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Sat

03.31.07

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Call for a Blogger's Code of Conduct

Before I start, I should disclose that in addition to being an author and a conference presenter for O'Reilly, Kathy Sierra is a friend, and I've been talking with her about the situation referred to in this post since I first became aware of it last weekend. (I was not, however, aware in advance of her decision to go public with her story.) I know some of the other protagonists only slightly. In my comments below, I try to be fair-minded, and unlike many others, I took the time to speak to Chris Locke before saying anything publicly, but you should be aware of my potential bias.

I was quoted in a BBC article a few days ago and a San Francisco Chronicle article on Thursday calling for a "Blogger's Code of Conduct" in response to the firestorm that has arisen as a result of Kathy Sierra's revelation that she's been targeted by a series of increasingly violent and disturbing anonymous comments on her blog and on a series of weblogs that appeared to have been created for the purpose of celebrating cyber-bullying.

[Note: Chris Locke argues in email that the meankids site was set up in fun, and while the first posts on the site were apparently about continuing the conversation that had been shut down on Tara's blog, he insists that those comments were not mean-spirited. (Tara confirms that the second post on that blog was a photoshopped image showing her as Dr. Phil, which is hardly inflammatory.) Chris claims that "There was no cesspool of misogynistic attack rhetoric going on there until the stuff Kathy surfaced began to appear." At which point the site was shut down. As a result, he feels that the characterization of the meankids and unclebobisms sites as "set up for the purpose of celebrating cyberbullying" is "false and irresponsible." I have never seen the sites, and they have now been taken down, so I can neither confirm nor deny Chris' statement about the initial tone of the blogs. However, if what he says is true, then the term "cyber-bullying" may be a bit strong, at least when describing the aims of the sites. I understand Chris' concern to make clear that he and the other founders had no intention of creating sites that would encourage the kind of comments posts that ended up there. That being said, as Bert Bates notes in the comments below, the offending items were posts by members of these group blogs, not comments from unknown participants.]


In a discussion the other night at O'Reilly's ETech conference, we came up with a few ideas about what such a code of conduct might entail. These thoughts are just a work in progress, and hopefully a spur for further discussion.

  1. Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.

    In his response to Kathy's post, Chris Locke, owner of the unclebobism site where one of the most disturbing images was posted, wrote:

    I was a conference host on the Well 15 years ago where the core ethos was acronymized to YOYOW -- You Own Your Own Words. This has remained a guiding principle for me ever since. I will not take responsibility for what someone else said, nor will I censor what another individual wrote. However, it was clear that Sierra was upset, so it seemed the best course to make the whole site go away.

    Chris' comment echoes the libertarian ethos that many bloggers and internet pioneers share. However, we now have one more clear object-lesson on what you get when you start a site that not only tolerates but encourages mean comments: there's a quick race to the bottom. It seems to me that there's a big difference between censorship and encouraging and tolerating abuse.

    Contrast Chris' statement with The BlogHer Community Guidelines:

    We embrace your diversity of opinions and values... but we insist that your content may not include anything unacceptable.

    We define unacceptable content as anything included or linked that is:

    • Being used to abuse, harass, stalk or threaten a person or persons
    • Libelous, defamatory, knowingly false or misrepresents another person
    • Infringes upon any copyright, trademark, trade secret or patent of any third party. (If you quote or excerpt someone's content, it is your responsibility to provide proper attribution to the original author. For a clear definition of proper attribution and fair use, please see The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Legal Guide for Bloggers)
    • Violates any obligation of confidentiality
    • Violates the privacy, publicity, moral or any other right of any third party
    • Contains editorial content that has been commissioned and paid for by a third party, (either cash or goods in barter), and/or contains paid advertising links and/or SPAM...

    Yes, you own your own words. But you also own the tone that you allow on any blog or forum you control. Part of "owning your own words" is owning the effects of your behavior and the editorial voice you foster. And when things go awry, acknowledge it. It would have been far better for Chris to have deleted the post, and said explicitly on the blog that it was unacceptable, than to have silently shut down the blog and removed all entries and comments without explanation.

    There's an attitude among many bloggers that deleting inflammatory comments is censorship. I think that needs to change. I'm not suggesting that every blog will want to delete such comments, but I am suggesting that blogs that do want to keep the level of dialog at a higher level not be censured for doing so.

    There are many real-world analogies. Shock radio hosts encourage abusive callers; a mainstream talk radio show like NPR's Talk of the Nation wouldn't hesitate to cut someone off who started spewing hatred and abuse. Frat parties might encourage drunken lewdness, but a party at a tech conference would not. Setting standards for acceptable behavior in a forum you control is conducive to free speech, not damaging to it.

    We don't usually get inflammatory comments on Radar, but in the past, when they've occurred, we've tended not to delete them, lest we be accused of censorship. But in future, we're going to adopt a policy of deleting comments that are ad-hominem, insulting, or threatening to any individual. I'd like to see other bloggers do the same. Obviously, there's a responsibility on the other side for bloggers not to delete comments solely because they express opinions the poster doesn't agree with.

    It's important to be transparent. If a comment is deleted, it's likely good practice to say so, and to explain why. (It would be nice to have mechanisms in blogging platforms to show markers for deleted comments, with the reason shown.)

  2. Label your tolerance level for abusive comments..

    At our brainstorming session at Etech, Kaylea Hascall suggested something like the Creative Commons badges that sites employ to label the re-use rights provided for their content. This would let people know which sites to avoid, if they aren't willing to put up with foul language and insulting comments, and as in the blogher guidelines, let people know in advance what level of discourse is expected.

    Explicit labeling of "danger zones" is probably not going to take off (I can't imagine sites labeling themselves "flaming encouraged"), but the idea of sites posting their code of conduct might gain some traction given some easily deployed badges pointing to a common set of guidelines, as Kaylea suggested. But even absent such a mechanism, self-identifying your level of tolerance, as blogher does, seems to me like a really good idea. We're going to kick around some design ideas here at O'Reilly, and may have something to present in the next week or two.

    In the meantime, The BlogHer Community Guidelines are a good place to start.

    Deploying moderation mechanisms like slashdot's might also help. I know that there are lots of nasty comments posted on slashdot, but I never see them, because they are below my threshold of visibility. I'd love to see the major blogging platforms offer comment rating systems that would allow automatic moderating down of nasty comments. (Of course, many blogs don't have enough comment volume for this to work, but there are enough sites with large commenter communities where this could be a big help.)

  3. Consider eliminating anonymous comments.

    When people are anonymous, they will often let themselves say or do things that they would never do when they are identified. There are important contexts in which anonymity is important, for example, for political speech in repressive regimes. But in most contexts, accountability via identity changes how people behave. Requiring a valid email address for comments won't prevent people who want to hide their identity from doing so, but it's one more indication that accountability is valued.

  4. Ignore the trolls.

    Sometimes you need to stand up to bullies, but at other times, the best thing to do is to ignore them. As one person advised me long ago when I got in a public tussle with a blog bully, "Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it." Actors and other public figures have learned long ago not to read the tabloids (although they also have learned to take action when they get out of hand.) It's human nature to flock to controversy. Responding in public to a public attack feeds people who thrive on controversy, substitute abuse for real dialog, and stroke their egos by putting down others.

    Obviously, it's hard to miss nasty comments that are sent to you directly in email, and you can't police your own blog without reading the comments, but you can, for instance, ban the IP address of someone who violates your guidelines. And you can let people know that their comments are inappropriate without shaming them publicly.

    Looking back at the comment thread on Tara Hunt's blog that apparently led to the launch of the mean kids site, I also see something else: it's important to know when to walk away. That comment thread (absent the comments that Tara deleted, and which as a result I've never seen) is not mean so much as it is an example of comment threads gone awry, with comment piled on comment till no one is very clear at all what the dispute is about. Know when to walk away from a thread. A sure way for an argument to escalate is to try always to have the last word.

  5. Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so.

    While Kathy's disclosure of the stalking behavior she encountered has led to much greater awareness of a very serious problem -- we've seen an outpouring of stories from others, especially women, who've experienced similar abuse -- it's also true that in her post, Kathy tarred with a broad brush some people who were guilty only by association. (Doc Searls, for example, is someone I would go to the mat for as someone who is incapable of meanness.)

    When I first talked to Chris Locke, he was outraged because he felt that Kathy had named him as the site owner even though "she knows it's not me" who posted the images. I think I was able to convince him that she didn't know that, since she'd been asking for my help tracking down the perpetrator. All she knew was that the same small group of people, Chris prominent among them, had created first one site, and then another, that posted increasingly gruesome comments and images, and then disappeared.

    It's an irony of the situation that the very thing that Chris thought exculpated him from blame ("We took the sites down as soon as they got out of hand") is what made these sites particularly terrifying to Kathy.

    It's a further irony that both Chris and Kathy, both exponents of networked conversation, communicated about the inappropriateness of the images via comments on the blog rather than by any direct means. (Kathy did communicate directly with several of the meankids protagonists, including Jeneane Sessums and Frank Paynter, but hadn't done so with Chris Locke, who ran the unclebobism site, both because she didn't know him, and because by then the harrassment had escalated to a level that terrified her, and she felt the need to go public.)

    I do know that when I was able to act as an intermediary between Kathy and Chris, explaining each to the other, I was able to create a bit more room for a real conversation to begin. (Obviously, this only worked because I knew both parties enough to suspect that there was at least some amount of misunderstanding at work.) Written comments in a public forum are a really terrible way to have an emotionally charged discussion!

    I don't know what the result will be now that Kathy and Chris are in direct communication, but I do hope that it will lead to more understanding than a public exchange of accusations. In particular, I'm hopeful that Chris will be able to persuade the person who did create the gruesome image on the unclebobism site to come forward (something that's far more likely to happen in a private conversation than a public confession) so that he can reassure Kathy that no physical threat was actually intended. (Chris clearly knows this person, since when we spoke he at first assumed that Kathy did too.)

    It now seems fairly certain that that the images posted on meankids and unclebobism were not intended as actual threats -- but as long as the perpetrator remains anonymous, there is no way to be sure. In particular, as the person who is now seen as the most likely perpetrator insists, after the fact, that his computer must have been hacked, Kathy is left with the fear that there is indeed an unknown stalker at large.

