# Code of Conduct: Lessons Learned So Far

Rather than responding in detail to the many comments on my Draft of a Bloggers’ Code of Conduct or the earlier Call for a Blogger’s Code of Conduct, as well as some of the thoughtful discussion on other blogs, I thought I’d summarize some of my chief takeaways from the discussion so far.

These include:

“We don’t need no stinkin’ badges” – or do we just need better ones?

A number of commenters have been unable to resist a nod to Humphrey Bogart’s famous line from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and to be sure, the image based on a sheriff’s badge appears to have been ill-chosen. It framed the issue wrongly, suggesting suppression of bad behavior rather than encouragement of good behavior. I really liked Philippe’s suggestion: “I would prefer a positive image as a symbol of respect between bloggers instead of a symbol of repression.”

The Sheriff’s badge was also a bad image both because of its local cultural context (the American west) and because it might imply that the internet as a whole is some kind of untamed frontier. In my conversations with mainstream press, I’ve been at pains to suggest that the internet is no worse than other media — you have only to look at the excesses of political talk radio to see uncivility as bad as anything online. Nonetheless, as a number of people pointed out, it wasn’t a good idea to reinforce the tendency of mainstream media to exaggerate internet risks.

I have to confess that we didn’t put as much thought into the images as we should have. We were a little rushed by the timing of the New York Times story, and wanted to put something up for people to react to. And they certainly did. While people might have reacted as strongly were some other image chosen, it seems that the framing of the issue may have contributed to the negative reaction by many people.

The original idea was simply for a shorthand mechanism akin to that provided by Creative Commons for sites to state their copyright policies. A site can simply use the logo(s) with a link to the license text, rather than reproducing the entire text somewhere on their site. For example, the three logos to the right are a shorthand way of saying that a document is available under the “attribution required, non-commercial use, share-alike” license terms.

I’m particularly perplexed by folks like Jeff Jarvis saying (in his entry No Twinkie Badges Here): “And when I moved into the place that is my town, I didn’t put up a badge on my fence saying that I’d be a good neighbor (and thus anyone without that badge is, de facto, a bad neighbor). I didn’t have to pledge to act civilized. I just do.” A quick look at buzzmachine shows that Jeff does in fact have just such a “badge” on his site. In fact, he has two. It’s just that they are text badges rather than graphics. There’s one prominent link entitled Rules of Engagement that states “Any email sent to me can be quoted on the blog. No personal attacks, hate speech, bigotry, or seven dirty words in the comments or comments will be killed along with commenters.” And there’s another one entitled About me /Disclosures that lists all of Jeff’s financial entanglements.

Many sites have such disclosures and statements of policy. (In addition to the Blogher Community Guidelines that we modeled our draft on, take a look at the Yahoo Answers Community Guidelines, FM Publishing’s Author Mores, Wikipedia Policies and Guidelines, Amazon’s Guidelines for Reviewers and Dan Gillmor’s Principles of Citizen Journalism.) My goal here was to propose a system that would make it easier for sites to state their policies without having to write their own. There’s no intent to create a single code that every blog is somehow supposed to sign up for, any more than the idea of Creative Commons is to say that every site must abide by their own policies. (See Mechanism, not policy, below.)

The “code of conduct” needs to be much more modular

Where we fell down, apart from the negative framing given by the Sheriff’s badge, is the lack of granularity in the proposed assertions and associated images. There are actually several different values that a site might or might not want to express. For example, a site aspiring to a higher level of journalistic integrity might want a logo that linked to a statement of their fact checking policy; a site that allows anonymity for good reasons might want a logo that links to their commitment to protecting the identity of posters; a site that wants to enforce civility might want to say so. The advantage of a widely agreed-on set of “rules of engagement” with associated logos is that people don’t have to read someone’s “terms of service” to understand what the policy is on a given blog. It’s conveyed by shorthand via a symbol.

As with Creative Commons, for shorthand to be useful, any proposed symbols need to point to individual policies rather than to an aggregate. We made a mistake by lumping a bunch of things together that need to be treated separately. Copyright, for instance, has little do with civility. And it was a particular mistake not to make anonymity an optional element. (I caught this as soon as I posted the first draft and mentioned that in the comments the next morning, but left the draft to stand as there were already many comments on the subject.) But anonymity is a complex subject, so more on that in a moment.

I’m hopeful that we can isolate particular axioms, so to speak, that a site might want to assert. I’d be delighted if some of the very smart people reading this blog would propose their own list of modular axioms that a site might want to assert about its policies. I’m also going to spend a bit more time thinking about how to frame this idea more positively, with logo buttons that are less charged and more functional, and more specific as shorthand for particular policies. If you want to help with this effort, please go to the discussion page for the draft code of conduct over at blogging.wikia.com/bcc.

It’s possible, though, that it will be very difficult even with a set of modular axioms to create the outcome we want through a set of policy statements. Gail Ann Williams’ pointed me to the Well’s Online Moderator Guidelines and Community-Building Tips with the comment “After 15 years in management at The WELL, in a context where there is close to no anonymity, paid participation, and twenty two years of debate about what Stewart Brand’s famous WELL aphorism, “You Own Your Own Words” or YOYOW really means to participants and volunteer conference hosts, some things that seem simple turn out to be more complex.”

Mechanism is better than policy

I picked up on Kaylea Haskall’s original suggestion of Creative Commons’-like logos because it seemed like a way for sites to easily articulate their standards (assuming we get the standards correctly modularized.) However, even better would be actual community moderation mechanisms that would allow the community of readers to flag comments that they think are inappropriate, much as is done on Craigslist or eBay.

Slashdot’s moderation system may also be a good model. It uses community moderators to promote or demote comments to help discriminate between valuable comments and noise, but allows the reader to set his own threshold for what he or she wants to see.

So rather than a blogger’s code of standards, perhaps what I ought to be calling for is moderation systems integrated with the major blogging platforms.

John at librarything wrote:

“One technical suggestion, employed by my employer: letting users flag inappropriate comments, which then become click-to-see. This lowers the visibility of the trolls, without censoring them. For an example, see this

http://www.librarything.com/talktopic.php?topic=8702

Message 5 is no longer immediately visible, because it was flagged by a certain number of users as inappropriate. But it can still be seen, if you want to, by clicking on the ‘show’ link. It’s a compromise, but perhaps a practical one.

Similarly, it might help the situation to let users configure whether or not they want to see flagged content, and set the default for flagged content to some sort of reduced visibility.

I really like this, as it addresses one of the biggest hesitations I personally have about deleting comments, namely that deleting part of a conversation can make it impossible to reconstruct what really went on. And there have also been problems in the past with blog owners selectively editing conversations to present themselves in the best possible light. A mechanism that preserves comments while hiding them “in the back room” so to speak would seem to me to be a really useful tool.

I immediately wrote John about the availability of the code, and he said it was from “LibraryThing’s groups/talk section, which was built in-house. Tying comment visibilty to user flagging was added last year, in response to a spate of abusive behavior.” But more importantly, he added, “Creating blog plugins for this is a great idea,” and offered to help anyone who wanted to do it. I’ve introduced him to the folks at Movable Type, WordPress, and Blogger, and hopefully we can get something going.

Comment moderation by the community of readers, especially when offensive comments are not deleted but merely made less visible, seems to me to be much better than top-down deletion by the site owner, even if the latter may sometimes be the only way to keep the conversation from going off the rails.

Constructive Anonymity vs. Drive-by Anonymity

Another place where we clearly erred in the first draft is in the suggestion that anonymity should be forbidden, as there are most certainly contexts where anonymity is incredibly valuable. (Some that come to mind include whistleblowing, political dissent, or even general discussion where someone might not want to confuse their personal opinions of those of an organization to which they belong. As one commenter remarked, it might even be useful for a shy person to whom anonymity gives a bit of courage.)

That being said, there is a strong connection between “drive-by anonymity” and lack of civility. Jaron Lanier just sent me a pointer to a thoughtful article he wrote for Discover Magazine in March, shortly before this controversy erupted:

People who can spontaneously invent a pseudonym in order to post a comment on a blog or on YouTube are often remarkably mean. Buyers and sellers on eBay are usually civil, despite occasional annoyances like fraud. Based on those data you could propose that transient anonymity coupled with a lack of consequences is what brings out online idiocy. With more data, the hypothesis can be refined. Participants in Second Life (a virtual online world) are not as mean to each other as people posting comments to Slashdot (a popular technology news site) or engaging in edit wars on Wikipedia, even though all use persistent pseudonyms. I think the difference is that on Second Life the pseudonymous personality itself is highly valuable and requires a lot of work to create. So a better portrait of the culprit is effortless, ¬≠consequence-free, transient anonymity in the service of a goal, like promoting a point of view, that stands entirely apart from one’s identity or personality. Call it drive-by anonymity.

Anonymity certainly has a place, but that place needs to be designed carefully. Voting and peer review are pre-Internet examples of beneficial anonymity. Sometimes it is desirable for people to be free of fear of reprisal or stigma in order to invoke honest opinions. But, as I have argued (in my November 2006 column), anonymous groups of people should be given only specific questions to answer, questions no more complicated than voting yes or no or setting a price for a product. To have a substantial exchange, you need to be fully present. That is why facing one’s accuser is a fundamental right of the accused.

Furthermore, sites make traffic tradeoffs when requiring registration versus the additional flow they get from not requiring it. And of course, on the net, identity is very easy to spoof, so even if an email address or other form of identification is required, it doesn’t mean that there’s a real or easily traceable person on the other side.

However, sites that have problems with vandals disrupting their online discussions may prefer to make the choice to require proof of identity in exchange for participation rather than shutting down comments entirely.

There are some nuanced legal issues to be looked at

Jeff Jarvis makes the claim that the code of conduct I’ve proposed “threatens to give back the incredible gift of freedom given us in Section 230.” He points to the EFF page explaining section 230 and says “Go read about that,” but he didn’t follow his own advice, since the page says, among other things: “Courts have held that Section 230 prevents you from being held liable even if you exercise the usual prerogative of publishers to edit the material you publish. You may also delete entire posts.”

That being said, I can see that when I converted the wording of my original exhortation to “take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog” into the statement that begins “We take responsibility…” I might well be proposing something that would weaken legal protections.

(A reminder about the context of the original statement. It was inspired by Chris’ Locke’s assertion regarding the threatening images of Kathy Sierra that had appeared on his site that he wasn’t responsible for what anyone else said or did on the site. That seemed to me to be an abdication of responsibility.)

A site owner obviously doesn’t want to take legal liability for the actions of commenters on their site. But at the same time, it seems to me that we need to eschew the idea that we bear no responsibility for the tone that we allow on our site. A site owner does have the ability to delete inappropriate comments, to ban IP addresses, and to impose moderation systems or shut down comments entirely if the greifers get out of hand.

Still, the legal implications do need some attention. A lawyer of my acquaintance wrote in email:

Under US law, there’s potentially an overlap/conflict between some aspects of the proposed code and existing legal protections for ISPs, bloggers, and others who provide forums for user-generated content. It’s worth thinking about how to take those protections into account in discussing the code. Issues include:

• how to avoid losing or weakening legal protections against liability for infringement (and even defamation, in some circumstances) that now exist for ISPs, bloggers, and others, and that are partly based on the assumption that posted content is not being monitored

• coordinating the code with existing legal tools–such as the DMCA take-down procedure under Section 512–that benefit people who provide forums for user-created content

• avoiding situations that force people into making legal judgments in public about [issues] that they really aren’t prepared to make, or that force them into appearing to have made legal judgements (e.g., explaining that they’ve removed a post because it’s
infringing or libelous, when it’s really not)

Also, outside the US, things are different.

If it hasn’t happened already, it might be worth convening a small group of congenial and sensible lawyers to talk about it.

In short, there’s some thinking to be done here, but it’s better done by real lawyers rather than the all-too-common would-be lawyers of the net.

There’s a lot of strong feeling on the subject, but civility still matters

A number of posters are obviously not familiar with Godwin’s Law, and in particular, the idea that (per Wikipedia), “There is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically ‘lost’ whatever debate was in progress.” Even apart from that strike against their argument, those commenters who equate the idea of a code of conduct with censorship seem to me to fail to understand what I proposed: not some kind of binding code that bloggers would somehow be required to follow, but a mechanism for bloggers to express their policies.

