Why I’ll never sign up for any Blogger Code of Conduct

Well, the tempest in a teapot of Kathy Sierra versus Chris Locke and the general incivility of the blogosphere has finally bubbled over to the point where industry luminaries like Tim O’Reilly are proposing a Blogger’s Code of Conduct. Agree to the terms and you too can have the swanky graphic shown on the left, or reject it and you get the goofy dynamite cartoon on the right:

Civility Enforced
Code Enforced No Code of Conduct

But I’m not going to sign up for it, nor would I recommend anyone else in the blogosphere sign up, though I have the utmost respect for Tim. Further, I say that without having actually read the proposed Code. Here’s why…

I read a lot of print magazines. I’m probably a magazine junkie, actually, if I really think about it. Universally, though, my favorite part of any magazine, from Mothering to The Week, Men’s Health to Wired, are the letters from readers. Whether agreeing, disagreeing, or pointing out errors or misstatements, they are the best way to get a sense of the popular views on a given subject.
Some magazines have carefully edited, proper, prim letters to the editor, with nary an obscenity in sight, while others — honestly, those that I enjoy the most — retain the sprinkling of curse words and crude phrases sent in by the readers themselves.
In the blogosphere, this plays out as the question of whether you, the blogger, want to let your readers, your audience, your participatory community, have voices of their own or not. If you post a comment to my site rife with obscenities, do you think I’ll let it be, edit it to remove or replace the obscenities, or delete it? How do you find out? By participating in my community.
That’s the key reason that I think any Code of Conduct is fundamentally flawed, however much effort people put into it. Every blog is different, every blog has its own unique community of readers and participants, and every blogger has a different tolerance for rude, obnoxious, crude, spammy, obscene, pornographic commenters.
I like to talk about the analogy of college parties and in particular how you can’t expect to have really popular parties of your own until you go to other parties and make friends. In the blogging world, this is why you must comment on other blogs before you can really expect traffic on your own.
Now, let’s go to Mythical U. for a moment and imagine that the Dean wants to impose a Uniform Code of Party Conduct. It’s all well-intentioned, including things like “men shall respect women at all times”, “underage shall not drink alcohol” and “partygoers shall be treated equally, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, etc.” D’ya think it’ll work? Do you think that even one party on campus will have a “Take Heed: This Party Complies with the UCPC” sign on the front door?
Maybe Tim O’Reilly does, but I sure don’t, and my blogging buddies like Robert Scoble don’t either. Indeed, Robert says: “… for now, I guess I’d have to wear the “anything goes” badge. I do find disquieting the social pressure to get on board with this program… [I] have to admit that I feel some pressure just to get on board here and that makes me feel very uneasy.”
In the other corner of our ring are the women who run BlogHer.org. According to the Old Gray Lady herself, the New York Times, they say that “Any community that does not make it clear what they are doing, why they are doing it, and who is welcome to join the conversation is at risk of finding it difficult to help guide the conversation later…”
I find their logic akin to Mythical U. saying “Before you say you want to have a party, you are required to file Form 11-BC9, which details exactly who you are inviting, what you’ll be talking about, what kind of music you’ll play, and both the acceptable topics of conversation and acceptable responses.” Again, maybe nice in theory, but in practice, I wouldn’t be heading there when I was ready to find some friends and hang out.
Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here, though. I am all for civility, reasoned discourse, and coherent and respectful discussion in the blogosphere, as I am on discussion boards, in email, chat rooms, and even in real life. But I don’t control the world, I can’t tell you how you should be phrasing your sentences or conveying your thoughts, nor would I want to. Yes, there are certain views that are beyond what I will tolerate in my hosted discussion space, but I still support your right to have those views even if I occasionally click that “delete” button and kick your comment into the ether.
I just don’t want to codify anything. I don’t want a Standard of Conduct, I don’t want some badge, some (I can’t resist) stinkin’ badge on my site that says “yes, I’m politically correct” or “I can’t create a community for myself, based on my own acceptable-use guidelines, guidelines that might well change based on world events or even the state of my relationship with my children that afternoon.”
Tony suggests we’re just talking about a ‘comment policy’ but I don’t want to have that either. I don’t want to pin anything down because I want to retain editorial flexibility.
I applaud the efforts of Tim, Jory, Lisa and Elisa, and am glad that they are trying to quantify what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, but don’t look for your graphic here on my blogs, and don’t look for it on those sites that I am involved with. Giving up control over how I manage and interact with my community, for better or worse, is just not worth joining your club, however well intentioned.