  6. If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so.

    Bringing this back to the level of principle: if you know someone who has anonymously published comments that could be construed as a threat, you owe it to them, to their victim, and to yourself, not to remain silent. If there is no actual threat, you need to convince the perpetrator to apologize; if there is, you need to cooperate with the police to avert that threat.

    If you know someone who is publishing comments or blog postings that are merely offensive, but not threatening, don't be afraid to tell them so. And if they continue, don't continue to associated with them. As one person I talked to noted, "these are not your friends." A friend is someone who makes you better by your association with them, not worse. And if one of your friends is out of line, you owe it to them and to yourself to let them know it.

  7. Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person.

    The next time you're tempted to vent your anger or frustration online, imagine you're talking to your mother. Or if you have no respect for your mother, imagine you're talking to a big, mean dude that you met on the street. Or simply imagine the person you're speaking to as a real person, standing in front of you. Would you say what you're saying to them if you were in the same room?

Net net: as Doc Searls famously said in The Cluetrain Manifesto, the book he co-authored with Chris Locke and David Weinberger, "markets are conversations." We celebrate the blogosphere because it embraces frank and open conversation in ways that were long missing from mainstream media and marketing-dominated corporate websites. But frankness does not have to mean lack of civility. There's no reason why we should tolerate conversations online that we wouldn't tolerate in our living room.

A culture is a set of shared agreements that allows us to live together. Let's make sure that the culture we create with our blogs is one that we are proud of.


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Sat

03.31.07

Blogger's code of conduct suggested after death threats

Death threats against a tech blogger cause Tim O'Reilly and friends to suggest that we are responsible for not only our content, but the content of our comment threads as well.

 

Sun

04.01.07

Jeneane Sessum rocks - Why Journalism Matters

We become part of the stories we discuss on our blogs. We mold, change, and affect the public's perception of...

 

Sun

04.08.07

Blogging Guidelines Could Help Protect Free Speech

The New York Times’ Brad Stone has this thoughtful piece about the blogging guidelines that have been floated in the wake of Kathy Sierra’s widely publicized decision to back out of a speaking engagement due to threatening blog comments and...

 

Comments: 92

adamsj   [03.31.07 11:21 AM]

Tim,

Just a few comments on what I think is essentially a right-headed piece:

(It would be nice to have mechanisms in blogging platforms to show markers for deleted comments, with the reason shown.)

I encourage you to follow the policy that Teresa Nielsen-Hayden follows on Making Light: Disemvowelment.

The discussion there is often heated, yet generally remains within the bounds of civility. Disemvowelment leaves a marker of the comment, one which can usually be puzzled out by someone sufficiently motivated to rd smthng lk ths. It also tends to publicly shame the rude commentator, yet is playful enough to soften the shame. The very word "disemvowelment" itself conflates the seriousness of the offense with the ridiculousness of the offense.

You'll notice in that article above that there are Movable Type plug-ins for disemvowelment. There are also Wordpress methods, and I believe (though it's not on the page) a Javascript implementation.

Chris' comment echoes the libertarian ethos that many bloggers and internet pioneers share.

For all their knowledge of economics, libertarians often seem strikingly unaware of the concept of externalities. (I'm not saying that about Chris Locke specifically, by the way, but as a general observation.)

Frat parties might encourage drunken lewdness, but a party at a tech conference would not.

I think we might've been to different parties. ;-)

More seriously, I think simple lewdness is of an entirely different category than threat and violence.

But in most contexts, accountability via identity changes how people behave.

The level of discourse in O'Reilly weblogs gained considerably when logons were linked to people's O'Reilly accounts. I urge you to do the same for Radar. (I'm puzzled as to why you didn't do this from the start.)

Deploying moderation mechanisms like slashdot's might also help. I know that there are lots of nasty comments posted on slashdot, but I never see them, because they are below my threshold of visibility. I'd love to see the major blogging platforms offer comment rating systems that would allow automatic moderating down of nasty comments. (Of course, many blogs don't have enough comment volume for this to work, but there are enough sites with large commenter communities where this could be a big help.)

Again, Making Light offers a fine example of how this can be done via community without much technical intervention.

Know when to walk away from a thread. A sure way for an argument to escalate is to try always to have the last word.

On the other hand, the last comment is often taken as the last (in the sense of definitive rather than final) word on a subject. This is a difficult balance to strike, and walking away is sometimes the right thing, but other times it's not.

Finally, I urge you to look into organized self-regulation in United States journalism from the late seventies and early eighties. We went over it in Mass Communications class years ago, and I remember just enough to say it's worth checking out.

Danny Sullivan   [03.31.07 11:57 AM]

Watching all this -- and calls for a "code of conduct" -- I have to confess to some eye rolling. That's because part of me was feeling this isn't about how bloggers should behave. It's just about how people should behave to each other. Yes, don't say (or act) online in a way you wouldn't do in person. I wrote about this recently, http://daggle.com/061220-215331.html, and I'm far from the first or the only one. Blogger, commenter, journalist, posting on a forum, sending email, whatever. Act like decent human and as if the person you are talking to or about was as you say, in front of you.

But to be honest, Tim, some of the other things you write do make sense from a blogging context. Enough with anonymous comments. Yes, email can be faked. But it's a start to making people take more responsibility to have them register before commenting. Sure, it makes it harder to comment. That's fine. It means you care more, and you are less likely to be abusive (since if you abuse your registered account, it gets killed, and you start again).

Be responsible for comments? Sure -- with the caveat that it's worrisome in part to say this. Comments have so far been shown to have some protection as a public forum. If we start editing comments, so we start taking on a more legal responsibility for them? Regardless, if I have a comment I consider abusive, not helpful or whatever, yeah -- I'm going to yank it. Anyone should feel empowered to do so.


paul   [03.31.07 12:06 PM]

Newspapers have lied us into wars, how many innocent people have died in Iraq since Kathy published her paranoia?

adamsj sees an ad hominem masquerading as a non sequitur   [03.31.07 12:10 PM]

Or vice-versa.

Anyway, that's how posters at Making Light call attention to comment spam, and to abusive comments.

Vanderleun   [03.31.07 12:47 PM]

Tim,
As another long time veteran of the Well, I have to say that I admire your clarion call for a "Code of Conduct." But when you go out to get one, be sure to pack a lunch and take along plenty of drinking water. You'll be en route for a long, long time on the way to the magic land of "Ain't Gonna Happen."

Still, it is a nice ideal.

steve   [03.31.07 01:01 PM]

Reminds me of Gandhi's reaction to western civilisation: "would be a good idea".

I found the response more interesting than the cause. Lynch mobs doing the same thing as the perpetruator, only they felt justified as it was in a good cause.

It is surprising how controversial and offensive it can be to insist on examining the evidence rather than indulging in emotive responses.

So I am just as wary of those who behave well as I am of those who are overtly offensive. The Stanford Prison experiment illustrates that point very well.

I don't want politeness enforced by design. I want people to behave as they are. If someone is polite, I want to know it is because they feel that way.

On the other hand, I do acknowledge the broken window nature of the problem, so I need to think some more. And a lot of other people do too. Even if they weren't involved.

PS. You mentioned that you would have a bias. I feel this showed in the way you didn't point out that Kathy Sierra's going public and naming people at that point was not the right thing to do.

Karl   [03.31.07 01:17 PM]

I like the idea of an optional code of conduct, but Danny Sullivan brings up an important point.



Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.



That implies a legal responsibility.



According to the EFF, Section 230 protects bloggers from such legal responsibilities - for good reason.



Lets say, as a hobbiest blogger, some content - just like the vile stuff that was posted against Kathy Sierra - was posted to numerous threads on my blog.



And I take a vacation.



I get back a week later. The damage is done. The content was further published, indexed, etc.



Now if I agree that I am legally responsible - the sanest course of action would be to shut down commenting on my personal blog *entirely*.



Lets take it a step further - I host a grassroots Philadelphia region blogging community. We already do our best to remove comments we think cross the line. We tell our community why when we do so. But sometimes - since the service is ran via a group of volunteers - we just can't keep up.



Would the sane course of action be to shut down the entire community? Because there is no way - just no way - to take full responsibility for everything posted to my service - without having thousands of dollars of budget or a hell of a lot more free time.



This particular part of the code needs to be something akin to the Boy Scout Oath - "I will do my best..." - because to accept full responsibility will mean that those of us without resources will have to shut down the conversations that take place on our pages to avoid liability.



And that will create a stratified web where only those with money and time will be able to provide places to converse - places to connect - places to grow.



I'm pretty sure that's not what you want - or any of us do.

adamsj   [03.31.07 01:35 PM]

karl,

If you take a vacation, you can put all comments into the moderation queue until you return. That's not ideal, but then, neither is having garbage in your comments.

Glenn Fleishman   [03.31.07 01:39 PM]

A sort of related problem that's not commented on here or elsewhere. When the LA Times ill-considered wikitorial project failed, and when newspapers turn off comments because the "community" has become out of control, the assumption is that people with ties to the community are responsible.

But there are a lot of amoral and actually crazy people who have access to the Internet, and they say and do crazy and amoral things. I had a member of a list on a design program that I moderated threaten me via email (from his company's email system, even better) because I wouldn't forward an off-topic post. I called his home and his place of employment, and he didn't apologize, but got freaked out that I knew how to reach him -- and that was all I heard about him.

These days, however, we could have people in Australia threatening people in Colorado (or Kuala Lumpor).

It's not that I think Kathy Sierra's antagonists don't know of her, but it's highly possible that as in other cases the people engaged in anti-social and illegal activities aren't really part of a community that's engaged.

Those people never abide by rules, which is why, Tim, your rules make a fair amount of sense. If you don't allow people tangential or not willing to engage participate in a discussion (or, rather, don't let their extreme thoughts present themselves or persist) then you're cutting off a rich source of bad behavior.

Karl   [03.31.07 02:23 PM]

Sorry adamsj, but for an average joe, that kind of solution just doesn't cut the mustard.

Getting folks over the fear of blogging in the first place is difficult enough, warning them that they must be fully responsible not only for themselves - but for the comments others post on their blogs as well will shut down opportunities for discussion that will otherwise not be there.