That being said, I am trying to encourage a kind of social self-examination on the part of the blogging community. Many people have written to say that they have no compunctions about deleting unpleasant comments. But I believe that there’s a strong undercurrent on the internet that says that anything goes, and any restriction on speech is unacceptable. A lot of people feel intimidated by those who attack them as against free speech if they try to limit unpleasantness. If there’s one thing I’d love to come out of this discussion, it’s a greater commitment on the part of bloggers (and people who run other types of forums) not to tolerate behavior on the internet that they wouldn’t tolerate in the physical world. It’s ridiculous to accept on a blog or in a forum speech that would be seen as hooliganism or delinquency if practiced in a public space.

I’m not a big fan of political correctness. I love intense, passionate discussion. I believe that there’s a lot of great discussion in the comments on this topic, even when the people concerned are disagreeing with me. But I’ve taken a stronger stand myself as a result of this discussion in saying, “if there’s no substance to the comment, just insults, I’m not going to give it space.” If more people feel empowered to make that decision about their commenters, that’s not a bad thing.

I challenge anyone who reads the comments on the two entries about the Code of Conduct that are linked to at the start of this entry to tell me that I’m suppressing discussion just because I deleted a couple of comments by potty-mouthed kids who didn’t have anything to say but epithets.

It concerns me that Kathy Sierra, whose bad experience triggered this discussion, thinks that a code of conduct such as I proposed would do no good. (She points out that the threatening comments about her are not on sites that she controls.) But I believe that civility is catching, and so is uncivility. If it’s tolerated, it gets worse. There is no one blogging community, just like there is no one community in a big city. But as Sara Winge, our VP of Corporate Communications pointed out, it’s not an accident that “Civil” is also the first two syllables of “civilization.”

What’s more, when an exchange of ideas turns into an exchange of insults, everyone loses. As Colin Rule wrote in a post entitled The role of manners in a divided society:

So is it true that civility and politeness should go out the window when confronted with deep and intense feelings? Well, not to sound too much like “Mr. Manners,” but I think it’s at that point that civility and politeness come to matter more. When emotions get the better of someone, and that person uses language intended to incite and shock rather than reason, it creates an easy target for the other side; the most likely response becomes a similar provocative statement, and then the exchange becomes focused on the excesses of each statement rather than the issues at hand….

This dialogue gets us nowhere. It makes it easy to dismiss the other side as foolish, nonsensical, and incapable of rational dialogue. This, in turn, worsens the disagreement and encourages further extremism. The only way out of this situation is for reasoned individuals to say enough is enough, and to rebuild a moderate majority who insist upon civil, polite dialogue.

Colin has neatly summarized what I hoped to accomplish with my call for a code of conduct. The mechanisms I proposed may not be the right ones, but I am convinced that the goal is worthwhile. Let’s figure out the right way to reach it.

tags:
• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

Point of information:

“Joey”, one of the main accused in the Kathy Sierra incident, has now posted his side of the story:

“My comment was never intended to be harmful and was, in fact, taken out of context”

“Internet Bullying. Nice framing of criticism, indeed.”

But he’s not an A-lister, so nobody cares :-(

[Tim, does your Code Of Conduct help justice here in any way? I don’t see it. Can you see why, frankly, it looks like empty pontificating at best, and attention-grabbing at worst?]

• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

Point of information:

“Joey”, one of the main accused in the Kathy Sierra incident, has now posted his side of the story:

misobserver.wordpress.com/2007/04/08/25/

[Sigh … I can’t get a live link through moderation – feel free to delete this comment in favor of the live link one]

“My comment was never intended to be harmful and was, in fact, taken out of context”

“Internet Bullying. Nice framing of criticism, indeed.”

But he’s not an A-lister, so nobody cares :-(

[Tim, does your Code Of Conduct help justice here in any way? I don’t see it. Can you see why, frankly, it looks like empty pontificating at best, and attention-grabbing at worst?]

• http://basilatlarge.blogspot.com/ Basil Berntsen

I tend to think that codifying ethics is a fairly large undertaking that will be very hard to push into mainstream adoption. Many people who do not know the background story might feel that it’s too much work for them to formally and quantifiably agree to continue to be good citizens.

Sometimes we have to assume that most people will do the right thing without a badge or membership to a group.

• http://diveintomark.org/ Mark

Tim, please verify whether this email quoted by FakeSteve is real or a forgery/parody:

fakesteve.blogspot.com/2007/04/oreilly-dear-fsj-youre-busted-arsehole.html

On the one hand, I have to assume it’s a fake; it is, after all, posted on a “fake” blog. On the other hand, given how “tone deaf” your original draft was, I can’t quite rule out the possibility that you threatened someone who didn’t want to play along.

Please confirm whether that quoted email is accurate or not. It will set the tone for the rest of the discussion here.

• http://jergames.blogspot.com Yehuda Berlinger

Tim,

Thanks for updating. I was one of the few who seemed to have noticed that your original post said “first-draft”.

I also had a very modular Blogger Code of Ethics posted a week or so before this happened, and I reacted to your original post and its aftermath on my blog today.

Yehuda

• http://krishami.blogspot.com Krishna Kumar

Regarding badges, something similar to Creative Commons like “Blog Editorial Standards” would be good – such as policy on comment moderation, anonymous comments, trackbacks, etc.

Don’t mean to trivialize the discussion, but the line was by the bandits posing as sherrifs in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, not by Humphrey Bogart.

• http://jergames.blogspot.com Yehuda Berlinger
• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

Tim, personally, I think your heart is in the right place, and you’re well-intentioned. So I offer these comments as a world-weary long-time netizen, meaning no disrespect, but having been through this sort of discussion many, many times.

I don’t like the way you seem to be framing this as you’re for motherhood and apple pie (or defense of the “cute kitty”, to borrow CNN’s phrase), and anyone who points out that frankly, your proposals seem knee-jerk, uninformed, naive, somewhat arrogant, and irritatingly, ONLY HEARD BECAUSE OF YOUR STATUS, is then going to be cast as some sort of bad guy for not joining the Shiny Happy People train about backscratching each other regarding the terrible terrible problem of nasty blog commenters and how the A-list should fix it (note: making fun of that sort of platitude-pushing is basically what led to the satire sites that went awry).

You have a hash of several (admittedly interrelated) issues, which makes it very difficult to discuss, because when a problem with one is pointed out, you can just shift to another. Just for example, there’s:

1) The specifics of the current Media Event – which has a lot more to due with inflaming mob action than comment policy, despite the media storyline to the contrary.

2) Bullying By A-listers From Their Platform On High – a topic that’s dangerous to discuss, since there’s essentially no effective way for anyone lower down to fight back.

3) How To Build A Good Comment Community – a very worthy topic, of course, but much has been written about it over the years, and there are many difficult problems (e.g. how do you protect minority rights with a majority-rules moderation system? what if trolls start ganging-up on targets? how to tell the difference between sincere harsh criticism and trolling?)

It would also help to be sensitive to why some liberal politics bloggers are somewhat leery on this topic, since it’s a rhetorical weapon sometimes used by right-wing hate-mongers (a phrase I mean literally and not hyperbolically) against liberals (e.g. propose interning a group in a concentration camp for their ethnicity, someone in that group is likely to get very upset, then the hate-monger has an attack of the vapors that their civil proposal to enhance national security has been met with such swearing and uncivil reactions).

Anyway, I’ve just scratched the surface. Take it in, err, a civil spirit.

• http://www.pistachioconsulting.com Laura Athavale Fitton

Some (many) of the code critics have overlooked basic things: 1) it was put out there for comment, not as a finalized piece. when they attack/accuse you of “laying down the law” or “playing sheriff”, well that’s just kind of silly. you welcomed their opinions from the git go, and 2) you’re the only one i’ve been aware of who took the initiative to put *something* out there for folks to shoot at. Good on ya! Just wanted to throw my \$.02 of gratitude for your leadership on this, and on top of that some admiration for how well you are handling the sometimes quite obnoxious humor and criticism.

• http://thickslab.com/blog/ thickslab

Two questions I have not seen answered:

If this is about the Kathy Sierra thing, can someone explain to me how this “Blogger’s [sic] Code of Conduct” would have prevented it from happening, or even changed the course of events one iota?

What is to ensure that people who put these badges or post this Code of Conduct on their site actually adhere to it? Does this Code of Conduct not become meaningless without enforcement?

I’d like to see answers to all three of these questions, please.

“We were a little rushed by the timing of the New York Times story, “

You weren’t a little rushed, you were a lot rushed. If the draft wasn’t ready for public consumption, you should have told the Times to frak off. It really wasn’t. That was not a first draft, that was a preliminary draft, as observed about how black and white everything was. Evidently it is was for MSM showboating from this statement.

• http://www.edgerunner.co.uk Andy

I strongly believe that there is a need for a single, ranked, online identity – with the option of anonymity on a case by case basis in exceptional circumstances.

It’s time there was a single shared, open, service which tracked a user’s identity between multiple sites, and also tracked their online ‘karma’. Not only would this get rid of the tiresome process of registering again and again for each blog or forum in which you wish to participate, but it has other benefits too. For instance, you could accumulate online ‘karma’ points, whenever your postings are rated as knowledgeable or helpful or insightful, and loose them when rude or offensive or misinformed. Perhaps a pagerank like algorithm could be used, so that the karma awarded by high karma users is weighted more than low karma users.

A system like this would enable you to quickly gage the credibility of information posted by an individual – something that’s sorely lacking in the online world today.

• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

Laura, a big problem is that the presentation DID have an aspect of “We’re a gonna clean up this town, since ma purty little gal been done wrong by the Comment Gang”.

Leadership shouldn’t mean tossing out a half-baked rather inflammatory proposal, and then taking refuge in the defense of starting a discussion. That may be well-intentioned, but it’s not leading, it’s potentially only attention-grabbing. And ultimately it can even be counter-productive.

• http://civilities.net/people/JonGarfunkel Jon Garfunkel

Had I known about the Times article in advance, I would have rushed work on my piece, too. But I did take the cue from the “modular” design in Community Management Responsibility. Comments welcome.

• http://civilities.net/people/JonGarfunkel Jon Garfunkel

Whoops, wrong link. See Community Management Responsibility — a bit early for me to write the proper URL.

• http://www.blingon.com Henrik

I don’t know if a code of conduct is needed. From my experience in gaming communities for many years, I expect 90% of people to talk rubbish, and the main challenge being how to filter them.

I do though strongly believe that the “liberal” thinking of the 60s has created a generation of parents and in turn a generation of children that has grown up with little or no boundaries. Nasty comments is just a minorly inconvenient tip of a big iceberg that we will have to deal with for a long time.

==”Also, outside the US, things are different.”

Big deal.. really.. so these efforts only apply to the US blogosphere ??

IMO, this is a just an attention grabbing, kneee jerking post..

• ProfessorDino

So, if so many of you are against Tim’s proposal, at least initially, then what solution(s) would you propose?

• Nathaniel Ford

For what it’s worth, I think there is something to be said for recognizable community standards, be they in badge form, or ethos or a written Code. An enforced utter lack of boundaries is as disenfranchising as a tyrannical set of rules. Boundaries mediated by a group of people, rather than a central authority, are the best kind, because they have to serve the needs of the group.

It is very clear that the group of people on the internet have some needs that need serving. A code of conduct is not unreasonable in a modular format. It’s not being forced on anyone, and it’s lack isn’t saying anything in particular. But quashing an (apparent) minority’s attempt to create an environment in which they want to dwell, one that is harming no one, is the worst form of tyranny.

Kathy’s incident wouldn’t have been avoided unless this was a prevalent social custom. But that doesn’t mean we should avoid the development of customs.

• http://annierhiannon.blogspot.com/ Annie Rhiannon

I don’t understand who this “Code of Conduct” is supposed to be aimed at and how it will have any effect whatsoever. None of my blogchums have the slightest bit of interest in following it, and I really can’t see the “trolls” taking any notice ó it’s just another thing to take the piss out of.

Anyway, blogging about blogging, urrfgh, is there anything more tedious?

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

Mark, of course the fakesteve blog posting is fake.

• http://www.livedigitally.com Jeremy Toeman

Tim – nice idea in spirit, but in practice this is just a complete waste of energy. Bottom line is it comes down to:

1) Having a public presence means you are likely to be subject to negative/hate messaging. This is not going to change. If you don’t think the “actually” famous people in the world get death threats, you are sorely mistaken. Why do you think they have bodyguards?

2) Allowing for anonymous comments on a blog is ultimately the blog owners’ decision, and with the good comes the bad.

3) Anonymity is a power, but one with virtually no recourse. Using it with responsibility is truly up to the individual’s decision. Unless you can find a way to force identity tracking on the Internet, you cannot get past this point.

So again, it’s a great concept, and I think we know you mean for the best, but this is just flawed from the start.

