Code of conduct for bloggers

Something else has been brewing in the blogosphere, and has been rocking the cyberworld.

Tim O’Reilly, the person who came up with the term Web 2.0, is working with Jimmy Wales, creator of Wikipedia, on a set of guidelines for bloggers. The code of conduct is aimed at guiding bloggers in their online discussions and debate. On a posting dated Sunday 8 Apr 2007 on O’Reilly Radar (O’Reilly’s blog), the man put forth a draft of the Code of Conduct which I am reproducing here (accessed on 11 Apr 2007):

We celebrate the blogosphere because it embraces frank and open conversation. But frankness does not have to mean lack of civility. We present this Blogger Code of Conduct in hopes that it helps create a culture that encourages both personal expression and constructive conversation.

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

We are committed to the “Civility Enforced” standard: we will not post unacceptable content, and we’ll delete comments that contain it.

We define unacceptable content as anything included or linked to that:
– is being used to abuse, harass, stalk, or threaten others
– is libelous, knowingly false, ad-hominem, or misrepresents another person,
– infringes upon a copyright or trademark
– violates an obligation of confidentiality
– violates the privacy of others

We define and determine what is “unacceptable content” on a case-by-case basis, and our definitions are not limited to this list. If we delete a comment or link, we will say so and explain why. [We reserve the right to change these standards at any time with no notice.]

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

3. We connect privately before we respond publicly.

When we encounter conflicts and misrepresentation in the blogosphere, we make every effort to talk privately and directly to the person(s) involved–or find an intermediary who can do so–before we publish any posts or comments about the issue.

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

When someone who is publishing comments or blog postings that are offensive, we’ll tell them so (privately, if possible–see above) and ask them to publicly make amends.
If those published comments could be construed as a threat, and the perpetrator doesn’t withdraw them and apologize, we will cooperate with law enforcement to protect the target of the threat.

5. We do not allow anonymous comments.

We require commenters to supply a valid email address before they can post, though we allow commenters to identify themselves with an alias, rather than their real name.

6. We ignore the trolls.

We prefer not to respond to nasty comments about us or our blog, as long as they don’t veer into abuse or libel. We believe that feeding the trolls only encourages them–“Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.” Ignoring public attacks is often the best way to contain them.

O’Reilly was inspired to come up with the guidelines after a known technology blogger, Kathy Sierra, received death threats following a dispute about whether it is okay to delete comments one deems as unsuitable that have been posted by visitors to one’s website. Some feel that this is tantamount to censorship, and deleting a visitor’s comments is a curtailment of the freedom of speech of the visitor.

O’Reilly has even designed a badge that websites can display if they want to show they are linked to that code of conduct: (very sheriff-like!)

 Civility Enforced Badge

and for those who want to be forewarned, he suggests another type of badge, the “anything goes” badge for sites that want to warn possible commenters that they are entering a free-for-all zone. The text to accompany that badge might go something like this: This is an open, uncensored forum. We are not responsible for the comments of any poster, and when discussions get heated, crude language, insults and other “off color” comments may be encountered. Participate in this site at your own risk. anythinggoes2.jpg

This move has been pretty controversial. O’Reilly wishes to impose a level of civility on the lawless blogosphere.  “A culture is a set of shared agreements that allows us to live together,” O’Reilly wrote in a blog posting calling for a code of conduct. “The proposed code calls for blog content to be deleted if it is abusive, threatening, libelous, false or violates promises of confidentiality or rights of privacy.”

But looking at the comments made on his blog, many are against being told what they can do or say on their blogs or others’ blogs. IAn article in Today, Bloggers rail over imposing civility online, shows some reaction to it: “So-called ‘community standards’ are merely the latest example of the agents of normalcy and entrenchment subconsciously attempting to organize, dictate, tame and pacify.” Some also rail against the banning of annonymous posts, saying that many in oppressive regimes need to post their comments annoymously.

Frankly, I don’t see the big deal in this. I mean, if someone posts something abusive, irrelevant or dangerous on my blog, shouldn’t I have the right to take it off? What if others start associating me with all the offensive comments? Worse, whatif they start acting on those comments? But of course, this is done for cases such as abusive/irrrelevant/abusive comments. If not, I would think that any blogger would welcome the chance to engage in a conversation with his visitors and clarify his stance via the comments made and responded to. I don’t see the big deal about allowing anonymous postings too, if they these have something worthwhile to say and are not abusive/irrelevant/dangerous.

I’m not crazy about the badges-they smack too much of accreditation, Case-Trust? and all that we have in Singapore. Not too sure if that kind of regulatory body is needed for the blogosphere. Besides, who will make up that regulatory body? Especially when the blogospehere is boundary-less. Even Malaysia’s PM has come out to say that they will not be asking bloggers to register, as they realise that they can’t implement that policy, even if they wanted to. 

I think a lot has to do with the maturity of the blogger and the readers. What do you think?



About blogscapes
An intrepid explorer into the the brave new dimensions of the blogosphere and new media landscape.

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