Take it a bit further adamsj and you might as well say that Wordpress.com should be held responsible for any blogs it hosts. That any ISP should be held liable for any comment it helps transmit.

It's a question of where the buck stops. Do we want a Big Brother state? Or do we want an environment that expects us to take personal responsibility for our *own* personal actions?

I do think we bare some form of moral responsibility for the conversations we participate in and encourage - but the moment we codify that into a legal responsibility..... that's the moment the Web... well it's no longer the Web.

Maybe suggesting a legal responsibility is not your suggestion Tim. And if that's the case, maybe a different wording would help.

Rose DesRochers   [03.31.07 02:25 PM]

Tim, for a year now I have been the victim of harassment. Mind you I have not come close to being the victim of the kind of harassment Kathy has went through, but if you Google my name there are some harsh things said about me. One part of this post I need to take into consideration is
"Ignore the trolls. Sometimes you need to stand up to bullies, but at other times, the best thing to do is to ignore them. As one person advised me long ago when I got in a public tussle with a blog bully, "Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it."

I agree that there should be a code of conduct.

Mike Smock   [03.31.07 03:01 PM]

Markets are conversations like Normandy Beach was a vacation spot on D-Day.

Curious   [03.31.07 03:09 PM]

The problem is you are not supposed to have you ID on the blog, which would mean no one will have to know you in the first place to be mean or whatever to you. What you're trying to do is convert blogs into a mainstream things where people will have to go out of their way to be nice to each other. That might not cut it in the blog scene, and if that's what you want, become a columnist where you'll have an audience you can interact with, and that as you know it turns off ordinary Joes who just want to be themselves, and when something tells them to be mean they'll be mean without feeling some cry sis will start whining. This only happens when you've your ID there for everyone to see it, and blogs are meant to be anonymous affairs where individuals get very creative, and you respect them for that, not for someone trying to make themselves popular, by divulging who they are. That's mainstream and to play that kind of game on blogs you've to know how to turn a blind eye, and if you are a moderator delete what you don't like because they are doing it everywhere, and don't take everything personally if possible.

Aaron   [03.31.07 03:53 PM]

I don't get this. For Kathy's case how would rules of conduct matter? People would still post nasty comments, at some point you have to approve/deny them even if they are not anonymous(ie you have to read each one to approve or deny the comment). Your only solution as a blogger is to turn comments off. For the general public people that want that kind of bile will find sites that provide it, onces that don't will leave and never look back. All you could ever do is brush the root issue under the proverbial carpet. People can be evil and disgusting. There really is nothing we can do about it.( at least not in this country)

adamsj   [03.31.07 04:53 PM]

karl,

I thought your first post made a good point about the current "safe harbor" for unedited forums, but I did want to point out that the first example you gave had a cost-free solution.

You lose me in your second post, though.

I don't speak for Tim, but I'm pretty sure he's not suggesting a legally binding code of conduct. I wouldn't support such a thing myself, and might not support exactly what he might support in a voluntary code of conduct. In particular, if Tim wants to make lewdness in and of itself an issue, then he and I disagree. (In general, that is--if he wants Radar unlewd, more power to him.)

A voluntary code of conduct, though, is just that--voluntary. If someone feels strongly enough that his or her speech is unreasonably limited by such a code, then they're free to violate it.

What I'm interested in is seeing speech that treads sufficiently close to violence discouraged. I think Tim wants to go a bit further, and I'm not necessarily against that.

(I am someone who has used a fair amount of such rhetoric in his day and would use it again if circumstances required, but no longer feels those circumstances arise on a daily basis.)


Mike Smock,

The agora is to market fundamentalism what gaia is to green fundamentalism.


Aaron,

The point is to establish norms. You're right to say people will still violate them. Given that eliminating nastiness isn't possible, reducing it without damaging free speech is still worthwhile.

When you say, "People can be evil and disgusting," again, you're right. Establishing norms is giving people one more weapon with which to resist that aspect of human nature.

Joe Clark   [03.31.07 05:10 PM]

Most of this alleged “problem" would be remedied by turning off comments. Comments are strictly optional for blogs.

Ron G   [03.31.07 05:22 PM]

Hi Tim: judging by your image, I'm guessing you and I are in the Baby Boomer tail: We're grown up, with a lot of mileage, and we've seen a lot of what this planet has to offer.

Your thoughtful reasoned approach completely misses the fact that trolls, stalkers, brats, and just plain rude folks might be mentally insane or psychopathic. Reason won't touch them because they are incapable of understanding deep humanity.

The internet is wide-open and ten percent of your audience are certifiable (check Robert D. Hare for details). If you aren't going to impose restraint you allow whack-jobs to unload in public.

So you, me, our peers, our equals -- and age has nothing to do with this -- we all have to establish some rules to allow society to function without devolving into a jungle.

Teresa Boardman   [03.31.07 05:32 PM]

There has been some pretty nasty stuff directed at me both, publicly, privately, and anonymously because of my blogs. I have been slandered in comments all over the internet. I have recieved email that is nasty and I have banned one bloggers I.P address so that he can not leave comments. My blog is G rated and I protect it. No death threats but there are some sick and twisted people out there. no one can leave a comment on my blog without leaving an email addres which is easy enough to make up.
We have many laws and codes of conduct yet people still committ crimes, the interent just provides a new vehicle for stalking and harrassing.

Ed Borasky   [03.31.07 05:51 PM]

Tim, it's not just about blogging, accountability, anonymity or cyber-bullying any more. What I'm hearing is that the Internet and the geek culture are so hostile to women that Laura Lemay wrote:

http://blog.lauralemay.com/archives/2007/03/kathy_sierra_or_imminent_death.html



'Honestly until this week I thought this sort of constant harassment was so common and so obvious it wasn't even worth mentioning. It had gone on for so long and I had gotten so used to it that it hadn't occurred to me that this is anything other than what it means to be female on the internet. I told Eric about it and he asked me, aghast, why I had never mentioned that I get death threats. We've known each other for fifteen years. It just never came up. The shocked reactions internet-wide to Kathy's post have made me realize that hm. maybe this isn't normal. And maybe it shouldn't be.'

That's what my outrage is all about. It's not about codes of conduct, but what seems to have happened to the industry in which I have earned a living for almost fifty years.

Tara Hunt   [03.31.07 06:17 PM]

Interestingly enough, it was 'ignoring the trolls' (or shutting down that conversation) on my blog that incited the meankids.org. When I was trying to please everyone and defend myself, it just kept escalating.

After 2 posts over at meankids, which I ignored for a couple of days, I decided to comment...something to the tune of:

"This is a pretty big honor for me to have an anti-Tara blog erected, where you've obviously spent a great deal of time photoshopping photos of me."

They replied, "Just wait for the next round."

So, I replied, "Excellent, I can't wait." and made a reference to enjoying the attention.

To which they replied in a third post:

"Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it." (same quote you used, but worked it into the Horse Pig Cow thing)

And ceased to bother me at all. In fact, a couple of them actually posted it on their own blogs that they were bored with taunting me and needed juicier victims (ostensibly someone who would become upset from such attacks).

It wasn't so much that I wanted to have the last word in this one, it was that I understood the psyche of someone wanting attention and played on it. So, yes, ignore the trolls, but it's all about snuffing out their own "glory". As a woman who has never shied from the public light, I've had them all of my life. But as a person who is always craving a little attention myself (ask my mom, I was a total princess), I've been able to defiantly out-"perform" them when I need to.

I hear the commenters above when they say that a code of conduct is fruitless, but I still have faith. I, personally, like all of your suggestions and plan to print this out and keep it on my wall beside my computer, reminding myself.

Personally, I'm ashamed of myself for talking to a reporter and not thinking about what I said about Chris Locke. I am trying to build the courage to email him an apology for it. It was uncalled for and said in a moment of anger.

Roger Tessier   [03.31.07 06:22 PM]

Just a nit. What you wrote here

Before I start, I should disclose that in addition to being an author and a conference presenter for O'Reilly, Kathy Sierra is a friend, ...

states that Kathy Sierra is "an author and a cinference presenter for O'Reilly", which is not, I think, what you meant to say. You should phrase your statements more carefully. And so should we all.

Gail Ann Williams   [03.31.07 06:49 PM]

Nice statement. Thanks.

The references to The WELL here and elsewhere are making my head spin, tho. Only partly because I manage The WELL! Partly because I have seen thousands of heated posts inside The WELL debating the meaning of YOYOW over years and years, as user and as a manger, and now Chris has yet another spin on it all, and we're all bouncing off of that.

Being responsible for what you post on The WELL goes with being non-anonymous there. We also refuse service to people now and then. Certainly we don't condone illegal threats. Conference hosts have the power to delete (but not edit) the words of others.

In the original YOYOW, as expressed by Stewart Brand 22 years ago, "own" was more about owning up to and being defined by your words, and that works in a non-anon environment. There are -- and I still believe there must be, somehow -- places for anon speech, but it is harder to collectively self-correct when there's not continuity of identity. Much harder. So that to me is the heart of our larger dilemma on the net.

I wanted to say this now because April 1 is the ironic birthday of The WELL, and all this very odd reference to the site we love is kind of disturbing. Thanks.

Motmaitre   [03.31.07 07:53 PM]

Forgive me for being blunt, but I think you're talking utter nonsense.

First, this is an overreaction to an overreaction to an overreaction. If Kathy Sierra is the type of pussilanimous woman who cringes every time a car backfires in the street, or sees a serial killer under every bush simply because someone with impulse control issues made explicit threats, she should go to therapy. People have faced far worse.

As for your underhand stratagem to censor the internet, ponder this: some people like the idea of untramelled discourse. Some even think allowing the worst hate speech outlets to vent is cathartic and healthy. Allow a Nazi skinhead to rant, and he just might not kill someone.

Some think anonymity is good. We all have thoughts we don't express due to social convention. I probably wouldn't be this blunt if I was sitting across a table from you. The sad thing would be that in that instance, you'd never know what I really think. By setting inner thoughts free (and even encouraging anonymity), the internet is richer for it.