• http://mickeleh.blogspot.com Michael Markman

I just so hate the thought of adding a layer of bureaucracy to this. It’s never been a problem for me. Make everyone jump through hoops because of a few idiots. Nuts. Sounds like make work for people with not enough time. I’m going to resist and reject this.

• michael schrage

at risk of sounding dull, legalistic, old-fashioned and unoriginal, i still believe that a simple, legal contract can be fashioned for ‘commenters’ – anonymous, bilious or otherwise – wherein their ability to post is contingent upon whatever ‘code of conduct’ the site/blog has established – the registration process becomes a contract…commenters who post libelous, defamatory and/or threatening could be held liable for their posts…
…owners of the site would become ‘liable’ for actionable comments only after a certain grace period and a formal (legal) notification process…

…all that said, ‘free speech’ cultures can’t legislate ‘civility’… i find many of the remarks in this comment section alone remarkably uncivil and pathetically arrogant (arrogantly pathetic?) yet i would permit them if i ran the blog…however, i’d be sympathetic if tim (also) thought those comments coarsened and cheapened the conversation and removed them…

• http://mickeleh.blogspot.com Michael Markman

A comment on the meta-issue of the Times forcing your hand: This is a case of a reporter making news, not reporting it. It’s one of the things that reporters do. What does any press-savvy product company say when a reporter calls to ask about an unannounced product? Nothing (wrapped, of course, in a polite refusal.) It’s hard to resist getting mentioned in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or Fortune, etc. But consider the price of being mentioned.

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

thickslab —

Here’s how the “code of conduct” would have helped the Kathy Sierra thing:

Social mores are the prevailing values of a group. One of the “values” of the internet is that unfettered speech is better than any restriction. This keeps people who might have spoken up sooner about a conversation getting out of hand from saying anything. If the prevailing value is that you can say what you want to say without being insulting, and comments that are offensive in various ways are deleted, the general tenor of conversation becomes higher.

The point is that we tolerate on our blogs a style of conversation that we would never tolerate from people in our physical presence. Taunting, bullying, nastiness are not OK, and the fact that they are happening in comments on a blog or on a mailing list doesn’t make them OK.

I’m trying to change the general perception of what’s OK.

Before the Kathy Sierra flap, I would probably have just said, “don’t read that stuff.” (And that’s still good advice. I had some pretty nasty stuff said about me on fuckedcompany.com during the dotcom bust when we had layoffs, and I had to have the discipline just to ignore it. Fuckedcompany’s mission was to create a place for that kind of stuff, much as an inflammatory talk radio show does, or a gossip rag.

But if people had said those things on oreilly blogs, I would still have been conflicted about deleting the comments, because I would have been afraid that it would have been interpreted by readers as censorship.

This is why I wanted to try to move the needle to say “let’s clean up our act and be a little less tolerant of abusive speech.”

And it’s also why, in the course of this discussion, I’m getting much more interested in better mechanisms for “demoting” comments rather than just deleting them. Demoting might mean disemvowelment, but I love the way that librarything lets people flag offensive comments so that they are hidden but still accessible.

With mechanisms like that in place, it would be a lot easier to deal with the gray area of “do I let this one stand or moderate it down?” The binary act of deletion is hard. So as a result of the discussion that’s been started here, I’m probably going to focus my efforts on getting better moderation tools into the major blogging platforms.

• http://pauldwaite.co.uk/ pauldwaite

> “A quick look at buzzmachine shows that Jeff does in fact have just such a “badge” on his site.”

The way you describe it, he’s got some rules for people commenting on his site, and some disclosures of his financial interests. These aren’t promises to be a good neighbour. They say nothing about what style of writing he’s likely to use.

• http://pauldwaite.co.uk/ pauldwaite

> “A quick look at buzzmachine shows that Jeff does in fact have just such a “badge” on his site.”

The way you describe it, he’s got some rules for people commenting on his site, and some disclosures of his financial interests. These aren’t promises to be a good neighbour. They say nothing about what style of writing he’s likely to use.

• http://pauldwaite.co.uk/ pauldwaite

> “A quick look at buzzmachine shows that Jeff does in fact have just such a “badge” on his site.”

The way you describe it, he’s got some rules for people commenting on his site, and some disclosures of his financial interests. These aren’t promises to be a good neighbour. They say nothing about what style of writing he’s likely to use.

• yochanon

If “lawyers” have to be brought into this ridiculous idea, then it’s already too far overboard to be plausible.
A blogger who is threatened can already get the law involved, but when a net nanny wants his ideas to be legalized (no matter how minor), it’s just gone from stupid to pathetic and as useless as a boar with teets.

• http://www.chaosinmotion.com/blog/ Bill Woody

I think the reason why stating that “civility matters” can be such a hot-topic item to many people is because the whole notion of “enforcing civility” has been used in the public debate to shut down the other side by claiming that technical disagreement is actually uncivil behavior.

Which is why trying to enforce a “civility” code of conduct strikes a lot of people–especially in the blogosphere–as an attempt to impose censorship of ideas. We are all passionate about a few strongly held opinions–yet those who have traditionally demanded “civility” often are the ones who use demands for “civility” as a tool for censorship: they wait like hawks for someone whose opinions they oppose to appear to slip a millimeter over the line–then dump all over them as if a single word infraction in 10,000 words of otherwise well-constructed argument negates the entire debate.

I will not enforce any codes of conduct on the two blogs I run simply because I will not use the current cry for “civility” as a shield for the censorship of ideas–and at times I will argue passionately for the jackass and against the mob looking to shut down not just the jackass’s behavior, who then smear the entire debate in an ad-hominem attack using the jackass as “evidence” of the incivility of (conservatives | liberals | cocoa programmers | java programmers | fill in the blank here).

• http://orcmid.com/blog orcmid

I know I’m putting myself into your jailhouse lawyer category, but I think this is about ordinary language.

I don’t see taking responsibility as the same as accepting liability. It certainly doesn’t strike me as tantamount to declaring that anything a commentor writes on my blog is as if written by me.

• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

Tim, on a personal level, I give you the benefit of the doubt – it seems that you’re upset over a friend being upset, and that comes through (grumble … y’know, there’s lots of nice people who get nasty, *hateful* things said about them, every day, and DON’T have a national Media Event made of it, I’m just saying). However, intending to speak just to the issues, can I outline here part of what’s wrong with your process? Quote:

“I’m trying to change the general perception of what’s OK. … This is why I wanted to try to move the needle to say “let’s clean up our act and be a little less tolerant of abusive speech.””

It can *give the impression* there that you’d like to impose some sort of norm on not your own blogs, but on *other* people* *blogs*, independent of satirical and parody purpose.

Because that’s what it *sounds* like. That’s how it *comes* *across*. That there’s a two step going-on – that on one hand, you’ll claim just to be helping blog-owners to moderate their comments better (a reasonable goal, but not helpful to the current affair), but then slip into trying to impose a more far-reaching norm (a very highly charged topic, to say the least). That second part is causing some ill-expressed charges of censorship and so on, even if not rigorously argued.

This underlies what’s causing the ruckus. What’s “OK” seems defined as self-evidently what the A-list considers OK, which revolves around their feelings and friendships, independent of any objective standard of fairness.

I keep pointing out, one of the people accused of very serious charges has given his side of the story, denying and explaining much of the initial uproar.

DO YOU GIVE A [EXPLETIVE DELETED] DAMN? WHERE’S THE CODE OF CONDUCT?

Is there a community responsibility to “take action” to set things right when toxic charges are made? No, there’s no call for anything needing changing there. I keep pounding this. Why not? Well, the relevant BigHeads don’t know the nobodies who got smeared, so it’s not an issue.

A code-of-conduct that assumes that if an A-lister is upset, that’s going to be _ipso facto_ equivalent to wrong, and occasion to call out the mob, is no great advance.

Let me back up a bit, and say, it’s not a bad thing in itself to proclaim we should strive to be kinder and gentler. But you’re really late to the party there, in a system which runs on narcissism and egomania and demagoguery. And you lose a lot of moral high ground if while giving this sermon, you ignore all the little people, in favor of lavish consideration of the sensitivities of the highly privileged.

• Bob Watson

The web is a changin’ … and if people want grandma and grandpa to participate (and they probably should) then there should be a way to make it easy and feel comfortable to them. The wild west of usenet is long gone.

Those of us who work “in public” (I run a public library) *must* have a reasonable way of controlling behavior if we’re to provide blogs at all.

• http://mrshl.vox.com mrshl

I having some difficulty understanding where the criticism is coming from. The way I read Tim’s latest post, this isn’t designed as a law enforcement mechanism. It’s not a mandate down from the mountain. Nor is it dealing with something terribly difficult to implement.

If I understand this correctly, Tim’s suggesting a highly modular code of conduct, that allows community preferences (or a blogger’s own preferences) to be communicated in a simple visual shorthand. Perhaps some technological improvements to the comments can be made if a blogger wants to make them. That’s it.

I’m not seeing any super-prescriptive measures being suggested. Also, no one’s said this has to be a code of good behavior. It’s a code of conduct, through which a blogger might reasonably suggest, “Hey, anything goes on this site.” A symbol of anarchy might be sardonically placed in the masthead to indicate that one might be offended if one sticks around.

I’d be awfully encouraged by a site that required use of a real name and expressed some guiding principles, especially if I could see right away what kind of site I was dealing with. That’s useful to me, because I’d rather not waste my time on a site full of jerks. True enough, the policy might not be totally effective. I don’t see what’s wrong about making the effort.

I also don’t see what makes the suggestion “flawed.” It’s a flexible, opt-in system. That’s not even been tried yet. If it’s really flawed, don’t use it. As is always true in a marketplace, experience is what exposes flaws. ot conjecture, and not analogies to prior, less comprehensive attempts.

• http://darkuncle.net/ Scott Francis

“Comment moderation by the community of readers, especially when offensive comments are not deleted but merely made less visible, seems to me to be much better than top-down deletion by the site owner”

… like, say, Slashdot? (Not that /. is any beacon of enlightened conversation, but the moderation system has held up pretty well over the years.) Am I missing something? The LibraryThing feature under discussion sounds just like community moderation, which is nothing new (slashcode has been around for years now) …

• Anony Mouse

I’ll never attach my name to these comments since I have already been a target years ago.

We don’t need a code of conduct. I didn’t need a code of conduct. But I *did* need the people who thought it was wrong to SPEAK UP AND SAY SO, IN PUBLIC, AT THE TIME THAT IT HAPPENED.

That might have prevented the Kathy Sierra issue from snowballing. Or made her feel less threatened about it. No one posted after the images and said, ‘Hey sicko, get a life.’ No one said, “Hey, is this getting a little far from what this place was supposed to be” or “Can we all take this in proportion”?

I got emails of support. I got phone calls. Text messages.

No one ever said, “Hey, guys, you’re getting out of line here” or “This is bs, morons”. No one did.
So the morons thought they had a majority and kept going. And kept going.

All I needed was one person. Because then it would have become two. Or three.

I don’t believe in the bs comment “Can’t we all get along” because the answer to that is NO. But I do believe in people POLICING THEMSELVES.

I remember the internet in 1994. I remember doing stupid things on Usenet and getting called out for it. I remember saying stupid things and getting called out for it. Whatever happened to that?

• http://www.opendarwin.org/~drernie/ Dr. Ernie

Hi Tim,
I for one appreciate the effort you are putting into grappling with the issue of online civility. However, one thing that might help (even if it seems obvious to you) would be for The Code to similarly affirm the importance of contrary opinions and passionate debate. That is, “I reserve the right (and obligation) to delete/moderate opinions I deem destructive, but I still affirm your right to criticize the way I’ve enforced that policy.”

I know *you* feel (and live) that way (as we can see from these comments :-), but I suspect you’ve underestimated the level of concern about such “moderator authority” being abused. I hope whatever mechanism (ethical or technical) you propose to stop abusive comments also includes similar measures to prevent abusive moderation!

Good luck,
— Dr. Ernie

• http://darkuncle.net/ Scott Francis

One other comment: people are going to be jerks, online and off (but more online, as Penny-Arcade showed some time back). There’s no way to prevent that kind of behavior – and it probably would be ill-advised if there were.

Civility should be encouraged (just as we should encourage and expect good grammar, spelling and use of language by literate adults), but we need to be realistic about the way people _will_ behave in a pseudonymous forum.

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

Yochanon — the point of talking to the lawyers is to understand specifically whether any particular terms of service weaken the protections under Section 230. This is a worthwhile thing to understand regardless of whether or not you think my proposals for TOS are appropriate.

I’m starting to think that one of the “rules of engagement” ought to be “All commenters must read what they are responding to before opening their mouths.” I’m getting a bit tired of trying to respond to things I didn’t say.

