't expect (and want) perfection from blogging.

And often is very difficult to tell
who is a troll and who is not. If I wanted a more protected blog I'd use the wordpress probably, but most have a counter built in, and not even the typepad can protect one from anonymizers, proxies and so on. Those who really want to do harm, generally know very well how to. I don't even check the IP's -what use. People tend to get paranoid a bit online, and while some have a good reason (like you do), most probably don't. When I got several "commie whore" "stalinist whore" and such, I simply put the comments on moderation, and after two weeks the problem was fixed. As for the e-mails, one can create as many accounts as he/she wishes to, and can hide well: as long as my accout is not hecked, I am at peace. It did happen once (not with the gmail), and I found out that kids did it, here in Romania, so it came via my ISP (that was under a hacker attack last year). As I never used that account for personal correspondence, it mattered little.
AS a friend of mine says, danger does not come from Greek-Latin sites. Isn't he right....

Anonymous said...

I was struck by the article when it said that deleted comments was a violation of free speech. First off, my bog, my rules is right on. It's a blog, not a a forum or chat room, so I expect all comments to be civil and on topic. I have deleted comments that I feel are out of line and will continue to do so.

The other thing, having been attacked by trolls, I took the route to fight back and mock them in turn. They went away.

Good post and thoughtful discussion.

MC Fanon said...

Great post. My thoughts exactly. I assume that there are very few serious bloggers who allow abusive comments to go unchallenged, if not deleted. This code seems redundant.

jams o donnell said...

I have no probs with anons either someone who actually knows me uses the anon option. We both know wewell that cyberspace can be a wild place, I've found the blogospere better than the "chatosphere" but there are some jerks and crazies out there. I will moderate or delete as I see fit buty it will be something used sparingly. One thing I wont do is try to mediate with trolls though!

I think that is correct Brian.. I dont mind off topic but I have delted one or two out of line comments too. After all it is my blog!

Dave again I am not sure what the code can add. There isnt really any force to back up compliance.

Steve Bates said...

If any code... O'Reilly's and Wales's or anyone else's code... becomes some sort of de facto standard of behavior for bloggers and commenters, the blogosphere, with its characteristic rough, edgy diversity as one of its primary virtues, will deflate like a punctured football (your kind or ours; it doesn't matter). I can't speak for other places, but in the U.S., the blogosphere is the last viable forum for open, full-throated discussion of the problems that afflict us. The mainstream press and media have been largely co-opted, bought out, threatened into docility and filled with pseudo-journalists and overstuffed pundits without a clue. If blogs exhibit incivility, at least it's an honest incivility; I'll take that any day over civil "dialogue" that isn't dialogue at all but rather demagoguery.

This isn't kindergarten. We don't need monitors and hall patrols.

snowflake5 said...

I think it should be up to the blog owner to decide what to allow on their blogs. The only things I delete are spam ads for viagra and the like.

I allow anonymous postings. Frequently people will post anonymously when they want to say something controversial. I'd rather they did so (else how would the rest of us find out what these people were thinking) rather than they continue to hold views "underground" so to speak, and come out as a surprise at election time. The idea that if people didn't post what they really thought they would stop thinking it, is daft.

I do hate the way some blog owners are harassed though. Some blog owners are more vulnerable than others - not quite sure why.

jams o donnell said...

Steve, Snowflake, thanks. At the end of teh day it is clear we will blog our way, code or no code!