The reason blogs have comment forms is because some people actually want to know what others really think. Is';t this suposed to be why web 2.0 is superior to the monologous web of the past? If you want a dialogue, be prepared to hear things you don't like. Otherwise, be like those cowardly writers who have no comment forms.

Lastly, not everyone has such a thin skin. Some do revel in the blood, gore, cut and thrust of no-holds-barred verbal combat. Those who can't take the heat should get out of the blogoshphere.

Code of conduct indeed. Next we'll be calling for UN regulation of the Internet.

Will you let this comment stand, or in your thin-skinned censor-friendly state of mind, will you delete it and silence those voices you don't want to hear?

Joey   [03.31.07 08:12 PM]

What about when bloggers get a story entirely wrong and simply echo it around for eternity without bothering to do any research at all? Should that not also be part of any Blogging Ethics?

I'm also not entirely sure Tara's comments are accurate. She, like me, doesn't have clean hands in this discussion she we're both part of it.


Best,

Joey

Michael Moncur   [03.31.07 09:09 PM]

I assume Tim is smart enough not to be suggesting a "rule" when he says there should be a code of conduct. There obviously isn't any one organization of bloggers - and it's a conceit to even suggest such a thing - so there are no rules, really.

And he obviously isn't suggesting a law either.

I agree - there should be a code of conduct. There should be several, and I should be able to choose the appropriate one (if I want to) and disclose it on my site. I'm not sure Tim's proposed code would be the right one for me, but that doesn't mean I want anarchy.

The real take-away message here for me is that YOU should have a code of conduct for YOUR blog. Whether it's a cute icon referencing a standard code, or just a paragraph on your About page, you should decide what your code is, then tell your readers, and do whatever enforcement is necessary.

I couldn't handle a "you own everyone's words" code myself - sometimes a blog or forum is too large for the owner to keep up with it. But I can handle having an open line of communication for people to let me know when somebody's crossed the line, and promptly taking action when they happen.

Forum moderators have been dealing with this stuff for a long time. I don't consider hate "free speech" on my forums, and the readers know the guidelines, so it's rare that anyone cries Censorship when we remove a post.

So...

1. Choose a code of conduct.

2. Take whatever enforcement actions it requires.

3. Be reachable so that people can let you know when someone has broken the code, or when the code needs to be changed to maintain civility and community.

Chris Naaden   [03.31.07 09:36 PM]

Before everyone in the discussion get too opinionated, let's remember what Kathy Sierra was supposed to do.

She was supposed to give a presentation at eTech in San Diego. If you've never heard Kathy, pick up her podcast from SXSW, and/or the transcription at my blog, nobletranscription.wordpress.com.

Listen or read for some context.

Quinn Norton   [03.31.07 09:46 PM]

"7. Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person."

My usual advice here is a bit stronger. I tell people when you're writing online, always write to the embassy. Be polite, charming, magnanimous, careful and persuasive. Spell check. Write like you're trying to convince the ambassador to get you out of a Turkish prison. Because someday, you might be, and in the age of Google and the Wayback machine, every post could be a letter to the ambassador.

Rick Calvert   [03.31.07 10:56 PM]

While I am personally opposed to a rating system particularly any sort of mandated rating system, I don't see any problem with people voluntarily rating their blogs. Something like the movie ratings and now video game and music ratings could be useful for the more sensitive among us.

Don�t expect it to be universally adopted unless mandated by law. When that happens we all lose.

I don�t know any of the players involved but have read the comments that Ms. Sierra has made public on her blog (the offending blogs have been completely deleted). What she has posted is very tame compared to the everyday conversation in the political blogosphere.

Take Tony Snow�s announcement of his Cancer returning. Literally hundreds if not thousands of his detractors and political adversaries cheered what they hope is his impending death.

Popular progressive blogger Glenn Greenwald has had several very unflattering photo shopped images of him posted far and wide on the net mocking everything from his political positions to his sexual orientation.

Want to see a real credible death threat?

A well known scandal in the political blogosphere involved real life Ex CIA Agent Larry Johnson anonymously (until he was caught) threatening a mid level political blogger Seixon with physical violence.

Mr. Johnson has the know-how and means to really hurt someone. In the end the police did nothing.

Please google any of the above examples.

The comments leveled at Ms. Sierra pale in comparison (unless there are things I am unaware of).

The moment you decide to blog, podcast, or publicly publish any content you make yourself a public figure. People will respond to what you have created. The more people are exposed to it the more response you are going to receive good bad and ugly.

Anyone who publishes anything ever without knowing this is naive.

You may wish the world was different but it is not, never has been and never will be.

Thorne   [03.31.07 11:20 PM]

Greetings. I'm not directly an part of any of this KS issue; just came upon it at BlogHer, and have been following from link to link to try to get a general idea of the whole story (being the "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me" type).
As I commented on another thread:


There are alot of valid points made in the original post here, as well as by many of the commenters. I myself, have had strong and varying feelings and thoughts on this topic since first catching wind of it.

Here are just a few:

"OMG!! That's taking it too far. This is NOT satire. Noone should be threatened this way."

"KS is so overreacting"

"How irresponsible to link to a hate site"

"Wait, was it a hate site or a juvenile satire site"

"What about free speech?"

"How can people be so hateful toward each other"?

"Who is crying wolf now"?

I could go on, but I suppose what I'm trying in my fumbling way to express is that I am constantly surprised by my own naivetee. I'm repeatedly getting caught up in "Spin". It's difficult to keep the facts straight, especially when we don't really know what the facts are.

If there was a death threat made it should be appropriately investigated and adjudicated.

If it's a matter of character assassination it's Civil. (whether against or by KS or both)

Intimidation is a tool of the ignorant, and Trolling and Baiting and Flaming have practically become an Internet institution unto themselves.

I have a delete key and am willing to use it.

That said, I really think that the bloggers and site owners that would abide by your "Code of Conduct", probably already are, for the most part and as they see fit. Although you have made some valuable suggestions, in it's entirety your "Code" is flawed in some of the ways already mentioned, and perhaps in ways as yet unforeseen. As a blogger and a citizen of this so-called "free" country, we are already plagued by legal provisions in the Patriot Act and elsewhere that impinge seriously on our right to express ourselves freely, and guilt by association is again (as in the days of McCarthy, Hitler, and countless others) is a tool of the powers that be.

Will and should we as bloggers attempt to implement a "Code" that amounts to censorship? Or shall we continue to each operate our blogs in the way that meets our own comfort level? KS is not some 13 year old that has been lured to a remote site by a sexual predator, and she herself, has fallen short of your proposed "Code".

By your "Code" should I be ostracised for posting this, I Repudiate Fear

publicly, in my personal life journal after having doors in my house kicked in, my grandmother and daughter terrified, and my life directly threatened face to face?

Let's think, people.

Roy Schestowitz   [04.01.07 05:14 AM]

On the rule of anonymity, it's probably futile and undesirable. People can easily fake identity and some valid comments get posted without disclosure. Unless there's some digital signature (maybe OpenID), it's unrealistic, IMHO.

Shanti Braford   [04.01.07 05:43 AM]

Mod +1: Tara Hunt's comment.


Those of us who have never really been attacked or threatened cannot meaningfully comment on the issue, imho.

It's like men who try to have really strong opinions on abortion: they just do not come out looking so hot (regardless of the side) no matter how you slice it.

adamsj   [04.01.07 06:00 AM]

motmaitre,

Two points, possibly connected:

First, "word master" is better translated as "maitre de mot".

Second, what you are accusing Kathy Sierra of is being "pusillanimous"--only one s. You have two.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to consider whether your command of etymology and lexicography might suggest something about the basis of your argument.

Richard Drake   [04.01.07 06:51 AM]

A useful conversation, thanks to Tim and others. Earlier I made a suggestion on Scobleizer as to what a voluntary code of conduct should be called:

"Zero Tolerance Internet"

That was inspired by an earlier suggestion and graphic on Scoble's blog.

http://brandcurve.com/zero-violence-blog

It's meant to have shock value - and of course to allude strongly to the clean up that has worked (as far as I can tell) in places like New York. But, as is being discussed here, it's the content of the code that is key. Disemvowelling is a lovely weapon to add to the armory, in my view. But who decides what's part of the code and how? There are some initial suggestions on that which I won't repeat here:

http://scobleizer.com/2007/03/26/taking-the-week-off/#comment-316731

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 09:17 AM]

Hmmm -- we really need to install provision for nested comments. It's hard being away for a day and then coming back at the end of a long thread. But let me try.

Steve, you write: "PS. You mentioned that you would have a bias. I feel this showed in the way you didn't point out that Kathy Sierra's going public and naming people at that point was not the right thing to do."

But I did. One of the principles I suggested was to go backchannel before making public accusations. And I pointed out that Kathy had failed to talk to Chris and had tarred people by association in her post.

In her defense, Kathy was scared, and was hoping to get some collective action focused on the issue. But the reason I reached out to Chris and got him talking to Kathy was because I felt she'd erred in not doing so herself, and that this could be a way to shed more light on the situation, and less heat.

That's also why I didn't "pile on" like lots of others when the flap first erupted. I wanted to make sure I really understood the situation first.

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 09:20 AM]

Danny, you say: "Comments have so far been shown to have some protection as a public forum. If we start editing comments, so we start taking on a more legal responsibility for them?"

This may be a real concern, but like you, I think we have to get over it, and take the responsibility to police our online space. I'm sure that everyone deletes spam comments without a thought.

I'm also not sure that this is analogous to other common carrier cases, but I'm not a lawyer, so I won't opine further on the subject.

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 09:25 AM]

Karl, I don't know what words in "Code of Conduct" suggest legal responsibility. I'm suggesting blog labeling, and a move away from a libertarian ethos that suggests that it's *wrong* or equivalent to censorship, to delete inappropriate comments. I'm suggesting that blogs that encourage or tolerate nastiness let people know that they do so, and that those that enforce civility do likewise.

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 09:32 AM]

Aaron -- here's how rules of conduct would have mattered in Kathy's case. If meankids and unclebobism followed this rule, they would likely have nipped the increasingly sexual and violent comments in the bud before they reached the level that they did.