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

Anony Mouse — EXACTLY!!!!

That was the entire purpose of my original “call for a blogger code of conduct,” to call BS on Chris Locke’s “I didn’t say it so it wasn’t my responsibility” even though it happened on a site that he had the power to moderate.

As you point out, other people with the ability to post on that blog also had the power to speak up and say it was out of line. No one did.

What I’m asking people to sign up for, so to speak, is that kind of responsibility for “the neighborhood.”

• http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

Essentially, people called bullshit on every point of your “code of conduct.” You concede most of their points, but won’t give it up. Captains go down with their ships. But so do barnacles.

Your sermon from the mount – really, the apotheosis of an A-lister talking down to the little people – has been rejected by your subjects, and you’re the only one who doesn’t know it yet.

• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

Some of the comments were taken out of context, and made to sound far worse than they were in context. But to say that, especially at the time, risked the wrath of the mob. So it wasn’t said. This is not considered in the “code of conduct” :-(.

Thus we have endless handwringing over a version of the story that is rather far from a full and disinterested account.

Which connects to the unhappiness that views the code of conduct as mostly a rhetorical weapon.

• http://www.wordsoup.com Karl

You simply cannot expect to “manage” human behavior on such a massive scale. There are systems in place already to manage outrageous and violent behavior. They are called bans, post deletes, and calling the police if necessary.

Categorizing humans into comfortable categories based on an arbitrary range of accepted behaviors dictated by a random selection of elite digerati will be about as successful as forcing a river to wear a Christian Dior ball gown.

A lot of people feel intimidated by those who attack them as against free speech if they try to limit unpleasantness.

Anyone who’s going to let the trolls intimidate them should either not blog, or not have open comments. It really is just that simple.

It concerns me that Kathy Sierra, whose bad experience triggered this discussion, thinks that a code of conduct such as I proposed would do no good.

While it may concern you, it’s still entirely true. Psycho internet stalkers don’t give a crap about what the “code” says.

I’m trying to change the general perception of what’s OK.

But wait, I thought you were just trying to give bloggers mechanisms for implementing their own policies and not trying to impose your values on anyone. That’s what you said. I read it. Don’t accuse me of not having read your laboriously over-wordy diatribe on how other people should adopt your values.

If your goal is to direct newbs to plugins that can show/hide based on community moderation, that’s fine. If you want to implement a certain policy here, on your site – More power to you.

Is it really that everyone so misconstrued your purpose? Is it really that your goal is just so entirely redundant as to be laughable? There already ARE mechanisms for moderation. Blog owners already HAVE the right to delete or edit comments. Death threats and libel already ARE illegal. So what’s the point then?

The point can only be, “I’m trying to change the general perception of what’s OK.” The point can only be “Free speech is enhanced by civility.î

By your definition, my site is Double Plus Unfree™ then, since my very own posts, right on the front page lack civility and are often INTENDED to offend.

You can blather on all you want about what your goal is, but don’t insult my intelligence by insinuating your goal has nothing to do with imposing YOUR values on sites that DON’T belong to you.

• Ian Rennie

“But as Sara Winge, our VP of Corporate Communications pointed out, it’s not an accident that “Civil” is also the first two syllables of “civilization.””

Oh for the love of god.

The reason civil is the start of the word civilized is the same as the reason that polite shares a root with metropolis.

“Civil” and “Polite” both originally meant something similar to “the behaviour of someone who lives in the city”

This comes from a time of city-states, where cities and towns were the only place where the rule of law existed. Polite is also from the same root as politician and policeman. Sharing a root is not sharing a meaning.

I’m surprised I would have to explain this to anyone.

• http://thickslab.com/blog/ thickslab

Tim

If this is about the Kathy Sierra thing, can someone explain to me how this “Blogger’s [sic] Code of Conduct” would have ***prevented*** it from happening, or even ***changed the course of events*** one iota?

Nowhere In Tim O’Reilly’s response does he show how this code of conduct would have prevented people from posting anonymous comments, from setting up new blogs to harass her, or from sending death threats. How would hiding or deleting the death threats have **PREVENTED** — notice that key word — or **CHANGED** — another key word — anything?

Tim O’Reilly, you really need to stop talking down to everyone as if what they need to do to solve this nonexistent problem is adopt your idea of this code of conduct and some meaningless, unenforceable badges and things will start getting better.

• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

• emigre

This issue has come up time and again. Unfortunately many bloggers ignore inappropriate behaviour till “it” impacts on a close associate.

It would be fantastic to think bloggers could conduct themselves with integrity all on their own, but many of them can’t – including many who also double as mainstream journalists.

I’ve had a gutsfull. Something needs to be done to control mainly male protagonists who cannot operate ethically without guidance.

Many of the topics discussed in the blogosphere generate emotive activity, this will always be so and a good code will not stifle an essential human need for creative self expression.

Bloggers must consider ways to collectively judge the difference between self expression and going too far, blogospheric history is proving that bloggers need a code to help them do this.

There is a very clear line, as far as I am concerned, between having a genuine clash and threatening another bloggers life.

I support a code of conduct.

• http://javairasfolly.jandell.net Javaira

I wish people would drop the A lister argument.

Yes, Tim has only given this thought because something has happened to directly effect someone he knows. Who cares?

That does not mean that the problem does not exist, all it means is that this discussion is long overdue.

I have been watching some nasty stuff happen in my own little corner of the webverse, and I don’t think it is ok, that the victims just need to grow a pair.

It is easy to let the status quo remain, it is very hard to look at something as valuable to us as the internet and say well Ok, there are some problems with it. What can we do?

Yes, we need to think hard about the possible ramifications of a code and try to make it free from future abuses (especially in regards to censorship). Remember though this is a voluntary code and you don’t have to abide by it.

• Ben

Tim,

All do respect, but I think there’s something more than just setting up rules. There’s a difference between a blog posting their own ToS and some guy making it up for them.

• http://mistersnitch.blogspot.com/ Mister Snitch!

Jeff Jarvis has a vastly inflated sense of his own importance. I like your idea a lot. Those who don’t are – wait for it – perfectly free to ignore it.

As for the badge graphic, that can be worked out. It’s the least important part of this idea, and a task easily farmed out to your graphic artist readers, while you focus on the actual structure of your idea.

• yochanon

Aside from your snobbery, Tim, if you still have to check that what *YOU* are wanting to do with legalities, my argument still stands head and shoulders above your snide remark to my post. Apparently with more than half the posts saying it’s just a plain dumb idea to even think about setting up this ‘code’ of yours, you *still* think yourself above it all. Dictators and kings think that way too.

• Ben

“perfectly free to ignore it.”

Yeah, accept when people who know about it visit my blog and don’t see a graphic, they’ll assume I’m not civilized.

• http://www.crossoss.com Chris Howard

I totally support the idea from the beginning. Ironically, many bloggers already have codes of conduct for their readers which are similar.

I liked the badge idea, albeit a positive symbol rather than a negative one. It was nice way to let readers know that this was a site where their opinions would be respected as long as presented respectfully.

I can’t see how or why anyone would object to people’s right to be treated with respect in favor of their right to say what ever they like.

The internet, while allowing wonderful advances in communication and knowledge mangement, has also created unrealistic expectations.

– One is the expectation that everything should be free, which led to the rise of peer-to-peer music “sharing”;

– Another is the expectation that policing is the responsibility of the end user – hence ISPs and others taking no responsibility for content filtering (Free-to-air, pay TV providers, newsagents and bookshops are all expected to restrict content, yet ISPs claim it’s not their responsibility and it’s too hard. )

– and another the assumption is the one you’re railing against, that online I can say whatever I like, that the rules of civility are somehow different.

• Ian Rennie

“Jeff Jarvis has a vastly inflated sense of his own importance. I like your idea a lot. Those who don’t are – wait for it – perfectly free to ignore it.”

The same way that movie producers are “perfectly free” to ignore voluntary MPAA ratings guidelines. That is, if they don’t mind their movie not being shown anywhere ever.

And comic book publishers in the 1960s and 1970s were “perfectly free” not to submit their comics to the CCA for approval. That is, if they didn’t mind not being listed in catalogues by comic book distributors.

All voluntary codes like this do is regulate through peer pressure.

• http://www.candleboy.com/candleblog/ Bill Simmon

Tim,

First, kudos to you for putting up with the misconceptions and anger this has stirred up and for making compelling arguments.

I’m not sure if this will help or hinder your process in all of this but my little Vermont-based blog is getting more “action” over this issue than pretty much anything in the previous three years of blogging. I’m surprised and a little disappointed at the vitriol the subject has invoked in folks (on my blog and elsewhere). I’ve had a back in forth with a good friend over it that has gotten quite heated. anyway, I’m posting the links here in case you or your readers are interested (or can put up with the debate at all anymore — it’s exhausting). Apologies for the ugly urls…

• Rick Jelliffe

Another aspect to this is that in the world wide web, there are people who do not come from cultures or ethnicities where contention or advocacy is regarded positively. Of course there are contentious and rude people everywere, as well as kids who are still learning the various strategies for getting their ideas across.

But people from a respect-based or seniority-based culture (notably many Asian cultures) can be intimidated or repelled by too-direct statements of views. Civility is therefore, to a certain extent, an issue of inclusiveness.

Should the benchmark of civility for the WWW be what middling-polite members of the most contentious societies think is acceptable? That seems to be result at the moment.

• http://buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

Tim,

Of course, I read the EFF on Section 230. And in your next paragraph, you acknowledge that you came to the very same conclusion I did: that the wording of your pledge, not to mention the Times coverage of it, brought possible peril. That’s just what I was saying.

As for your earlier assertion about me, I do indeed tell people that I reserve the right, which I exercise occasionally — rarely, actually — to kill comments that are abusive or even off-topic. But that is not the same as taking a pledge that I am some paragon of civility. There’s a difference. I, like other bloggers, don’t want pressure to adopt your pledge and your standards. I already have mine. That’s just the point.

Like others, I do think your intentions are good. But I think the implications of your effort are dangerous beyond the one you quote. Start with a New York Times page-one headline using this as yet another excuse to view us as a monolith and judge us by our worst and sum up this world in the word “nasty.”

• Deliberately Anonymous

i so enjoyed reading this particular response to mr o’reilly’s pie in the sky ideas, whilst choking on my fist, that i thought i should point you all to it again from this new thread.

warning: may contain nuts

Tim, to me you come off as a moral high-grounder and that puts a bad taste in my mouth. We’re not stupid, we understand the Golden Rule.

I’d like to know who anonymously posted these four simple rules, http://asimplecode.com/, but they’re short and sweet and really do say it all. It’s only for us to do what we already know is right, maybe reflecting on these simple rules would help.

• Ed Martinez

The internet is the only place where libertianism actually works if we look at the big picture from the Utilitarian perspective.

• dufpatrol

I think I will let the quote below say what I believe.

“If librarianship is the connecting of people to ideas ñ and I believe that is the truest definition of what we do ñ it is crucial to remember that we must keep and make available, not just good ideas and noble ideas, but bad ideas, silly ideas, and yes, even dangerous or wicked ideas.”
— Graceanne A. Decandido

• Tim Prince

The marketplace of ideas has a built-in civility meter. We don’t need censors. Let Jimmy know that if he’s planning on building-in some kind of sanitizing element with his new search engine, he ought to pack it in now.

• Robert

Why not just let it be? Academia, and in general, the pencil-necked-geek crowd, have an obsessive desire to stare endlessly at thier own navels and then announce something incredibly obvious (“Let’s all be civil!”). They then proceed to categorize and pidgeonhole everything from bunny farts to internet behavior, thinking this thinking in some way is related to thier intelligence, which they cannot help but point out to everyone. Go DO something. And while you’er at it, stop talking about it.

• Michael Chui

Still, personally, I liked Yehuda’s Blogger’s Code of Ethics. If only it had functional modularity, the way CC Licenses do.

• http://civilities.net/people/JonGarfunkel Jon Garfunkel

Michael (and Tim) —

I had posted a link to to such a modular framework yesterday morning. Perhaps you may have missed it. Here is the link directly to the framework:

I was inspired by Tim’s very first post to do this, since that’s what I figured he wanted– not the code of conduct trap.

Jon

• http://www.owenkelly.net Owen

ProfessorDino asked: So, if so many of you are against Tim’s proposal, at least initially, then what solution(s) would you propose?

My response to this is: solution(s) to what?

The basis of the problem, as I understand it so far, is that some people are not being “civil” when they post to their blogs and, even more so, when they comment on other people’s blogs.

This raises the question: at what level is this solvable? At what level can we say that the problem exists, and a solution can therefore be found?