18 comments on “Why I’ll never sign up for any Blogger Code of Conduct

  1. Hi Dave. I tend to agree with you, but that’s the beauty of it: Those of us who don’t want to put these little code of conduct graphics on our blogs don’t have to!
    I remain outraged that the punks who intimidated Kathy Sierra haven’t been found and prosecuted (yet). I’m not sure this sort of policy approach is going to really solve the problem though. Don’t forget that anyone with a website/blog can post nasty stuff like this too — you don’t have to add it to the comments of your target’s blog.
    As I’ve mentioned on other blogs, nothing is 100% foolproof with this, but the best solution is a combination of (a) good, old-fashioned law enforcement tactics and (b) the community policing itself. People often roll their eyes when they hear the community self-policing part, but that’s because they don’t stop to think about how point “a” relates to point “b: The idiots that harassed Kathy have no doubt bragged about it to their friends. Whey don’t we have some sort of reward program set up so that these losers will get turned in? That’s the same old snitch solution that often works so well with other hate crimes and street violence. I think it also has a role online. Imagine all the hackers offering to search logs and connect the dots to get the reward!

  2. To be honest, I kind of like the Code of Conduct. Yes, I agree that spending time in a a person’s blog is important to fully understand what it is all about, but frankly, having a lit bit assurance that I am not wasting my time learning it to begin with is worth something to. Big blogs (like yourself) already have the reputation when first visiting (and that can be seen by the number of blogs and comments), but trying to create your own, new blog and to encourage visitors can be tough. Am I going to add something similar to my blog? Probably not, but I will probably take notice of those that do from now on. cheers…mat

  3. Thanks for your comments. Joe, I’m not sure that the people who harassed Kathy bragged about it to their friends, actually. More likely than not, they’re sufficiently disassociated from Kathy *as a person* that it was an abstract intellectual harassment game, kinda like playing “The Sims” but picking a bad-guy character. I think it’s too easy, too cliche, to assume that they’re seedy lowlifes skulking about and rubbing their hands nefariously as they type in their latest comment.
    Further, recognize that Tim’s proposed Code of Conduct would not have changed the situation one iota anyway: the comments appeared mostly on a site that from the beginning was designed to be an “anything goes” sort of site. Would you automatically discount anything written on a site with the “dynamite” icon on it? I didn’t think so…
    Matthew, using the Code of Conduct as a way to encourage first timers to comment is a splendid idea. Didn’t think about that angle, but that’s a good one to consider…

  4. Where is my Easter Bonnet?
    While some may see the blogosphere and the behavior of its participants as a new phenomenon, it isn’t difficult to find an appropriate predecessor model. That model is found on the streets of any metropolitan area and it is called traffic and the prevalence of road rudeness…or in its extreme…road rage.
    Granted, personal attacks and snark on the internet are not likely to lead to fatalities, but if computers had wheels, it certainly would.
    The problem on the highway or the internet isn’t going to be resolved through a badge system. Did anyone attend Easter mass yesterday and witness the value of symbols…no not the crucifix behind the altar or the statue at the entrance; I’m talking about the pretty new Easter outfits…complete with bonnets and bow ties. These are the outfits worn by the same people who also attend Christmas mass every year without fail…and then get into their shiny clean vehicle and race out of the parking lot without ever yielding to the old woman walking to her car that is parked in the back row because she forgot that it was Easter Sunday and foolishly arrived at the same time she does each and every Sunday.
    Read more on the relationship between blog civility and Easter Bonnets…here:

  5. I tend to agree. Rather than creating a uniform code of blogging conduct, bloggers need to have a loose set of guidelines about good comment policies.
    The only hard and fast rule is that you should display your comment policy prominently and explain it.

  6. I’m not big on a Bloggger Code of Conduct. It would dampen people’s creativity. I’d sooner be the arbiter of what stays or not on my blog rather than have someone else set the standards.
    That said, I do think many posters don’t take responsibility for what they say on blogs. It’s easier to toss out offensive, off color language when no one can see you. I often wonder if folks who flame behave like that when they’re having face-to-face conversations. Anonimity can bring out the perverse worst in some folks. As long as they have a platform, they’ll keep at it. We’ve all got a Dark Side. Most of us know how to keep it in check, however.

  7. I understand the reason that we might need Blogger Code of Conduct. But I agree more with the idea that every blogger has his/her own tastes of code.
    If Blogger Code of Conduct were just a model that anyone can freely consult, I would have appreciated. But its impact will be having same uniform, which I can’t agree.

  8. A variation on this subject came up a couple of years ago when a few of us delved into the idea of creating what was called the Professional Bloggers Association. It had to do with creating a blogging “ethical standard” or “best practices.”
    That idea was met with the same derision as this one, and rightly so. The blogosphere is still the wild, wild, west and I concur that attempting to bring the law to the territory is futile.
    Not discounting the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Ms. Sierra’s situation, however well-intentioned, this approach is at odds with what citizen journalism and free speech is all about.
    Of course, as blogging comes into more mainstream use by the corporate world, it’s understandable that attempts at codification would be introduced. The nature of things is toward institutionalization, but that eventually only leads to crystallization, which is a death-knell.
    Let each blogger decide for himself (herself) what is acceptable. If they choose to publish some type of disclaimer to that effect, that’s fine with me. Even you include such. But, even that may be unnecessary. The “delete comment” link is sufficient governance in my view.