Of course, if they wanted to encourage those kind of comments, they can't then say "we're not responsible."

As Kurt Vonnegut famously said, "You are what you pretend to be. So you'd better watch what you pretend." (Mother Night.)

The point is that if people acknowledge responsibility for the tone they foster on their blog, then they either build a more civil community, or they don't. And if there is a general assumption that bloggers are responsible for the tone of their blog, then people are incented to moderate, and to encourage civil behavior.

As someone mentioned, it's the broken windows problem. If you don't look after your neighborhood, it gets worse, and eventually you have to move out. That's what happened to both meankids and unclebobisms.

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 09:34 AM]

Joe -- I don't agree that comments are optional for blogs. A blog without comments loses a great deal of its value. We blog to learn. We blog to meet new minds and to engage with them. A blog without comments is a publication, not a blog.

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 09:42 AM]

Ed, I agree that a huge amount of what we're talking about isn't civility, really, but sexism and racism, as those are at the heart of many of the most egregious violations. Laura Lemay's comments were eye-opening. And I've had similar conversations with many other prominent women. It's sad.

But there's a continuum, and the fact that many of us allow people to make inappropriate comments without action, encourages the slide.

People who are disturbed misbehave to test boundaries. If there are no boundaries, they misbehave further. Parents learn that about kids, and many of the problems come from kids whose parents never set boundaries for them (or children of parents with that same problem.)

I remember when I was a kid, my father thought nothing of collaring some other local kid who was out of line, and frogmarching them home to their parents. In those days, every parent took responsibility for every child, at least in the circles I traveled in. We've lost that sense of community ownership of standards.

There are two views of morality: one is that it is innate, and the other is that it is a process of social formation. I think there are elements of both. We are our own work of art, with raw materials, the gift of inspiration, and hard work producing either a mediocrity or a masterpiece.

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 09:51 AM]

Tara --

A couple of points. Going back and reading the discussion on horsepigcow that led to the meankids thing, I have to say that it doesn't look to me that it started at all as a troll. Chris looks to me like he really was a bit outraged to see Henry Ford held up as a hero, when he was a Nazi sympathizer. When you seemed to miss that point, and dismissed him as merely trolling, then things went back and forth, and after a while it seemed that people were enjoying the muddle and piling on for the fun of it.

As to your response to meankids -- you're right. sometimes taking it all in stride takes all the fun out of it for mean kids. That can be a great strategy.

As can calling them on it. Marty Graham, a woman reporter for Wired News with whom I talked about this issue, told a great story. One time, she had an anonymous email that said, "I'm going to cut your head off and stuff sh*t down your neck." She said, I was a private detective before I was a reporter, so it wasn't hard for me to track down the person involved. I called him up on his home phone and said, "Hi, this is Marty Graham. I understand you want to cut my head off and ... Want to talk about it?" The guy apparently started blubbering that he didn't mean it.

When people can't hide behind anonymity, many of the outrageous statements that are made do in fact evaporate, because people are ashamed to have people know that they are the ones behind the statement.

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 09:53 AM]

Gail, it's great to have you clarify what the Well policy actually is. Thanks! It's nice when someone invokes the ancestors, to have someone else come along and say, "not exactly..."

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 09:56 AM]

Motmaitre -- of course I'll let that comment stand. You don't seem to understand what I'm calling for: responsibility, not censorship; dialogue, not name-calling. You don't agree with me, fine. You didn't call anyone nasty names or say anything inappropriate, so why would I want to delete your comment, based on what I said in this post or what you said in your comment?

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 10:03 AM]

Joey -- You're absolutely right that bloggers have a responsibility to get their facts right. That's why I thought that many people's rush to pile on after Kathy's post was inappropriate. (It was fabulous for people to tell their own stories, but sometimes, people were making judgment of others without knowing the facts.)

That being said, people will always disagree about the facts, and your responsibility is only to tell the truth as you see it, and to listen to others doing the same. You don't need to tell their story for them.

I'll also point out that one of the big distinctions between bloggers and professional journalists is fact checking. This came up for me recently when I first heard rumors of the layoff meeting at the Chronicle. When I asked if it was OK to blog, the reporter who'd leaked the news to me said, "I'd feel more comfortable if you had a second source," which led me to contact Phil Bronstein, the Chronicle editor in chief, directly.

This is a really good point to bring out. I think I'll make a second, separate post on this subject.

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 10:08 AM]

Shanti, you say "Those of us who have never really been attacked or threatened cannot meaningfully comment on the issue, imho."

If you take that attitude, most of us couldn't comment on any issue, let alone take a stand against evil in the world that doesn't touch us directly.

Edmund Burke said it over 200 years ago: "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men [and women] to do nothing."

But never mind evil: we can never truly know what anyone else's experience is. That's why we communicate, trying by speech and imaginative reconstruction to inhabit the world of another. It's the most profoundly human thing we can do.

Elaine Vigneault   [04.01.07 10:22 AM]

Three ideas:

1. I agree with Ed Borasky above. It's not about civility, it's about a culture of hate, a culture that attacks women on a regular basis for fun and entertainment.

2. Tim's calling for the blogging equivalent of the film industry's rating system. I don't think that's enough. The real issue is violence, death threats, assault. There is a difference between assault and speech. In the US we've defined that in specific legal ways and anyone operating a web community based in the US should become well versed in those distinctions. A code of conduct won't change that.

3. I've disabled comments on my personal blog ( http://www.elainevigneault.com/ ) because I am NOT developing a community. But I encourage comments on my community blog ( http://www.2kblogges.com/ ). A blog is just a web publishing platform and it takes whatever shape the blog owner desires.

Tim, you say, "A blog without comments is a publication" OK, so? That's why I'm calling for a web publishers code of conduct rather than a blogger's code. Bloggers in general tend to be more civil, more responsible, less anonymous than the average Internet user. Remember, the death threats came from blog readers, not bloggers. Those readers will likely make those comments elsewhere on the web, not just on blogs.

It's ridiculous to limit this conversation about misogyny, death threats, assault, free speech and so forth to the blogosphere when it clearly involves the entire web.

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 10:35 AM]

Elaine, you're totally right that this isn't just about blogging. It's about comment moderation on any site that allows comments. A number of folks have pointed me to the completely inappropriate comments on the Washington Post's coverage of Tony Snow's cancer. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/25/AR2007032501218_pf.html

I think they too would be well served by deleting this kind of commentary, and not giving a voice to the nasties. Setting norms for taste and appropriateness is not the same as censorship.

And yes, my comment that "a blog without comments is a publication" might have been too strong -- there are other elements about blogs: their personal tone, their time-sequenced posting, etc. that makes them unique.

And you're completely right that all web publications, not just blogs, should be thinking about this issue.

I'm not saying that we can't have sites that are devoted to nastiness either, just that they should be clearly labeled. You expect dirty jokes and stories about sex in Penthouse; you don't expect them in Vogue or Time. What many online sites have done by failing to moderate their comments has been to damage the clarity of their brand.

Doug Skoglund   [04.01.07 11:11 AM]

Subject: Terrorism...

It would be very helpful if you would all wake up and realize that what happened to Kathy Sierra was another example of terrorism, unacceptable behavior on the part of an angry individual. While the blogosphere may have contributed, the problem is obviously much larger and will not be cured by any kind of conduct code.

We all know the cause of this sort of thing -- just go back to your days in grade school and think about some of the "king-of-the-hill" kind of games that were played and how it felt to be at the bottom of the hill, unable to make it to the top. These kind of games create frustrated, angry people -- some of which might very well get violent.

The blogosphere creates angry people because it is exclusionary, it is designed to control or exclude the reader by controlling the process of communication. The ranking system (A-List) determines the actual participation, not the total number of bloggers. Techmeme is the grown up "king-of-the-hill" game.

You want to fight terrorism -- start working to include readers -- develop an inclusive system that rewards new contributions -- switch to forums -- off-line forums: http://nationalcomputerassociation.com.

Karl   [04.01.07 11:40 AM]

Got it Tim. That makes more sense to me.

Elaine, "It's ridiculous to limit this conversation about misogyny, death threats, assault, free speech and so forth to the blogosphere when it clearly involves the entire web."

Absolutely. Ya know, a lot of this reminds me of an old Clay Shirky piece "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy".

Rick Calvert   [04.01.07 12:30 PM]

Tim,

Every blogger should take your advice about approaching a flamer / troll via back channel. I try to respond to every first time commenter on my blog via email particularly those who disagree and always those who insult me. My tone is always civil and I always thank them for taking the time to comment.

The most abusive usually respond with gratitude, often times surprised and tend to become valuable contributors to some real constructive debates.

Very rarely do they respond with more hatred and insults. Almost always no matter the disagreement a level of respect is established.

As for the misogyny angle to this story, most trolls are intended to make the target angry or make other people laugh at the target's expense. Anything is fair game for the troll. Your weight, your looks, your age, your race, your citizenship, your race, your sex, your sexual preference, your job, your relatives, your politics, your intelligence, your education and of course the old standby the spelling correction (as already witnessed in this thread).

Maybe the tech industry is full of misogynists and racists /shrug. If the techy's say it's so then maybe it is.

adamsj   [04.01.07 01:43 PM]

Rick,

I will own up to being the person you refer to:

Anything is fair game for the troll...and of course the old standby the spelling correction (as already witnessed in this thread).

I was snarky in my reply to motmaitre. I considered not making it or making it differently.

What I was trying to get at was this: motmaitre chose a pseudonym containing a word, maitre/master, which is both male in gender and which has some sexual overtones. He (I assume he) also put an extra s in pusillanimous so that it started p-u-s-s-i. Whether he did so consciously or not, I read that in context to indicate at least a little misogyny.

I don't think Tim is saying that we should never be snarky or sarcastic (though I do think he would like for it to be toned down considerably), but that we should a) be more thoughtful in what we say and b) not cross certain lines. I agree with him whole-heartedly on a) and agree with him on b), with the caveat that I might draw different lines.

I may not have expressed myself as well as I could have, and for that I'm sorry.

I was looking for a way to say just what I found so objectionable in motmaitre's post. I don't believe I was trolling, and I don't think I went over the line--but I'll give it more thought.