Tim O’Reilly says: Here’s how the “code of conduct” would have helped the Kathy Sierra thing: Social mores are the prevailing values of a group. One of the “values” of the internet is that unfettered speech is better than any restriction.

I propose that, as a starting point, this confuses rather than elucidates. It misunderstands the problem and hence makes the search for a realistic solution harder.

Tim seems to see “the internet” (or “the blogosphere”) as a single group or a community. This is a category error. The map is not the territory. The analogy is not the reality. The internet is not “a place”, and even less is it a single town, or a community in a single town.

There is no “group” that can be asked to be civil, even if those who see themselves as members of a “blogosphere” wish to act as though there is.

I had never heard of Kathy Sierra or any of the allegedly leading players in this saga until last week. I had never seen their sites, and they have almost certainly never seen mine, or any of the many sites that I visit daily.

We do not inhabit the same “place”. We simply use the same tools, and because of the global reach of these tools, we may – once in a while – find ourselves within view of each other. We may then interact well or badly; we may then communicate or miscommunicate, understand each other or misunderstand each other.

This should not be surprising. The internet is a set of linked communication tools that different people, and different groups of people, use for their own (similar, different, separate, overlapping and often contradictory) purposes. Contradiction and friction are built into the tools and will be unless they are centrally controlled, and their use licensed and monitored.

The problem then, imho, is: what do we do with people playing different games using different rules, when they come into contact, and start having problems with each other.

Personally, I am all in favour of civility. I am all in favour of rational discussion. I am all in favour of Jan and Dean’s status in the pantheon of popular music being revised sharply upwards. Other people may agree with some or all of these.

I believe that civility, and the recognition of Jan and Dean’s true worth, are aspects of life that individuals must decide, and act upon, themselves.

For this reason I think that a Code is silly and potentially dangerous. I think realistic solutions include mechanisms to disemvowel comments when it seems like a good idea; to have them user-moderated into near invisibility; or to have run through a Slashdot-like threshold system.

In other words I don’t think you can (or should) stop people from being “inappropriate”, but I think you *can* filter so that different groups can get different fish from the same pool.

• http://straitofmessia.blogspot.com Bliss

Although posed as voluntary, the obvious risk is that the “Code” will be adopted by blog-hosts, and imposed upon their bloggers. Granted, there’s already Terms of Service, but a more rigid Code potentially creates a scenario where you have blog-hosts issuing ASBOs to bloggers – “Someone found that anonymous comment about George Bush offensive – delete it, or we will delete your blog.” The risk isn’t on the individual level – the Code and the ridiculous badges can all get bent, imho – it’s on the larger scale level. Another example – what if a searching service (we’ll arbitrarily harass MSN) decided to exclude all non-labeled blogs from its search service? Or only certain ones (“No sheriff badge, no search result link!”)?

And tying anonymity to civility is still problematic. For example, Thomas Paine published Common Sense anonymously – I think, in retrospect, we can all agree that, hey, that was some good, thoughtful political debate. Back then, probably more than a handful of people found it fairly offensive that some anonymous guy was hashing on the King (and Parliment).

And, speaking as a lawyer, let me give you a related concept. My jurisdiction (as with most jurisdictions) has a civility code for attorneys published in the fairly-recent past as a panacea for the vitrol inherent in my profession. Guess what – some lawyers still break ethical rules, some still slur other lawyers, some still scream about your heritage to your face, and some will overtly insult the court in questioning rulings. In short, what’s the benefit? None – civility in the legal profession, believe it or not, is regulated by attorneys themselves – lack civility, get ostracized. “Well, but what about the anonymous guy that posts a nasty comment?” Same deal – mob reaction. I was amused today reading a baseball-related post, where someone went all ad hominem on people arguing with him about the slugging qualities of a player. As you got deeper into the string, the collective conscious turned on this guy, and wave after wave of poster destroyed him. He stopped posting – self-regulation at its finest. Same in the legal profession – step outside the bounds, reputation gets hammered, people don’t deal with you. And nobody has to pull out a copy of the civility rules and conduct a Sermon on the Mount.

Do I have my own blog rules? Sure – to self-regulate, based on my *own* values and priorities, and based upon the nature of the blog – just to give a heads-up to my readers what they will and won’t see me write. I don’t, however, regulate my reader’s comments – there’s something counterintuitive about saying “Hey! Look at my public blog! Please comment!” and then saying, “Oh, but don’t say A, B, C – and don’t post anonymously – and email me first, in private, if you want to call me out on something…etc.” One would imagine that civility would also include not demanding that a stranger adhere to some arbitrary speech code in advance – to flip your point, that wouldn’t fly in person, why should it fly on a blog? I can’t imagine that you actually meet someone new, and immediately give them a Code of Civility for them to review and adhere to before they start talking to you . . .

Thanks for quoting me in this post. I’m really happy to see how open you are for feedback.

Even if I remain not very enthusiast about a code of conduct, I think civility is key for a sound blogosphere and I believe that your post raised a good debate on difficult questions.

• http://www.aretao.com Dean Shankle

“But I believe that civility is catching, and so is uncivility. If it’s tolerated, it gets worse.”

I worked for 20 years in local government in New Hampshire and would like to say that this, based on my personal experience at any rate, is an accurate statement. (Although I would have called it “incivility” :).)

I don’t really know what the answer is, but I think you are raising the right issues and starting an important dialog: “The mechanisms I proposed may not be the right ones, but I am convinced that the goal is worthwhile. Let’s figure out the right way to reach it.”

• http://www.yankeesailor.us The Yankee Sailor

I don’t understand what the hubub is all about. MilBloggers have had an informal code of conduct since 2005 called The MilBlogs ROE, and it’s been working just fine. Bloggers that like the idea self-enforce on their blogs, and bloggers that don’t like it, well, don’t. Nothing forces a blogger to adopt the code.

• http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

“Civility” is still subjective when it comes to heated topics. People are frequently subjected to uncivil behavior, no matter how they behave, for simply having the “wrong beliefs.” The defense is always that the very expression of this belief was an act of incivility. I could politely say, “I don’t believe in universal democracy, I think the right to vote should be legally restricted to productive citizens who are not receiving any money directly from the government,” and in many circles (including non-government ones) I’d be attacked as an uncivil boor, even if the other person goes stark raving nuts at me for suggesting such a thing.

Part and parcel of this should be a cold indifference to the feelings of sensitive people. Such people are drags on the conversation as a whole. The blogosphere should not cater to the perpetually offended because they are mental midgets who, quite frankly, should not be participating in any capacity in the blogosphere. People who get offended very easily are slaves to their emotions, and it is generally a waste of time to give their opinions and desires any credence.

• Oligonicella

Tim O’Reilly:

thickslab —

“Here’s how the “code of conduct” would have helped the Kathy Sierra thing:

Social mores are the prevailing values of a group. One of the “values” of the internet is that unfettered speech is better than any restriction. This keeps people who might have spoken up sooner about a conversation getting out of hand from saying anything. If the prevailing value is that you can say what you want to say without being insulting, and comments that are offensive in various ways are deleted, the general tenor of conversation becomes higher.”

Well then, why didn’t Kathy have that conduct for her site? If she failed to police the commentary as you suggest, isn’t she the culprit? She is the one with the blog where “unfettered speech is better”. How then can she complain about the results of her efforts?

“The point is that we tolerate on our blogs a style of conversation that we would never tolerate from people in our physical presence. Taunting, bullying, nastiness are not OK, and the fact that they are happening in comments on a blog or on a mailing list doesn’t make them OK.”

Then, why didn’t she moderate and preclude the possibility?

“I’m trying to change the general perception of what’s OK.”

No. You’re weighing in on your personal opinion. If you were to post on a blog of mine, it would be moderated and not see the light of day if I found it offensive, off topic, or I just didn’t like it. In other words, I would take personal responsibility and not complain about stuff I myself let through.

“But if people had said those things on oreilly blogs, I would still have been conflicted about deleting the comments, because I would have been afraid that it would have been interpreted by readers as censorship.”

Do not blame others for your lack of fortitude.

“This is why I wanted to try to move the needle to say ‘let’s clean up our act and be a little less tolerant of abusive speech.'”

To remove the onus off personal responsibility? I don’t get it. You want commenters to comment in a less ‘rude’ manner to begin with so you don’t have to exercise thought, restraint and action on your own part?

“And it’s also why, in the course of this discussion, I’m getting much more interested in better mechanisms for “demoting” comments rather than just deleting them. Demoting might mean disemvowelment, but I love the way that librarything lets people flag offensive comments so that they are hidden but still accessible.”

Using said mechanism is a personal choice of the blogster, is it not?

“With mechanisms like that in place, it would be a lot easier to deal with the gray area of “do I let this one stand or moderate it down?” The binary act of deletion is hard. So as a result of the discussion that’s been started here, I’m probably going to focus my efforts on getting better moderation tools into the major blogging platforms.”

Getting better tools, or enforcing their use?

If not the latter, then it’s just a circle jerk.

If the latter, then uh, no thanks for your oversight.

• Anonymous

Hi,

OK ñ I see youíve had to resort to the holding pen for comments, same as almost everyone else.

“Thank You for Commenting

I donít think thereís much of a problem with anonymous posters. People feel enabled to criticise, without impunity, whatever has been promoted to the world in the form of a blog post. They are able to carry out this task with complete honesty under a veil. Heck, for some bloggers, any comments of any description would be a novel idea.

Thereís a bigger problem with subliminal messages ñ like the ones in the elevator music that command you to fart as soon as somebody enters ñ like the ones in the supermarket that MAKE you buy cakes, chocolate, cigarettes, and whisky, but tell you that the vegetables and staple foods are stale and mouldy today ñ like the roadside giant billboards that, through the invisible ink text between the lines, tell drivers to happy slap the next motorist they encounter. Thatís the reason Britney shaved her head. The billboard command was quite specific about this ñ at the next salon you must shave your head, itís cool. It worked for Sinead OíConnor.

Regards,
Coral

PS. I posted this message in your now obsolete link on this subject. Please publish here and delete previous. Thanks.

• http://www.tnl.net Tristan Louis

Tim,

First of all, thanks for starting the discussion here. While I generally agree with the idea that more civility would be nice, I am still concerned that certain people might think that honest disagreement is equal to uncivility. I’d like to quote some of the portions from my dissection of your original proposal, which I believe this posts does not address yet:

he establishment of rules (or codes) seems to act as a way to ÔøΩcloseÔøΩ conversation, even if it is in a way that is limited by certain boundaries and while I agree that frankness and lack of civility are not equals, a question immediately arises as to who considers what proper civil discourse? Looking back at the creation of the United States and the institution of the Federalist papers, civility has generally been seen as the enemy of openness. The discourse between the US founding fathers was far from civil (even, in the celebrated case of Hamilton vs. Burr, ending up in a disagreement on civility ending up in a duel that greatly shortened the life of one of AmericaÔøΩs greatest genius.) So, from the opening statement, we are already faced with an interesting challenge: how do we ÔøΩencourage both personal expression and constructive conversationÔøΩ while at the same time trying to clamp down on disagreement through that dangerous weapon called civility?

I think, if I hear you well on this that you would deal with this by making the code more granular. Am I correct in my understanding? If the system is about expressing a policy, as you mentioned, isn’t it about that policy being more restrictive (or will you have binaries on each of the items, allowing for opt-in and opt-out on each item?)

let me harp on who gets to define those terms. What constitute abuse? Is saying that ÔøΩI believe so and so is a dimwit for sayingÔøΩÔøΩ considered a type of abuse?

The question I have here is that it seems like a very tricky ground, one person’s entertainment is another person’s abuse.
Let me take an extremist example here to amplify this point: battles around porn have often found feminists and religious conservative in the same camp opposing nudity in magazines. They see it as a form of publication demeaning women. However, a substantial portion of the male public sees it as attractive and does not consider it demeaning.
The reason I am taking this extreme example is that the extreme is generally where most people feel uncomfortable (witness “People vs. Larry Flint”). Community mores are difficult to deal with, especially when it comes to the internet (and its subset the blogosphere) because each community may have different standard. So, for example, what is considered acceptable (or even civil) forms of speech on a left-wing blog would be considered a violation of civility on a right-wing blog (and vice-versa). How does your code cover those areas? This is where some of the really difficult issues arise.

3. We connect privately before we respond publicly.

Does that mean that every person thatÔøΩs talked about it contactable? If the president of the United States makes a comment, how do I connect privately to him before responding publicly? Does my sending him a letter constitute such private communication or do I need to wait for an acknowledgment of receipt?

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

Same as above. What if the attempt is not answered? Does that make it OK? Do we need to vet every comment beforehand? Should I send this to Tim and wait for his comment before I publish it? What if he sits on it: does that quash the story altogether?

