Monday, 9 April 2007

Blogging Code of Conduct

Recently, Tim O'Reilly called for a blogging Code of Conduct. The rules in it were:
  • We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.
  • We won't say anything online that we wouldn't say in person.
  • We connect privately before we respond publicly.
  • When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.
  • We do not allow anonymous comments.
  • We ignore the trolls.
He also believes that there should be a symbol on blogs that don't comply with the guidelines, which therefore warns any readers that there may be uncensored arguments, etc.

Point 1 makes perfect sense. You type the words on the blog - you should be responsible for what happens as a result of them being published. You could say that something was a throw-away statement, but the millions of potential readers might not necessarily see it in the context that you meant.

Being criticised because of the comments that were left on a post is an interesting one. If they end up offending a group of people and they were on your blog - I can see why people should think the owner of the blog should be ultimately responsible. As a lot of blogs have comment moderation, that's another reason for the owner of the blog to be responsible.

However, there's an argument for you not being responsible for the comments. The comments were made by other people - therefore the opinions expressed in those comments are not necessarily the ones you share.

The second point is more complex. If you are in a position that means e.g. your job could be at risk by expressing your views on something, then you couldn't possibly comply with it. I can see situations such as politicians having a view that might not necessarily follow the party line. If they were to reveal that on the internet - in front of millions of people. It could cause many problems.

Some could call that cowardly though. I think that it depends on the situation. If it's in a work context and you need your wages because you are e.g. the sole earner in your family - you may want to think about it carefully (of course you might also want to look for another job - because that sort of environment doesn't sound perfect). If you are posting e.g. racist views that you know will offend a lot of people and you aren't willing to defend yourself - then that's something very different.

However, I would comply with that point because they are my views and not necessarily the views of the people who I work for (and with). If I have to put a disclaimer at the top of my blogs to clarify that - I will do.

The third point is interesting. I can see the logic behind it - you wouldn't want to post something and then find it's all wrong - you'd want some clarification first. What if it's difficult or impossible to get a response though? Also, the internet contains a vast array of information and opinions to help you clarify something. Maybe the third point isn't necessary.

Point 4 is common sense. If you feel strongly about something (or someone), you wouldn't want to see unfair accusations aimed at it (or them). You would want to defend your view. I would totally agree with that point.

My views about anonymous comments are the same as my views for point 2.

As for ignoring trolls, I think it depends on the situation. You might be faced with something that is like point 4 - which means you would respond to the trolls. However, simple and fact-free comments that are repeated again and again (even after you responded the first time) should be ignored. Perhaps you shouldn't approve them either. When I say 'simple and fact-free', I mean things like "Linux sucks!!!". There is no factual basis and nothing particularly complex. You might only want to respond to that sort of thing once.

I'm not the only one who has these views about the proposed code of conduct. Robert Scoble - 42nd in the Technorati 'Top 100 blogs' list, posted this as a response in his blog:
"I’m not able to currently sign this, either. First I allow anonymous comments. I do watch for hate speech, though, and delete that when it’s found (pretty rare, actually).

Second, I engage with my trolls. Why? Cause if they show up here I think they deserve an answer and I find they often get me to think deeper about the topic that I’m writing about than if we didn’t engage in a little gutter wrestling."
"I do find disquieting the social pressure to get on board with this program. Tim O’Reilly is a guy who really can affect one’s career online (and off, too). I do have to admit that I feel some pressure just to get on board here and that makes me feel very uneasy."
Robert makes an interesting point about the pressure on bloggers to comply with this. I can see the logic, but not everyone reads Tim O'Reilly's blog - some might not read any blogs apart from their own. This means that the message won't get out to everybody and that makes getting the message across more difficult. Of course, not everyone who regularly reads the blog will agree with the code anyway (like Robert).

This was Alfred Thompson's response, which was also a response to Robert Scoble's comments (Alfred is a Microsoft employee involved with education sector. He has several highly popular blogs):
"Without a timely and public reply and correction things can be hard to get corrected. Sometimes it is a great idea to try and get things corrected privately and I have done that myself. Other times it is clear that trying to get a correction in private communication is not going to be sufficient."
"If someone unfairly blocks anonymous comments that word will get out and people may choose not to read, link to or otherwise support that blog. Let the market decide but let bloggers have some principled control over their comment sections."
This is an interesting article on the BBC website which goes into a bit of detail about the reasons why the Code of Conduct was thought up in the first place and a valid point is made about the difficulties of enforcing it. As there are so many blogs out there, it is impossible to make sure everyone complies.

Although the code of conduct is well-intentioned, I don't think you could ever get everyone to agree with it and it could never be enforced.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Blogging, Code of Conduct, Tim O'Reilly


Wesley Mason said...

First the "code" as a guideline: they represent excellent ideas, and I agree with every single one up to a point, except that I believe that everyone has a right to anonymous commentary as long as those posting anonymously do not abuse the right. If they do, take it away same as any abused right, it becomes a privilege.
As for trolls, I believe everyone deals with them in their own right, but I have always subscribed to "don't feed the trolls".

Now, the "code" as it is represented as some sort of all-knowing blog-law....
Frankly I think the entire idea not only borders on the absurd, it invades via paratroopers and topples the dictator of Absurdia's statue into the street while hooting very loudly.

I will state this again in no uncertain terms: What the hell are you thinking O'Reilly?
A code of conduct?
We're talking about a form of communication here, weblogging is just a route to getting your word out and having conversations with people (notice conversation, threads of discussion are what power most weblogs, not single comments which may or may not contravine peoples sensabilities).

Why do we need a code of conduct when there is common sense? Why do we need a code of conduct when different societies place credence in different ideals and a sense of a decency and politeness.

The reason some people think we need this is because there are trolls and arse-holes.
Arse-holes are the people who don't know when they've gone too far, or generally don't care (also signs of sociopathy).
Guess what?

A code of conduct doesn't solve this, and no one ever will, there will always be trolls and arse-holes.
That is a simple fact of human nature and the full gamut of personalities that exist in the world.

It's all common sense, introducing the need to conform to a standard suddenly turns everyone into a possible censor; of course they already were a possible censor, but it heightens the "need", the idea that everyone needs to censor their weblogs and their comments to make sure one person isn't being attacked, and not just themselves.

People should be responsible for their own actions, but that includes those who suppose they would conform to a code.

I personally would never put a symbol on myself to say that I won't stick up for my friends or act responsibly, and neither would I use a symbol which says I will do these things.
Why would it be any different for my weblog?

I understand why everyone has suddenly jumped on the bandwagon, and I think the events surrounding Kathy Sierra must have been (and probably still are) quite a terrifying experience, but I think it's an over reaction to try and get people to lump into "naughty" and "nice" factions over something that has as much chance of happening with silly lists of rules plastered over people sites as much as it did without.

If Tim had merely posted these as a set of guidelines that he hoped everyone would take on board, then I would have no problem, as I said, they're for the most part brilliant common-sense ideas with a dash of everyday politeness and consideration.

They can be summed up almost immediately and directly as:
Act like a human being and treat others like human beings, online or not.

Posy said...

Well said.