Tara Hunt   [04.01.07 02:02 PM]

Hey Tim,

Yeah...thanks. I know. And I've totally changed the way I respond to comments since. I should have probably deleted the tiny reference I made to Ford from my post, which was insignificant, but very much undermined my point anyway (which I think is what Chris Locke was trying to say, but David W. said amazingly well later on). That whole fiasco actually changed the entire way I handle my comments section. Now, I have a personal policy of stepping back for a day or so and 'thinking' about what was said. I get defensive offline (usually telling Chris M. the story), then think about it, then return to respond once I understand the perspective of the commenter. That was me owning my own words, so to speak.

But the trolling did occur when, out of frustration that I wasn't listening, Chris sent an email to his muckruckers list calling for help. Then there was a swarm (and I probably deleted 20 comments that were purely taunting and mean and non-productive).

At Rick Calvert -

RE: Maybe the tech industry is full of misogynists and racists /shrug. If the techy's say it's so then maybe it is.

Maybe I wouldn't go as far as saying misogynists and racists, but check out the comments on this thread:

http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/02/27/ning-demo-video/#comments

Yikes. At first it's flattering, then it's downright condescending. Ning is one of the geekiest things out there and Gina is a super geek (she rocks). I highly doubt she wants to be objectified when proudly showing off her work.

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 03:18 PM]

Rick -- great idea about introducing yourself to new commenters via back channel email. (A bit hard to do with lots of new commenters.) Certainly worth trying for people who are on the snarky edge.

Adams, I thought of remarking that your comments to motmaitre seemed to be an ad-hominem attack rather than a response to the substance, but it wasn't really over a line I'd feel the need to draw, unless the personal name-calling escalated. That was partly because motmaitre seemed to be trolling a bit himself.

The point isn't to shut down every bit of snarkiness, but just to make sure it doesn't get out of hand.

adamsj   [04.01.07 03:53 PM]

Tim,

As you can see, I had ambivalence about it myself. Harping on spelling errors is often an ad hominem.

In this case, I thought there was a misogynistic tint, and I was looking for a way to call attention to it. I also didn't want to use what I think you'd consider inappropriate language, so I didn't want to explicitly spell out what I thought was so notable about the misspelling of pusillanimous. (Which I ended up doing anyway.) Possibly the explicit way would've been better.

That's been the subtext to a lot of this conversation,I think: Misogyny, not always expressed openly. The open expressions are easy to deal with, relatively speaking. The others aren't.

Bert Bates   [04.01.07 04:31 PM]

Regarding the backchannel.

Kathy tried using the backchannel. Ten days before her post, Kathy emailed Frank and Jeneane with her concerns about the "noose".

Richard Drake   [04.01.07 06:09 PM]

Adams, I for one appreciate the effort you've made to expose the sly misogyny that I now see was definitely there (though being in a hurry I didn't see it when I first read monmaitre) and that in the context of Kathy's suffering is a lot less than a joke

But look how much time it took you. Compared to the minimal amount it took the anonymous perp, who can morph right away into some other guise, for some other slyness.

It's that unevenness of effort required to 'be good' that increasingly bothers me, that convinces me that our idea of goodness itself needs to be questioned. Among other things, it makes me question the simplistic 'only delete the grossly offensive, not just because you disagree with the poster'. If you had been Tim (which you no doubt you both are gratefeul that you're not!), and you'd read this post the way you did, a quick delete would have been a perfectly acceptable option. In my book. All power to the owner, for the sake of clarity and focus. One of the aspects of web culture we just need to vaporise is this sense of affront if the owner vanishes our stuff. Just like mine here. Thanks, Tim!

Tara Hunt   [04.01.07 10:26 PM]

I have a comment that's been in moderation all day. I don't think I said anything 'troll-ish' in it. I did insert a link?

Tim O'Reilly   [04.01.07 10:56 PM]

Tara -- found it. Somehow MT decided it was junk. I don't usually review junked comments, as it's usually pretty good. It should be posted now.

Vindu Goel   [04.01.07 11:33 PM]

We won't rein in the increasingly harsh tone of so much commentary on the Web unless those of us who favor respectful dialogue take a stand against the trolls.

Tim is absolutely right to push for a voluntary blogger code of conduct. Many Web sites and blogs already have one, and if they don't, they should seriously consider adopting one.

The San Jose Mercury News feels so strongly about the need to fight back that we are publishing an editorial on it in Monday's paper. (For a sneak preview tonight, it's already up on my blog.)

One thing we've learned at the Merc is is that when the punks see that responsible adults are paying attention to their nasty comments on message boards and blogs, they tend to settle down. If that means deleting the worst comments or publicly chastising commenters who are out of line, so be it.

If we don't fight back against incivility, Web discussions will continue to deteroriate and we'll have more Kathy Sierra incidents.

Marie   [04.02.07 03:59 AM]

It feels that there is an increasing call on the internet for a code of conduct (optional of course) Not only do blog comments suffer from threating and unwanted behavior on occasion but there are also problems with 'fake' or 'biased' comments from PR firms and marketing departments.

There was an interesting post on Ryan Gibleys (http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/film/2007/03/how_prs_invaded_my_blog.html)Guardian film blog a while ago

There is definitely room for an opt in code of conduct, for example people would declare they would have to inform others when they have invested interest in say a film being reviewed, promise not to use threatening behavior, be truthful about their identity, and so on an so forth.

I do not presume that this was prevent the all bad on blogs but would give authority to those who adhere to the code, and if in violation may face online blacklisting.

I know that there would need to be heck of a lot of ground work put into something like this, but as i said there is room, does anything like this exist?

sandra   [04.02.07 07:45 AM]

Left field comment for you

I don't blog and am not a techie but moderate a smallish fan forum (9,000+ members)

I will also be printing out your suggested code of conduct and referring to it for guidelines when dealing with the more persistent of our 'difficult' members and staff.

The web is a wonderful place and the kids I moderate will be the techies of tomorrow
The fact that all this is up for public discussion is very heartening, and because of the nature of the web the bullies and trolls will be left behind as we develop a culture of meaningful discourse that has its own intrinsic code of conduct.
Within our new mass conciseness the reasonable voice will always be heard.
Generations of kids will grow up on this new web politic and will come to expect it in real life
I love the way the web changes the world

Tim O'Reilly   [04.02.07 10:57 AM]

For those of you who are following the new comments only, and not re-reading the article, I thought I'd post here a note that I also added at the front of the article:

[Note: Chris Locke argues in email that the meankids site was set up in fun, and while the first posts on the site were apparently about continuing the conversation that had been shut down on Tara's blog, he insists that those comments were not mean-spirited. (Tara confirmed that the second post on that blog was a photoshopped image showing her as Dr. Phil, which is hardly inflammatory.) Chris claims that "There was no cesspool of misogynistic attack rhetoric going on there until the stuff Kathy surfaced began to appear." At which point the site was shut down. As a result, he feels that the characterization of the meankids and unclebobisms sites as "set up for the purpose of celebrating cyberbullying" is "false and irresponsible." I have never seen the sites, and they have now been taken down, so I can neither confirm nor deny Chris' statement about the initial tone of the blogs. However, if what he says is true, then the term "cyber-bullying" may be a bit strong, at least when describing the aims of the sites. I understand Chris' concern to make clear that he and the other founders had no intention of creating sites that would encourage the kind of comments that ended up there.]

Rick Calvert   [04.02.07 11:30 AM]

Adamsj,

No need to apologize. I enjoy a bit of snark now and then. I also completely missed the point of your original post due to not speaking French and being a bit dimwitted myself =p.

Tara,

Thank you for providing the link and a great example of how a popular and influential site can become a boys club.

Would most of those commenters talk that way in front of their mothers, sisters and wives?

My guess is not. Some people have a hard time realizing when such comments are inappropriate.

Tim,

Thank you for the kind words and what has turned out to be a productive post, thread and now intervention.

Chris and Kathy have released a joint statement:

http://www.rageboy.com/statements-sierra-locke.html

Serge Lescouarnec   [04.02.07 07:14 PM]

Tim

I had the pleasure to meet Kathy at South by Southwest.
I think what she had to deal with were tasteless pranks.
Nevertheless I do not think that the whole episode warrants front page news in the media.
To me however despicable the comments made on and to Kathy were it gets nowhere near the actual danger experienced by say the BBC journalist held hostage in Gaza.
Maybe this is a case of the blogosphere navel gazing and loosing touch with real threats in the real world?

Maybe we could use some of the energy spent on this topic to support the release of people such as the above mentioned BBC journalist.

As far as comments go, screen comments and ask people to take ownership of them.

My 2 cents.

Serge

Ken McNamara   [04.03.07 02:23 AM]

A graduated reputation system with levels based on a person's willingness to take responsibilty for their remarks, provide identifying information and accept scoring by the web community at large might go a long way to solving this problem.

If you don't solve it technically this kind of stuff is going to end up in court and further damage the usefulness of the web (consider how far email has come - not).

adamsj   [04.03.07 05:51 AM]

Ken,

Phil Windley makes the point that, given cheap pseudonyms, good reputations have value, while bad reputations don't stick. (Again, Gordon Dickson comes to mind: In his story "Brothers", a character explains his actions on the grounds that a person's reputation is a thing of value, to be guarded even after that person's death.) Here we see what happens when a cheap identity gets linked into meatspace.

len bullard   [04.03.07 07:09 AM]

Of all of these comments, the one that has the most clout and local control is to refuse anonymity. Abstractly, this is local and global control regime problems. Given that there are plenty of local controls from turning off the comments, to moderating them, to filtering, this comes down to the willingness of the blogger to expose themselves to the danger given their topics and the positions they take on these topics.

It is strange to see this labeled as a sexist problem in a medium where the behavior has not been limited thus. Or unsurprising. Perhaps there is something sexist in the reaction to the action but that is a rathole of a topic (should Bill O'Reilly at Fox Attack Rosie O'Donnell).

While you can debate the side issues endlessly and to little gain, the best advice is to refuse anonymity with deliberation, meaning if you take the time to blog, you accept the dangers as a journalist does and you accept the responsibility to personally filter instead of leaving it to the machine or the community. If that limits the conversation, accept the reality that all conversations are limited and local by nature, otherwise they are cacaphony.