You are still not answering the questions raised to that effect. What if one doesn’t have the contacts. You are privileged in that you generally can reach out to the people you write about due to your status/role in the industry. However, most of vast unwashed are not. How can they connect or be connected to? And what happens if a person does not want to be connected to? Can one write about them or not?

For example, I did send you a copy of my post over email but still haven’t seen a response. Was I irresponsible in posting it before you commented? If that’s the case, could one easily quash entries/articles they don’t want to see by simply refusing to respond?

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

What type of action? What constitutes an unfair attack?

So I disagreed with your post and thought it was an unfair attack on the people on the Internet who believe in a more open framework. I took action by posting my reply to you about it. However, I broke the previous point of connecting (in that I didn’t wait for you to get back to me). The other question is what’s an unfair attack. In that previous sentence, I called the attack you made on those people unfair. Does that make it so? If that’s the case, what if someone else now says that it wasn’t? How do you arbitrate about those two points of views?

We prefer not to respond to nasty comments about us or our blog, as long as they donÔøΩt veer into abuse or libel. We believe that feeding the trolls only encourages themÔøΩÔøΩNever wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.ÔøΩ Ignoring public attacks is often the best way to contain them.

If thatÔøΩs the case, why should they be deleted then? This last section seems to contradict the rest of the codeÔøΩ

Is that now part of a more granular framework?

Also, a question is as to how you do this on a global basis. In a follow up comment I made on my blog, I asked another complex question:

A follower of Moktada al-Sadr posts an entry on his blog on wordpress.com asking to join the protest and force the US troops out of Iraq. A Kuwaiti commenter disagrees with him and says that people who follow the party line from Iran should be executed.

In this case, you have two promotions of illegal acts (forcing the US forces out of Iraq through violent protest and execution of dissenters) from two different parties on a US-based blogging service.

One could argue the commenter is cyber-bullying the author of the post.

Which body of law applies in that case? Iraqi? Kuwaiti? US? ThatÔøΩs the kind of can of worm such argument opens.

How do you address such a thing?

• http://www.imaginativeuniversal.com Herr Ziffer

A correction is in order, if other film buffs havn’t already pointed it out.

The line “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges” does come from John Huston’s Treasure of Sierra Madre, but it isn’t said by Bogie. Instead, it is said to him by a Mexican bandit played by the actor Alfonso Bedoya.

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

Oligoncella —

You haven’t done your homework. The comments that frightened Kathy were not on her blog. She was taunted and harassed there to some extent, but she did police those comments. The ones that really freaked her out were on another blog, whose owner eventually took it down entirely after it got out of hand, but had up to that time not merely tolerated but apparently encouraged the increasingly off-color lampooning of Kathy on that blog. Yet when Kathy went public with her story, he said that he wasn’t responsible, because he was not the author of the posts in question.

That was the origin of my attempt to frame a code of conduct that included taking responsibility for what happens in a blog space you control. I was not trying to suggest that a site owner is responsible for every comment made there, but I was trying to suggest that you are responsible for the overall tenor of what you allow, and especially if you encourage it.

Owen — I think you’re completely misunderstanding my position if you think that I believe that the “blogosphere” is a unitary place. However, you have only to look at these comment threads to see that there are large groupings of prevailing sentiment. Events, and the interpretation of those events, and the actions of individuals, changes that prevailing sentiment.

A country is not a unitary place either. But if you study the history of our country, or any other, you’ll see huge swings in prevailing sentiment, such that behavior that was once considered acceptable is now considered unacceptable, and the reverse.

I enjoyed your reference to General Semantics, but you didn’t go far enough in thinking about it. This entire debate is a classic example of the ills that General Semantics sought to address: people fighting about maps and labels, not spending the time to understand the territory but fighting about the words used to describe it.

Hence my reference to “framing.” I’ll lay odds that if I’d used different words and images to make my initial proposal, people would have very different reactions. Many respondents have no problem with “terms of service,” but see red with “code of conduct” even when the “code of conduct” contains much the same terms as the “terms of service” (or in the case of Jeff Jarvis “rules of engagement”) that they already subscribe to.

I believe that I’m thinking about a real problem, and proposing solutions for how to deal with it, and I’ve moved quite a lot in the direction that you also ended up, namely that we need better moderation mechanisms in common blogging software. Right now, all we have as a tool is the binary delete/allow.

I’m planning to take practical steps to provide additional moderation plugins that could then be used by any blog owner who wants to use them.

Yankee Sailor — Thanks for the link, and your practical take on the impact of such a “code.” It’s very much how I imagined it.

Bliss, I understand your concern. However, given that the major blog hosts already have such terms of service, I don’t see that as a significant risk. And I absolutely support functional anonymity, as in your Thomas Paine example. But do you really equate Common Sense with “Fuck you, asshole,”? Can you see the distinction I’m making between functional and drive by anonymity?

Back to Oligoncella — do you really think that having better tools without enforcing their use is just a circle jerk? I don’t think so at all. I have never envisioned anything but voluntary mechanisms (whether a “code of conduct” or “terms of service” that is easy for bloggers to sign up for, or tools for moderation.)

Slashdot is a really good model for what I would like to see: because they have good moderation tools, it’s possible to read a comment thread and see only the useful comments, or if you want a deep dive, to see all comments. This creates an inclusive community where insightful and insulting posters can coexist. On most blogs, on the other hand, insulting posters with inflammatory comments must either be deleted or let stand. And is so often the case, there are many comments in a gray area.

dufpatrol — I’m not talking about dangerous or wicked ideas. I particularly like Norman Mailer’s definition of wicked: “upping the ante without knowing the consequences.” I’m talking about personal attacks. Does it really advance our political discourse for posters on a recent Washington Post article about Tony Snow’s cancer to gloat and wish he dies in pain? I’m as appalled by our current administration as anyone, but I’m even more appalled by the fact that the Post somehow thinks that they should publish that drivel because they don’t want to take responsibility for what people post on the platform they’ve provided! I’m not denying anyone the right to have their own platform for drivel, but I’m suggesting that if a site allows itself to become a haven for attack commentary, they should own it, not disclaim it under the guise of “well, you can’t censor the internet.”

Back to Bliss — good point about not walking up to someone and handing them a “code of conduct” before you start a conversation. That being said, many sites already do this, with a terms of service link etc. The two situations are not entirely analogous.

• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

Tim, I know this isn’t going to do any good, but just for the record, in terms of futile crusading for accuracy:

YOU HAVE A WRONG MENTAL MODEL OF THE DETAILS OF WHAT HAPPENED!

You are mistaken. You are in error. You are proceeding emotionally, from an invalid premise.

Which, sigh, is exactly why A-listers as judge, jury, and executioner, is such a bad idea.

Look, I know how this goes, I’ve been through it many a time. If you reply at all, you’re going to say something like “It was *bad stuff*. Beyond the bounds of human decency!”. And there’s going to be absolutely no way I could convince you otherwise, as you’re just not going to listen, because it’s *your* *friend* who is upset. I’m not intending to be playing a rhetorical trick here, I’m trying to acknowledge the human element, where it’s simply not a rational argument.

But the whole problem of making these sorts of systems is that they have to work across widely divergent views of humor and propriety.

Or, in sum, what are you going to do when a comment you find extremely hateful gets community-modded up as (+5, Funny)?

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

Jon, your post at Comment Management Responsibility: A Proposal is very detailed and thought provoking, as well as way more comprehensive than anything I’d thought so far. You’ve broken things down with a lot of detail about assertions a blogger might want to make about his or her comment policy. Your line:

“Prohibitions: Copyright violations; Libel; Defamatory; Abuse; Obscenity; Privacy; Spam;”

is probably closest to what I’ve been talking about, though I’m not sure that the average blog owner will be able to distinguish between Libel, Defamation and Abuse. But you’ve very definitely got the idea I was trying to get at.

Your proposal illustrates the value of a modular code. Someone might want to say: I will allow obscenity, but not abuse (which is our policy at O’Reilly). Someone else might want to flag “I don’t tolerate obscenity, regardless of any other value in your comment.” Labeling your comment policy would then give people the foreknowledge that if they used obscenities, their comment would be deleted. That’s how advance notice of a site’s policies could be useful to both the site owner and to commenters.

That being said, as a result of this discussion, I’m now much more interested in moderation mechanisms than in statements of policy (though fine grained statements of what policies might be desirable can help to shape the configuration knobs and levers on moderation software.)

And it’s also true that copyright violation and libel have legal redress, and I can’t imagine anyone who’d say outright: I allow these things.

• http://www.jb.com.br Juliana Rocha

Mr. O’Reilly,

I’m a brazilian reporter and I contacted O’Reilly media to set an interview with you. As I mentioned in a previous post I’m writing an article about your call to conduct guidelines for bloggers to Jornal do Brasil, one of the most traditional and oldest newspaper of my country. Sara Winge answered you won’t be able to do that interview and I shall work with your post on tahat blog. But, what brings me here again, is that maybe you might reconsider or find some extra time to answer me. It’s just a couple questions, and I’m also posting them here.

Thank you for your help and comprehension.

1) Do you believe that is the time to professionalize blogosphere? Do you believe that having a conduct guide is a step toward the profissionalization?

2) Internet – and blogosphere – reflects human behaviors. And some of us are not that good people. I’d like you to comment the problems over thinking that blogosphere is a space without any kind of rules. Internet is not a bad thing, isn’t it? Technology can’t be blamed for people’s misbehave, can’t it?

3) EFF has its own code for blogging and it says that anonimity is a digital right that has to be protected. How do you see the EFF guidelines for blogging and your call? Do you see conflict? Do you believe that your call does not violate digital right?

Hope we can discuss that!
Give me a call or email me ASAP!

• http://straitofmessia.blogspot.com Bliss

But it’s perspective. Of course, we all love Common Sense, but I suspect that:

“In England a King hath little more to do than to make war and giveaway places; which, in plain terms, is to empoverish the nation and set it together by the ears. A pretty business indeed for a man to be allowed eight hundred thousand sterling a year for, and worshipped into the bargain! Of more worth is one honest man to society, and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.”

was a statement that the King took as a “Fuck you, asshole.” Flash forward to the present – with the ambiguous standards, there are going to be vast swaths of people that will *not* distinguish between “Fuck you, asshole.” and a well-placed (and perhaps slightly obscene) commentary on George Bush’s leadership skills. Trying to draw a line between the two is simply too arbitrary – if you’re going to allow some anonymous comments, then you’re going to have to get thicker skin and allow all anonymous comments – in for a penny, in for a pound.

• http://www.newstrust.net/ Fabrice Florin

Tim, thanks so much for starting this important discussion about online civility, which is long overdue.

The ideas you propose are pointing us in the right direction, even if their final execution ends up taking a different form. A modular code of conduct, policy badges and moderation mechanisms all seem like reasonable ways to help civil society grow on the net. These tools can empower citizens with limited time to participate more effectively in the public discourse, and make more informed decisions about democracy.

Due to the explosion of new media, the consolidation of big media, we’re facing complex challenges like information overload, misinformation, mistrust and civic apathy, as shown in this diagram.

Clearly, solutions to these problems will require much experimentation, by trial and error. But some of the ideas discussed here, if developed carefully, could help improve some of the popularity-driven, flame-based sling-fests that pass for civil discourse.

With that in mind, I would like to point out some of the work under way at NewsTrust, our nonprofit social news site devoted quality journalism:
http://www.newstrust.net/

NewsTrust presents one possible solution for addressing some of the issues discussed here. We help people find quality information online, by evaluating how that information adheres to core journalistic principles – which also happen to be the principles of good civil discourse. This process shows promise as a meta-moderation method for evaluating the civility of a blogger, commenter or publication. It could complement self-evaluation badges or policy statements with an independent trustmark badge, much like TrustE does to confirm the privacy policy of a web site.

We’ve based our social trust network on a few key principles, which seem to be working well for us, even though we’re still in beta stage.

Here are some unique aspects of our service:

* we rate information quality, not just popularity

* we evaluate news and opinions based on core principles of journalism

* our rating criteria include fairness, evidence, context and importance

* we track ratings for each publication in our source reputation database

* we feature stories from our most trusted sources in our daily listings

To discourage gaming, we offer these preventive measures:

* reviewers are identified by their real names

* we rate our reviewers based on the quality of their work

* our reviewers’ ratings are weighted based on their own member level

* member levels are based on activity, experience, ratings and transparency

Our research studies suggest that:

* citizens using our tools can assess news quality as well as professionals

* our multiple-rating evaluations are more reliable than single ratings

As a result, our collaborative evaluation system appears more effective for identifying quality information than first-generation social news sites.