  9. I agree with you–I don’t want an imposed code. On the other hand, I do have a set of blogging principles that was sparked by a conversation at BlogHer 05 with Lisa Williams:
    I think the rules are a bit different for a group blog or a blog portal like BlogHer. Somewhere else (I forget where) there was a link to Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s suggestions for comment moderation:

  10. I think a Code of Conduct is good. In some kind of way I like to see the blogosphere mimic real life. Meaning, in real life there are acceptable and unacceptable ways of speaking to one another. If there was no Code of Conduct, society will unravel into a cess pool of anarchy.
    The same thing will happen in the blogosphere. In fact, it is happening in many areas already. For that reason, if you do have either of the two badges on your blog, it will immediately make commenters aware of the type of conduct that is acceptable.
    I think it is great to walk into a place and immediately know what type of behaviour is expected. Based on that, I don’t have to waste my time there if bad behaviour is acceptable. It is a kind of banner above the entrance that gives a warning of the type of place you are about to enter. I can decide to act even before I enter.
    In the same way, I really do not want to waste my time reading a blog where bad behaviour is acceptable. We are all very busy, and it would help cut out wasted time reading unnecessary blogs.
    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts on this subject!

  11. thanks for sharing your opinion, Dave. very well articulated. personally, i’d rather have “anything goes” on my personal blog because i have my own standards anyway, with or without the blogger code of conduct. so i agree with you on this, but only as far as personal blogs is concerned.
    for group blogs, social networks, or other online networks. i agree with BlogHer’s assertion. your Mythical U example is good for personal blogs but is limited when applied to group or community scenarios because your analogy is a “college party.” not all community is interested in having a party 🙂 for groups or community with specific mission and vision i think a better analogy is “college clubs”, “fraternities,” or even “the army”. all serious groups have codes of conduct, written or internalized by the collective moral standards of the group.
    we need not look any further than the U.S. Constitution, one of the best codes of conduct every written.
    thanks for sharing your views.

  12. Me neither, even as one who’s been on the recieving end. As well intentioned as it is, as technically competent the proposer may be, it does not grasp the full picture being based on limited experience as I’ve described on the stop cyberbullying network.

  13. Dave, you are so fucking wrong I can’t believe it. The code of conduct merely states that people will be civil to on another and won’t threaten physical harm. Read the code and understand it before you give a knee jerk uninformed critique of it for chrissake.

  14. Will, thank you so much for a great example of the uncivil communication that’s rife in the blogosphere.
    Ordinarily, I would delete your comment or at least edit out the obscenity — I don’t like ’em on my site — but given that we’re talking about civility and politeness, I’ll let yours stand.
    I am curious, though, whether this is how you talk with people in person too, or whether the relative anonymity of the Web lets you indulge in this sort of extraordinarily rude communication?
    And, finally, no, the “Code” doesn’t just say that people won’t threaten to attack each other, it posits quite a bit more, and even Tim O’Reilly has subsequently written that he felt he went too far and was sorry things were getting off track…

  15. I’ve always found it ironic that bloggers are called to be transparent and those who leave comments aren’t. That’s not changing anytime soon. In the meantime, I don’t see what’s wrong with letting potential participants in your community know what your personal stand on civility is. And I don’t think “civility enforced” equals politically correct. Passionate debate and opinion are made more potent when you’re not allowed to start hurling personal insults the moment your stance gets on shaky ground. When reasoned intellects are forced to go mano y mano there’s actually an opportunity for ideas to be exchanged. Frankly I think Tim has already been successful. He’s got us talking about the issue. That, I believe is his real intent anyway.

  16. Dave, a pleasure meeting you at The System Seminar this weekend. You did a great job.
    I saw Tim O’Reilly at the recent web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, along with John Battelle. Both men I admire greatly.
    But I have to agree with you. The blogosphere crosses cultures, languages, race, religion etc etc.
    My view on blogging is that the way I write on my own blog is hopefully exactly the same way as I would have a chat with you over a beer.
    Its clumsy. A couple of typos. And plenty wrong with the grammar. But thats me. If I swear, its because I think the point I’m trying to make needs it. I make no excuses and I suppose if you dont like it, then you dont have to stay and hang around.
    I allow all comments, regardless of whether or not I agree. And thats the way I think it should be.
    More to the point, how in Zuess’s butthole is something like a Blogging Code Of Conduct ever going to be enforced?
    If China cant stop censorship with the worlds biggest communist government and a massive army, how on earth does the western world think it’s going to get a handle on this.

  17. Dave, I really like the party analogy. You’re our host; the blog is your sandbox. As the host, you can ask anybody who’s behaving badly to leave. You ARE the Code of Conduct, and that’s ok by me.
    But please let me stay; I like it here!

  18. I’m new here. Thanks for great posts. I have changed my opinion about ten times while reading and to summarize it for myself I would say that there are very many types of parties and I would try to attract people and navigate a forum by using general and (only) positive terms and expectations.

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