Too much of what is accepted by the blog medium and web medium supporters about human behavior and the power of this medium to shape it is nonsense. The medium and the technology are just stuff. The human is the intelligence and the local control.

Bert Bates   [04.03.07 11:00 AM]

TIM: " I understand Chris' concern to make clear that he and the other founders had no intention of creating sites that would encourage the kind of comments that ended up there."

Just to clarify, we are talking about *posts* that ended up on those sites--posts made by authors of the sites -- not just *comments*. There is a distiction between comments left on someone's blog, and posts made by one of the authors of the blog.

Tim O'Reilly   [04.03.07 11:27 AM]

Very good point, Bert. I'm trying to bend over backwards to be fair. But I believe you're absolutely right. These were posts by authors of a group blog, not comments.

This is a really good point that I ought to clarify in the piece, regarding responsibilities of a group blog.

Richard Drake   [04.03.07 03:13 PM]

The interaction between Bert and Tim raises a much more fundamental question for me.

The story I have read is that at some point Chris Locke 'took down' the two sites. Which is meant to imply, I presume, that before the 'take down' event everyone in the world with a browser could read the full history -- all the posts and comments, however noxious -- and that after the event only a very few people could read them all. People at Wordpress, in other words, perhaps Chris himself?

What this situation demanded - and what future victims of this kind of attack have every right to expect - is for a trusted group of 'wise men' (and women) to be able to view the full record, for as long as they like.

Tim O'Reilly strikes me as one of those people. In fact, Tim trying to summarize the situation without this this power is, on reflection, a tiny bit ridiculous. Indeed, I now think Tim should have made it a condition of entering into dialog with Chris Locke that both Tim and Kathy were given this power to see exactly what had been posted by whom.

I'm sure I'm about to hear that, very sadly, the technology doesn't allow for this.

I don't buy it.

I very much doubt every disk sector and every backup has been wiped. And given the very serious nature of the possible offences ...

And that of course raises how much we should be told about police actions and police priviledges in this situation.

What bothers most is that Kathy (or her agents) clearly have not had access to this terrible material, hence her uncertainty about certain things.

It seems to me that Chris Locke has a lot more explaining to do. Including why this option of a 'private viewing', if necessary specially negotiated with Wordpress, was not offered to Kathy the moment she made such a serious complaint to him.

Ken McNamara   [04.04.07 02:15 AM]

Adamsj -



You are correct -



"Phil Windley makes the point that, given cheap pseudonyms, good reputations have value, while bad reputations don't stick."



That's why I think this needs to be implemented:



"...person's willingness to take responsibilty for their remarks, provide identifying information and accept scoring by the web community at large..."



The Web ID problem must be solved. Then a 'Code of Conduct' has meaning.



Then a blog could set an acceptable 'reputation score" for posters. Reputation could have more aspects than moral (although that should be the starting point) - a technical blog could set a pretty high reputation requirement.



Given a technical blog with a high rep requirement - a lot of the folks posting here would probably pass - but I'd wouldn't, since I'm not highly technical and don't post on other tech blogs. But, perhaps over time I could "earn" my way into posting.



But even though I'm not highly technical - I'd like to suggest that the ID problem is essentially a technical problem and failure to resolve it will damage the Web (or continue to damage the Web).



Having said all that - Thanks for allowing open posting.

jeremiah foster   [04.04.07 03:57 AM]

I am a blogger on The O'Reilly network and am going to follow this code of conduct. I feel it closely matches my own ethics.

Nigel   [04.04.07 06:43 AM]

In the Netherlands you have this nice saying, that goes a bit like this:

Never strike the person, always aim for the ball!

Which suppose to mean that when discussing with people you're not to personally aim at the people you're discussing with - but on the subject.

It's one silly soccer-saying, but it's the summary of your point here Tim.

I'm afraid that the people who are responsible for these kinds of behaviour won't be impressed by our calls for more decent behaviour tho... :(

Jon Scolamiero   [04.04.07 07:28 AM]

Well I'd just like to jump in here and say that I think this is a wonderful idea. Particularly if we did it in some sort of a voluntary manifesto signup.

I've been around the net for a while, and from the Posting Board/Simming wars on AOL and mIRC, to LJ flame wars, to blogging threats it feels that something like a code of conduct is long over due. The cruelty on the net is just insane at some points, and more often than not it spills over into harrassment and negative action in real life. I have experienced this personally, and it can be devistating. I believe that at a grass roots level we should do something about it as a community.

anko   [04.06.07 10:34 AM]

Mountains out of Mole-hills. It's a cute idea...in a vacuum. Am I wrong in stating that most individuals who engage in actions like that are fickle and by ignoring them the problem quickly goes away?

chuk   [04.06.07 10:41 AM]

Sticks and stones may break my bones but bad words
are in the mouth of the beholder. OR
Morality is on the side of the heaviest artillery
Or
If the shoe fits wear it, if not, sue the bastard!

Kathy Sierra   [04.06.07 12:43 PM]

Anko: Am I wrong in stating that most individuals who engage in actions like that are fickle and by ignoring them the problem quickly goes away?

Yes. Although this approach works well for the random internet troll or flame-baiter, when people are determined to get a reaction from *you*--personally--ignoring them only makes it worse. They must then keep turning up the pressure until you DO react.

I tried ignoring it... It just got worse. I tried cajoling and playing along. It just got worse. I tried talking to some of the people involved who I thought could stop it (before I ever went public). In still got worse.

When one is determined enough to go to such drastic lengths as whoever it was that was posting on those two sites (we still don't know who the real author was), the standard approaches don't apply. Ignoring can "force" those seeking a result to escalate.

It is the culture of "just ignore it" that has led us all to become so desensitized that we say, "it's on the internet so it means nothing", no matter how bad it becomes.

What was the most disheartening, for me, is when--for example--a "standard" comment like, "You're an idiot..." starts to become "You're an idiot who should have his throat slit" and hardly anyone seems to notice the difference. Or care.

If we all keep ignoring it, not only will it NOT just go away, in some cases it will escalate. I think we should rethink the standard advice.

Penguin Pete   [04.07.07 03:09 AM]

Wow, this whole article is right on the money! I recently had a lesson in just this issue this week. I finally deleted a troll that's been hanging on for a year. I could care less what people say about me - that's confidence! - but when the troll starts fights with everybody else on the board, that's just too far. Other readers thanked me for finally blocking out his static.

My explanation: just because I champion maximum freedom does not make me an anarchist. As in real life, I say that just because I'm a pacifist does not mean I'm going to stand by watching innocent people get hurt.

My only caveat is the part about infringing on patents, and a few of the other rules in that section. Gray areas; if I say so-and-so site posting an editorial today was just plain wrong, is that libel? No, don't think what your common sense tells you, think how a slippery lawyer could twist it around in court.

As for the patents, about 80% of the technology patents out there are just plain stupid. It is impossible to use a computer without violating dozens of proprietary patents every day. Every control widget, every program command, every method has some patent troll claiming it. When the patent office puts somebody in charge with some common sense, and voids the thousands of patent trolls out there, that's when I'll start respecting them again.

But for the most part, these guidelines closely match my ethics. I am so glad to see them set down in black and white.

M Aurelius   [04.08.07 08:02 PM]

I got here a bit late, coming from a Times article. I find a code of conduct to be basic, and banning a necessary tool.

Does it always work? I have no idea. It more or less works here, a collective site I helped put together when our previous home was closed by its owner. It is a bi-partisan political blog which is reasonably successful at maintaining certain minimums, and the community has kept it going for quite some time, years in fact. The rules are extremely simple, and anonymous commenters are allowed, though registration is required.

Anyway, judge for yourself.

Susan   [04.08.07 08:32 PM]

We need a better criminal code to deal with the most flagrant harassers, stalkers, defamers, etc.

Current laws do not provide much protection and the process is awkward and lengthy at best.....just try getting a Court-order to get Yahoo to reveal the ISP and address of a user who is stalking you and you'll see.

A Code of Conduct is a great idea. However, the bright line of criminal harassment, cyberstalking, intentional infliction of emotional distress in the cyber-space arena should be much more clear. Cyber-laws should have real teeth, with financial penalties and jail time, and enhanced time for aggravating circumstances.

This would be a better deterent I think than a code which most members already follow in their blogging.

Wanda   [04.08.07 08:37 PM]

I just read the article in the NY Times about the notion of a Code of Conduct in blogs and discussion pages. And I've just read the comments by people who are clearly better informed than I am.

I cut my teeth on the old saying, "I may disagree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." The problem I have with the flame-balls that are so often thrown in blogs and discussions is that I can't defend them or the right of the blogger to say them. Even in sites as benign as the IMDb, discussions on a movie have deteriorated to personal attacks of astounding visciousness.

I would gladly and actively support a Code of Conduct, but I fear the onus of responsibility will always lie with the owner of the site. It's a shame, but the anonymity of the internet seems to bring out the bestiality of some of the users.

Susan   [04.08.07 09:06 PM]

Anko: Am I wrong in stating that most individuals who engage in actions like that are fickle and by ignoring them the problem quickly goes away?

I agree with Kathy. If you've picked up a dedicated stalker, then ignoring them just makes it worse. I had an annon cyber-stalker for two years back when all the action was on message boards. I responded to her just once in the very beginning, so she retaliated by calling my current and past employers and old friends to get my attention. And it went downhill from there.

After two years and a lot of detective work we discover this annon was a unhappy retired woman who lived alone, her glowing blue monitor her chariot to an outside life. Her other "love was hacker Kevin Mitnick, who finally sued her in small claims court and got an injunction against her.

So no...ignoring this woman for two years did not help me at all. She only stopped when she was served the injunction.

Richard Silverstein   [04.09.07 12:10 AM]

Just found this link in Brad Stone's NYT story about the code of civility. I'm interviewed in this story & have suffered almost the same vicitmization as Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com, who's also interviewed. Both of us have been abused by someone who has created websites that both impersonate and mock us. In both cases, the site's creator stole copyrighted images of us w. our children & featured them at the fraudulent site. In my case, the site contains pornographic references to me & various other disgusting material. And in both cases, we've failed to get the fake blog site's taken down by their hosts.