Again, we’re still in early stage and we certainly don’t claim to have all the answers. But some of the methods described above could prove valuable in assessing online civility and content types other than journalism, which is why I thought I’d share them here.

We’d be happy to contribute to a wider effort to address these urgent issues. In the meantime, you can read more about us on our beta site.

Thanks again for hosting this important discussion.

• http://ivan.atomodiseno.com Ivan Grimaldo

Creo que antes de escribir esto deberias de recordar que el internet es completamente libre y si hay cosas que no quieres leer solo cierralas… increhible!

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

Seth, I assume that when you say “YOU HAVE A WRONG MENTAL MODEL OF THE DETAILS OF WHAT HAPPENED!” you are referring to the Meankids/Unclebobism Kathy Sierra situation.

You may well be right, but unlike many people, I did a fair amount of homework before I made any statement on the subject. I talked to Kathy Sierra, I talked to Chris Locke. I got them to talk to each other.

And since then, I’ve done my best both to represent both sides and to correct what I’ve said if one side or the other objected to my characterization of events (see my additional note at the top of my initial post after Chris Locke complained.)

You may be right that I don’t understand the details of what happened. At this point, because the sites were deleted, anyone who wasn’t a reader at the time has limited ability to see for ourselves. (And that’s one very powerful argument for one of the things I’m arguing for, namely better moderation mechanisms that the binary act of deletion.)

And as a result of that, I’ve limited my comments to things that I have seen, such as the post about Maryam Scoble, and Chris Locke’s disclaimer of responsibility for things he didn’t post but did allow on his group blog, and by silence assented to.

I don’t think that this makes me judge, jury and executioner. For Christ’s sake, all I’ve suggested is that bloggers take more responsibility for the tone of their blogs, and don’t hide behind the idea that “it’s the internet, stupid,” so anything goes.

I’m happy to think this through with people who believe that we need to tolerate incivility for the benefits of open dialogue. It’s a controversial enough idea that it bears some serious thought. But it’s amazing to me how much folks like you are characterizing a proposed mechanism for blog owners to express their own preferences for civil dialogue as somehow the top-down imposition of conformity and censorship.

How much censorship do you see in the comment thread on this blog? I’ve deleted only comments that contained only taunting or expletives, and have left anything with substantial content.

Meanwhile, you’ve illustrated one of the other things that ought to be a common standard: to disclose your interest in the situation. I was very careful when I posted on the Kathy Sierra situation to disclose my friendship with her. From your comments, it appears that you were either friends with one or more of the protagonists on the other side of the imbroglio, or a participant in one of the sites in question, or otherwise involved. Can you please disclose the nature of your relationship to the situation?

Transparency is a value. I have it. Do you?

I’m not saying you have to share my value of disclosure, but per the “code of conduct” discussion, I’m happy to assert that I disclose my interests in any situation, and believe that others should too.

In any event, rather than simply asserting that “there’s absolutely no way I could convince you otherwise,” you might actually try.

• http://www.yankeesailor.us The Yankee Sailor

Bliss, I think in your equasion between Common Sense and the more colorful comment there is a powerful distinction. One was clearly an attack on the system of monarchy, though it could be construed as a personal attack, and the other is clearly no more than a personal attack. The opponents of George Bush no more want to disestablish the system of government than did the opponents of Bill Clinton.

I think in the end what we have are legal, reporting and enforcement problems. If you walked up to someone on the street and said, “I’m going to kill you now”, those aren’t just words, they’re a crime – assault. Online some people feel free to do exactly that, however, because of the veil of anonimity and the ambiguity of how to and who can enforce laws, and indeed whether laws even apply.

• http://www.davidarussell.co.uk/2007/04/10/code-of-conduct-no-way/ David Russell

Tim, I’m glad to see that you at least understand (if not agree with) some of the objections to your proposal, but I still think that your choice of words is helping to inflame, not calm, the situation.

Anyone who uses words you don’t like is ‘potty mouthed’, anyone who debates in a way you don’t like is ‘pig wrestling’. My main problem with this proposal is that it smacks of moralising. That sanctimonious, holier-than-thou attitude which is in many ways worse, more stifling to debate, than the incivility you seek to combat.

• http://civilities.net/people/JonGarfunkel Jon Garfunkel

Tim,

Thanks for taking the time to read through my contribution and responding here. I understand you are busy preparing for the Web 2.0 conference next week and may not have time to direct this as much as you would like.

There is certainly more work to do in the area of standards management, and I think it would best proceed with a high-visibility leader coordinating the efforts of CMS vendors, publishers, and community members. With your blessings, we can move forward.

• Thomas Lord

The important thing, let’s not forget, is to leverage a fairly minor example of cyber-bullying that happened to be against someone close to the elite into as much attention to the purported thought-leadership of the elite as possible. There’ve been several *years* now of things like kids switching schools because of cyber-bullying that was enabled by ill-considered “web 2.0” business models with nary a peep in this forum. But now that “our girl” has been threatened, please, all eye’s on Mr. O.

“IGNORE THE TROLL”
-t

• http://burningbird.net Shelley

“You may well be right, but unlike many people, I did a fair amount of homework before I made any statement on the subject. I talked to Kathy Sierra, I talked to Chris Locke. I got them to talk to each other.”

Did you talk to Jeneane or Frank, Tim?

• http://wolog.net/ Ping

Tim, please consider changing the way you are presenting these ideas. You’ll get much better reception.

Axe the title “code of conduct”. It’s caused you plenty of grief already, as you’ve noted. “The code of conduct needs to be more modular” is the wrong way of looking at it. The problem stems from the concept that there is such a thing as *THE* code of conduct.

A community is like a garden. The way it grows is defined by the people and norms and social interactions within, not the rules imposed from without. Offering tools to help tend the garden is a great way to go, and I encourage you to keep thinking along those lines. Different tools will be useful for different communities. Start over and say “here are some tools you can use” (which can include ideas for policies as well as technical mechanisms for moderation), and I think you will have a much more positive reaction.

Finally, one other thing. I’m picking up a sentiment along the lines of “I’m not asserting control; I’m just making suggestions.” True, you don’t actually control what is allowed on other blogs. But, you have to acknowledge that you have a lot of influence, and with that comes some responsibility to craft and present your proposals carefully. When you make the front page of the New York Times, you’re no longer just another person making a suggestion. Attention is power.

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

Shelley — No, I haven’t talked to Jeneane or Frank, but I’ve made no assertions regarding them or their behavior. I’ve only talked about Chris’ statement disavowing responsibility and my reaction to the basis he offered for it.

You’re apparently reading more in here based on your own relationships and opinions here. Please do let us know more.

• http://wolog.net/ Ping

I forgot one thing. In an earlier comment, you wrote:

“But it’s amazing to me how much folks like you are characterizing a proposed mechanism for blog owners to express their own preferences for civil dialogue as somehow the top-down imposition of conformity and censorship.”

I believe this happened to a large extent because of the language you chose, the presentation (badges etc.), and your status as an influencer. Given how much you are talking about mechanism, I imagine we already mostly agree; it’s just a matter of changing your language to match your intentions.

• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

Oh boy … where to begin … disclosures, disclosures …

I’m blog-friends with Jeneane Sessum and Frank Paynter, and slightly acquainted with “Head Lemur”. I know they wouldn’t threaten anyone, and the accusations against them were w-a-y over the top and bluntly, completely irresponsible. In fact, Jeneane was in the hospital while much of this was going on.

I also know the complicated politics here, involving the Where-Are-The-Women topic and deep feminist access-to-power issues, and why someone would want to parody and satirize Kathy Sierra. I’ve criticized her (mildly!) a few times myself. I suppose I must make clear I am not now, nor have I ever been, associated with the target sites (I suspect that may have been what you were asking, indirectly).

As a long-time net.activist (I won’t list my credentials here, but they are substantial – check out sethf.com/pioneer/ if you doubt), I’ve experienced just how much justice often depends on having friends in high places, and otherwise you’ll be told to shut your mouth, suck it up, and quit whining. That’s if you’re told anything at all, if your complaint isn’t circular-filed. And I try to keep perspective on what I’ve faced vs. what people in real physical danger face. It makes me peevish on matters of privilege.

This isn’t a case of “Mean Kids vs. Cute Kitty”. It’s a witches’ brew of jockeying for position, inflammatory charges as political weapons, retaliation against critics, A-lister’s and media agendas, all exploding over people.

While you’re correct that many commentors are uninformed, I read much relevant material while it was still available in caches, so I think my opinion on the specifics here is reasonably, though not perfectly, informed. The main thinking error you seem to be making is taking one party’s characterization of events at face value, and basing your solution off of that, when the most charitable interpretation is the very hard problem of, metaphorically, one man’s high laughter is another man’s scream.

I’m actually not staking out the stance of “need to tolerate incivility for the benefits of open dialogue.” – far more complex, I’ve thought a lot of about “signal to noise ratio”. I’m saying two things, and forgive me for being blunt:

1) You haven’t thought this through, and are making a lot of obvious errors.
2) Because of your status and the politics of the triggering event, you’re potentially doing some harm to people, and not doing any good (no, half-baked discussion is *not* always good).

To address what you say here directly: “But it’s amazing to me how much folks like you are characterizing a proposed mechanism for blog owners to express their own preferences for civil dialogue as somehow the top-down imposition of conformity and censorship.” – I’ve been trying to explain to you why that’s happening! That whatever your *intent*, you are *coming across* as wanting to do far more, not the least because “blog owners to express their own preferences” is a triviality and not in dire need of major press coverage and wikification and on and on on. Plus there’s the right-wing hate-mongers vs. liberals history of the topic of “civility” as rhetorical weapon, which is part of the reaction here.

I haven’t called you a censor. I have been trying to explain why some people are calling you a censor. This does not mean I agree with them on the choice of terminology. But I think there’s real issues under the poor expression.

I just saw your last statement as I was finishing this. Please talk to Jeneane and Frank. You may want to re-evaluated your view of these events afterwards.

• Jon Kay

Tim, let’s suppose for a second that you were the kind of rebellious and/or cynical kind of person who would start a site named “meankids” to be sarcastically mean. What would your thoughts on a Code of Conduct or karma system for that site?

Thickslab asked a pretty good question in this comment thread that still seems to remain on the table. I’m repeating it, in case you missed it.

If this is about the Kathy Sierra thing, can someone explain to me how this “Blogger’s [sic] Code of Conduct” would have ***prevented*** it from happening, or even ***changed the course of events*** one iota?

Nowhere In Tim O’Reilly’s response does he show how this code of conduct would have prevented people from posting anonymous comments, from setting up new blogs to harass her, or from sending death threats. How would hiding or deleting the death threats have **PREVENTED** — notice that key word — or **CHANGED** — another key word — anything?

• http://civilities.net/people/JonGarfunkel Jon Garfunkel

Jon Kay —

I’ve all but suggested to Tim that he start a new thread based on my CommResp article, which exudes a comment policy/risk management approach, which is what most of the critics have concentrated on and what Tim conceded his original intent was.

(I really salute Tim for answering a number of the charges on this thread since I suspect he’s busy with the upcoming Web 2.0 Expo.)

And I considered this point in the last part. Granted, I started with the original exchange between Tara Hunt and Chris Locke. I explained to Tara that Chris had triggered Godwin’s Law (or rather, Stoll’s better stating of it). She hadn’t heard of Godwin’s Law before I told her.

The MeanKids website is down, of course, so it’s not easy piecing together the facts. I have started talking to the participants. It’s been difficult to proceed because they are trying to sort out the facts among themselves which is pretty dangerous. Outside of blogland, in TV-land, adversaries tend to find trusted arbiter-journalists to act as a moderator. Not here.

My tentative understanding is that at least two parties wanted to enable discovery (of identity) to happen after the offense. Why the discovery did not proceed in a timely fashion, I am trying to find out.

• http://ronebofh.livejournal.com/ rone

Before a Code of Conduct, or “Netiquette 2.0” as i would prefer to call it, can work, we need to dispense with the social fiction of the “blogosphere” (and it hurts me to type that idiotic, soi-disant ‘word’). It is a figment created by thousands of barely connected users. Even Usenet had, at one point, a Backbone Cabal; there is no such body on the Web. It’s just a thinly connected web (ha ha) of dozens of voices clustering to each particular echo chamber. It’s too fragmented to be called a community. If this step isn’t taken, i have no doubt that the concept will fail.

Also, a big Bronx cheer to the people that hijacked the Code of Conduct discussion to beat the “meankids vs. cute kitty” dead horse. “But that’s not what happened!!!” Give up. It’s so last week.