While I applaud yr efforts at cleaning up comment threads, I'd ask you consider broadening yr ambitions. In my case, Blogger.com, which hosts the fake blog, refuses to take down the site by retreating behind the sophism that it has no responsibility for the material that its clients upload to its server. This even though such material flagrantly violates Blogspot.com's own TOS.

As part of the code of civility can't we encourage blogging platforms like Blogger to cooperate by showing respect to those of us who are abused by crazed stalker trolls like the ones victimzing Heather and me?

I know that what I'm suggesting is more complicated than merely encouraging people to police their own blog comments. But hell, I'm feeling great pain from this onslaught on my integrity & invasion of my privacy. I'm a victim and there's nothing I can do about it.

The Populist   [04.09.07 03:38 AM]

The fact is, when you start controlling free speech, you start imposing yourself on others. I don't think what happened to Kathy Seirra was right, but if it were a guy, nobody would care. My feelings are, if you can't take the heat. stay out of the kitchen. I will not allow others to censor me or my blog. Sorry.

Rob Bennett   [04.09.07 03:49 AM]

My name is Rob Bennett. I am the founder of the Financial Freedom Community, a group of discussion boards that explore strategies for early retirement and related topics. I pointed out at one of the boards (a Motley Fool board) that one of the individuals who posted in this community (he was the founder of the Motley Fool board) had gotten an important number wrong in a study published at his web site (he had failed to account for the factor of stock valuations). As a result, this individual has been stalking me for five years now and has destroyed numerous wonderful boards in the process.




It was not this individual alone who made this error. He was using a methodology that is used in many studies that are cited in articles telling aspiring retirees how much they need to save for retirement. Millions of retirements are likely to go bust in days to come if people are not informed of the problem. But this individual's efforts have caused discussion of this topic to be blocked at every forum at which I have attempted to discuss it.




There have been hundreds of people who have asked that the discussions be permitted. Because the individual has his own web site, he has been able to form a Goon Squad that follows him from board to board for purposes of poisoning the discussions. I have been banned from most of these boards (I have never posted abusively). The abusive individual has never been banned.




We have an issue of the greatest possible importance at stake. We are dealing with a numerical calculation, so there is no question of reasonable differences of opinion here. I have contacted several well-recognized experts who have confirmed my findings. But it is I who have been banned, along with reasoned discussion of the errors in the flawed studies. The boards we are talking about have rules in place prohibiting the tactics used to block these discussions (which are of great interest to most investors). Yet the site administrators (these include Motley Fool and Morningstar.com) have failed to act.




In one case at Morningtar.com, there was a thread in which longtime participants at the board were asking why abusive posters were suddenly showing up on a daily basis. I put up a post explaining the background and noting as part of the history that this individual had directed death threats at me and my family members as one of his tactics. A Morningstar.com employee threatened to ban me for saying this! (Later, I was indeed banned at Morningstar.com.)




This is a free speech? Where the party who got a number wrong in a study can use any tactic imaginable to block discussion of the flaws of the methodology he used and those seeking reasoned discussion of important issues have zero recourse? This is not free speech.




Most normal people do not want to be associated in any way, shape, or form with this sort of behavior. It repulses them. A small number of posters intent on destruction can hold an entire community hostage if they are determined enough because most Normals do not want to get involved and because many site administrators are not willing to honor the promises they make to people who post at their boards to keep the discussions held at them reasonably clean.




This is a serious problem. I was heartened to see the New York Times article. The internet has great potential as a learning medium of the future. But it is only as strong as its weakest link. The weak link of discussion boards and of blogs is the abusive posters who make use of them with no constructive intent in mind.




Speech must be governed to be free. There should be a great freedom to discuss a wide variety of ideas. For that goal to be achieved, there must be limits on the poison that can be injected into a discussion as a means of intimidating the posters of the greatest intelligence and integrity into silence.

david   [04.09.07 04:05 AM]

The idea of a Code of Conduct for the blogosphere implies universal rules, but the reality is that any enforced Code of Conduct is a product of the blog owner's sense of appropriate conduct since only the blog owner can "moderate" content. Free speech is not a right when private ownership of property is involved. The private owner of any property sets the rules amd those who show up are guests of the owner. They can be removed at the will of the owner. Free speech arguments are absurd when it comes to privately owned property.

Bad conduct exists because owners tolerate it. If blog owners practiced more responsibility and less tolerance for boorish conduct, the blogosphere would be a far better place.

Libel and threats are not protected speech at anytime. Just bad behavior is only protected when it is given a pass by those who could stop it simply by policing their blogs.

Daniel Chow   [04.09.07 04:23 AM]

who was it who said "good fences make good neighbors"?

i remember one summer in new york city a pair of men were standing outside my home listening to their boom box at a very loud volume. i went outside to ask them to turn down the volume, or to find another spot where they won't disturb other people's peace. their response was:"why should we? this is a free country. we're free do anything we want."


the men were right, but they failed to see that they're exercising their freedom is at the expense of my freedom. my freedom was curtailed -- while exercising their rights, these men were at the same time curtailing my freedom to enjoying a relatively quiet environment on my property.


a canadian acquaintance from many years ago said me that most American's don't understand freedom and responsibility. he said americans liken freedom to a yard without fences. they feel that they have the right to cross from one yard to another without any regards for the rights of their neighbors. i'm afraid he's right.


i'm all for the freedom of speech and expression, but when this freedom is exercised at the expense of another person's freedom, then it's no longer freedom but abuse. the proposed guidelines are good fences.


sincerely,

daniel chow

philadelphia, pa


Mending Wall

by Rober Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And make gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,

But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather

He said it for himself. I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father's saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."


Fredric Alan Maxwell   [04.09.07 05:00 AM]

As a member of the Authors Guild who is suing Google for stealing the digital rights to our books -- a project Mr. O'Reilly supports -- I never thought that I'd find myself agreeing so much with him on any subject, yet his code of conduct is just what is needed to deal with the dark side of blogging and help clear up blog smog. To paraphrase Voltaire, I may disagree with what you say, but only if you let me know who you are and subject yourself to libel action will I defend your responsible right to say it.

MC Milker   [04.09.07 06:01 AM]

The actual statement should be" You own your forum" - this includes words you, as well as, others post on your site.

In a world of entirely free speech, he/she with the "loudest voice" rules. The idea that a blogger that took the time to create a blog should allow anyone, anytime to write anything they want is ridiculous.

This reminds me of the complaints when Amazon started charging for shipping- "but it should be free on the web!!" - the web "shouldn't be" anything...it is an evolving entity that requires thoughtful participants to develop it into a useful tool. For blogging that means a useful tool for information AND opinions - not for harrasment under the guise of free speech.

Neal G. Moore   [04.09.07 06:08 AM]

Tim,
Your call for a code of ethics is right on the mark. I am a former reporter, and while I hold dearly to the First Amedment, and believe strongly that blogging should remain as transparent as possible, I heartily support the establishment of your suggested conduct code for the blogosphere. If we do not adopt something like this soon, we risk the blogosphere becoming irrelevant. And that serves none of us well. www.nealmoore.com

Bill Cee   [04.09.07 06:57 AM]

I think it would help immensely - in the blogosphere and in everyday life - if we all remember the golden rule: do to others as we would LIKE THEM to do to us. Don't just not be nasty. Be kind.

When you're blogging, imagine that what you're about to say some stranger had said to your mother, father, wife, husband, boy/girlfriend, best friend, etc. How would you react if someone was speaking to your loved ones the way you're speaking to others? Think first and be compassionate.

Barbara O'Brien   [04.09.07 07:05 AM]

Many of us political bloggers decided a long time ago to post comment guidelines and delete comments that are out of bounds. Your first two items are old news.

I learned years ago -- I've been engaging in Internet discussions from the pre-web days when all we had was Usenet -- that unless there is some moderation a discussion can quickly be taken over by flamers and bullies. And this is not "free speech" it's "mob rule." My blog is my property, and I have no qualms at all about deleting comments (and banning commenters) that detract from my property.

I've kept a tight lid on comments since I started allowing comments sometime in 2003, and my commenters appreciate having somewhere to go for civil, substantive discussion.

I generally don't like to use barriers like pre-registration or moderation queues. If I'm getting a lot of hostile traffic from a link on an opposition (right-wing) site I sometimes suspend comments on a particular post, or I'll turn on the moderation queue for a while so that nothing gets posted until I approve it. Usually in three or four days the flamers get discouraged, lose interest, and go away.

I ban trolls. Trolls are disruptive. Maybe I could ignore them, but the other commenters don't.

Anonymity generally isn't a problem for me, and in any event if a commenter is determined to hide his identity from me it wouldn't be that difficult to do so, no matter what filters I put up.

Your "take conversations offline" suggestion doesn't work for me. I've got other things to do with my life that carry on ceaseless email arguments. If someone's arguments are so offensive I delete them from the comments, this is probably someone I don't want to waste time arguing with, period. There have been a few times I have taken a discussion offline, but these situations didn't involve a commenter who was hostile or offensive.

Regarding the last suggestion -- Good blogging is being gut-level honest about what one really thinks. Face-to-face discussion has a bigger element of social interaction that must be respected; hence, most people restrain from gut-level honesty. I don't allow gratuitous personal insults, but people WILL be snarkier online than they are in person. This is to be expected.

Frankly, I doubt very much that many bloggers will accept any of the guidelines you suggest wholesale. More bloggers might do what a lot of us are already doing, which is creating our own guidelines and enforcing them ourselves.

history is a weapon   [04.09.07 08:09 AM]

I think that it is high time for a blogger code of conduct, but a few of these should be tossed. Specifically, the ones about copyright (inappropriate), Confidentiality and privacy (at a minimum should be amended- what about whistle blowers?), or editorial comment (So if we want to quote and debate editorials, we can't?)

The blogger code of conduct's focus should be about raising the bar of discourse so that there are established areas where we can have productive discussion, not so that we can individually enforce copyright law or politely protect power. The internet should be an incendiary device and any code to improve us should be to help shape and frame the heat's direction rather than smother the possibilities.


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