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

Jon Kay —

I did indeed attempt to answer thickslab’s question. While there is no guarantee that a “code of conduct” would have changed anything, I was specifically trying to address the sentiment that Chris Locke expressed when he said, “I didn’t do those posts, so I wasn’t responsible.”

In the case of Bob’s Yer Uncle, Chris Locke set up the site to continue the “fun” after Frank Paynter shut down Meankids in horror at the Maryam Scoble post. Meankids sounds like it was a dumb prank that got out of hand, and heck, maybe Bob’s Yer Uncle was the same. But that’s the point: “fun” that is ugly and demeaning ends up condoning and supporting a culture of contempt.

That’s why I called for a “blogger code of conduct.” As all these comments indicate, there is a choice of values. Many of you seem to value your right to be insulting more than the right of the people you insult to be left alone. If more people feel that way than not, then insulting comments and griefers will continue to be a problem. If more people feel the other way, that civility matters, we might just hit a tipping point where the griefers feel less empowered to act out.

I understand that in my original proposal I was conflating a bunch of issues: better moderation tools, the idea of a way for sites to signal what kinds of comments they would tolerate, and opinions on how the known participants in this little drama might have better handled themselves.

Nonetheless, there was also a core message that I believe we ought to be engaging with, regardless of the merits of my original proposal for how to deal with it: It’s the inability to control flamers and griefers that leads to the closing down of once-open communication channels. Lists become moderated, blogs stop being open for comments. Now, it’s certainly possible that it’s an unwinnable war, much like spam. Technical means can help, but ultimately, it’s a social fiber that keeps antisocial behavior at bay. And the “call for a code of conduct” is a request for people who think that certain behavior is unacceptable to stand up and say so.

While I think that a lot of the outrage after Kathy’s post was in itself a kind of mob reaction (hence my attempt to argue for a back channel to ascertain facts before public accusations), it’s still important for a community to exert its collective opinion about what’s right. That’s how positive social change happens. I won’t bother pointing to many real-world analogues, since of course it’s the overflow of some of those ongoing battles, against racism, against misogyny, against political intolerance, that is also being played out on the net.

(Most of those who have focused on my “take responsibility for the tone you allow on your blog” — which was my response to Chris Locke’s comments when the situation first aired — have failed to notice my corresponding judgment on how Kathy Sierra handled things, which I expressed by my advice to talk privately rather than going public with accusations when things get out of hand.)

In the course of this reply, I think I may have also replied to Seth Finkelstein. Seth, if I haven’t answered your comments about whether or not I’m being fair to the “meankids” in my telling of the story, please be specific in what ways I’m misrepresenting what happened rather than simply asserting that I am.

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

Jon Kay – I realized I didn’t answer your opening, very direct question: “Tim, let’s suppose for a second that you were the kind of rebellious and/or
cynical kind of person who would start a site named “meankids” to be sarcastically mean. What would your thoughts on a Code of Conduct or karma
system for that site?”

Very good question. I’d say that the posters (and remember that this was a group blog, not comments by anonymous posters) of a blog like this would want to agree among themselves and understand what their limits were EVEN MORE than a site that didn’t set out to be controversial. Especially after the post that led Frank Paynter to shut down meankids, I would have thought that Bob’s Yer Uncle would have wanted to be VERY clear about its guidelines for posters to make sure that no one went over the line again. So I’m not sure where they’d draw that line, but it seems pretty clear to me that they’d want to draw one, unless they were explicitly wanting to go where Frank didn’t want to go.

• http://concordokken.com/blog Robert Renling

You shouldn’t brand civility.

• http://straitofmessia.blogspot.com Bliss

Yankee Sailor – But, again, where’s the line? I use Common Sense just for its prominent place in history as an anonymous publication; but people’s concern seems to be the worst-case scenario “drive by” anonymous poster. Well, for example, suppose a blog is having a long comment string on whether or not the draft should be reinstituted to compensate for troop level needs. An anonymous comment might be posted that simply says “Fuck the draft.” Under this proposed Code, that would be the horrible evil drive-by anonymous poster that must be shunned, right?

Well, turns out that the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the scenario of the guy that walks into a courthouse wearing a “Fuck the Draft” jacket (Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971)). Although we’re not obviously dealing with First Amendment issues (yet – until we get a state actor involved), the Court made good discussion of the value of speech in our society:

***
To many, the immediate consequence of this freedom may often appear to be only verbal tumult, discord, and even offensive utterance. These are, however, within established limits, in truth necessary side effects of the broader enduring values which the process of open debate permits us to achieve. That the air may at times seem filled with verbal cacophony is, in this sense not a sign of weakness but of strength. We cannot lose sight of the fact that, in what otherwise might seem a trifling and annoying instance of individual distasteful abuse of a privilege, these fundamental societal values are truly implicated. That is why “wholly neutral futilities . . . come under the protection of free speech as fully as do Keats’ poems or Donne’s sermons,” Winters v. New York, 333 U.S. 507, 528 (1948) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting), and why “so long as the means are peaceful, the communication need not meet standards of acceptability,” Organization for a Better Austin v. Keefe, 402 U.S. 415, 419 (1971).

Against this perception of the constitutional policies involved, we discern certain more particularized considerations that peculiarly call for reversal of this conviction. First, the principle contended for by the State seems inherently boundless. How is one to distinguish this from any other offensive word? Surely the State has no right to cleanse public debate to the point where it is grammatically palatable to the most squeamish among us. Yet no readily ascertainable general principle exists for stopping short of that result were we to affirm the judgment below. For, while the particular four-letter word being litigated here is perhaps more distasteful than most others of its genre, it is nevertheless often true that one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric. Indeed, we think it is largely because governmental officials cannot make principled distinctions in this area that the Constitution leaves matters of taste and style so largely to the individual.

Additionally, we cannot overlook the fact, because it is well illustrated by the episode involved here, that much linguistic expression serves a dual communicative function: it conveys not only ideas capable of relatively precise, detached explication, but otherwise inexpressible emotions as well. In fact, words are often chosen as much for their emotive as their cognitive force. We cannot sanction the view that the Constitution, while solicitous of the cognitive content of individual speech, has little or no regard for that emotive function which, practically speaking, may often be the more important element of the overall message sought to be communicated. Indeed, as Mr. Justice Frankfurter has said, “one of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures–and that means not only informed and responsible criticism but the freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation.” Baumgartner v. United States, 322 U.S. 665, 673-674 (1944).

Finally, and in the same vein, we cannot indulge the facile assumption that one can forbid particular words without also running a substantial risk of suppressing ideas in the process. Indeed, governments might soon seize upon the censorship of particular words as a convenient guise for banning the expression of unpopular views. We have been able, as noted above, to discern little social benefit that might result from running the risk of opening the door to such grave results.
***

So let me flip it back to you – if I can print “Fuck the Draft” on my jacket in ‘the real world’ as a hallmark of free speech in our society, why shouldn’t I be able to post it in a comment, or, heaven forbid, my own blog?

[And no, that’s not “assault” – assault (usually – check your own jurisdiction!) requires an attempted battery, or placing the person in fear of imminent harm or battery. A guy walking up to you on the street and saying that would likely be assault; on the web, where’s the reasonable fear of imminent harm (unless they’re typing that on a computer behind you, of course)? Most jurisdictions do, tho’, have some variety of “making threats” crime. But a little happy sheriff’s badge logo isn’t going to stop that behavior – if you’ve *really* been threatened, and you *really* take it seriously, then you can call law enforcement.]

So let’s celebrate our valued “freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation”, and not run every blog post and every comment through a silly civility code just to save some thin-skinned reader from howling if they see a bad word or an offending political idea.

• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

Tim, I also appreciate your replying. Unfortunately, I cannot “please be specific in what ways … misrepresenting what happened”, as that risks the wrath of the mob upon me. I’m hoping Jeneane and Frank can set you straight on it, they’re really some of the people who have the best ability to speak to that issue.

But …

“And the “call for a code of conduct” is a request for people who think that certain behavior is unacceptable to stand up and say so.”

I think the behavior of irresponsibly stirring up mob outrage and sending them after one’s critics is utterly unacceptable. There don’t seem to be a lot of people willing to stand up and say so, for obvious reasons (self NOT excluded). And that’s the problem with your whole crusade in my view, it’s excusing the mob-stirrers while slamming the bogeymen.

“it’s still important for a community to exert its collective opinion about what’s right.”

I think the reputation-smearing was WRONG. That it threatens to do far more lasting damage to its targets, by *orders* *of* *magnitude*, than the nominal spark.

This is the key issue. You can’t wave it away. If blog-owners have a moral responsibility for their comment community, do those who send outraged mobs after specific targets in a firestorm of publicity have any moral responsibility for the results?

Or is it, oh no, that’s *different*, it was self-defense, or the lines are drawn only where friends aren’t affected …

“have failed to notice my corresponding judgment on how Kathy Sierra handled things, which I expressed by my advice to talk privately rather than going public with accusations when things get out of hand”

Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly a thundering judgment, more like a whispered confidence.

• http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-XkmswskydqNgJZHeOSw P H

In terms of commenting on posts, I find that login names will be sufficient because they usually have emails to trace back to. There are expectations, I do not think people shall post their last names at all. This is due to privacy. People should learn to post only first names or even their pet names for posts.

• Thomas Lord

So, you position yourself as resident Pimp In Chief for the Web 2.0(TM) business model, which is the fundamental enabler of this kind of bad behavior, and then when it inevitably produces this behavior you ignore it — until it happens to a third tier celbrity to whom you deign to rise in defence, making sure to point out along the way which and how many news-wires have picked up on your pontification. Impressive framing, in its pathos. You honestly don’t have anything better to work on?

-t

• http://www.owenkelly.net Owen

Tim O’Reilly said:

“I believe that I’m thinking about a real problem, and proposing solutions for how to deal with it, and I’ve moved quite a lot in the direction that you also ended up, namely that we need better moderation mechanisms in common blogging software. Right now, all we have as a tool is the binary delete/allow.

I’m planning to take practical steps to provide additional moderation plugins that could then be used by any blog owner who wants to use them.”

I agree with this, Tim. I do believe that there *is* a real problem, but I think that it is not the kind of problem that can be dealt with by “community means” because, as I tried to explain, I do not think that the internet or the “blogosphere” is a place of any kind, let alone a community.

It is (in my view) a powerful set of tools which lets users communicate and (if they so wish) use the tools to build up self-acknowledged voluntary communities. Some users do not want to join these communities. They are not thereby “bad community members” because they are not electing to be members in the first place.

I applaud your move into thinking about tools for widening the choices site owners, authors and commenters have for controlling and improving their own experiences. As I said before I think that improved filtering mechanisms *are* a viable approach to an answer to the problem. They propose a solution to the problem at the level where it actually occurs: the individual user’s experience.

If you are going to put some of your resources behind developing tools to help bloggers, site woners and commentators take control of their own web experience, then that is VERY COOL!

IMHO :)

• http://www.yankeesailor.us The Yankee Sailor

Ah, yes, I love to read judges thoughts about what constitutes “free speech”. How easy it is to picture them in the rarefied air of their courtrooms and chambers, bedecked in black night shirts, demanding everyone rise when they come and go, and to be called “your honor”. And let’s not forget how they may throw you in jail on a subjective whiff of “contempt.”

I suspect if an attorney stood up during arguments and cried out, “FUCK YOU, JUSTICE”, the good adjudicators’ opinions about what should be protected as free speech would be, shall we say, altered.

But to get back to your point, I think the line is wherever the owner of the blog or forum chooses to draw it. We’re not considering the rules of decorum in a courthouse or similar public venue. This blog is a place of business, and therefore a private place where the proprietor may decide who is able to stay and how guests must conduct themselves.

O’Reilly and others like him are not trying to tell you that you can’t express your opinions. They are just telling you that you can’t express them in a certain manner on their sites and encouraging other site owners to do so as well. As one who’s spent 21 years supporting and defending the rights you hold dear, I applaud your desire to “celebrate our valued ‘freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation'”, but I reserve the right to tell you to hold your party somewhere other than my house.

• http://3donthewebcheap.blogspot.com len bullard

A modular code:

Compassion. Tolerance. Self-restraint.

And a very old one. It works for the same reason other code does or doesn’t: lots of time and many runs so thoroughly debugged.

People don’t get the point until they feel the pain of the pleasure of the practice. It’s not a bad thing to cheer for civility. Leaders should. But as the Imus situation is showing in America, what you are willing to do about it and how deeply you are willing to consider that action before doing it says more about your civility than your abhorrence or acceptance.

A decision, a code, any choice really is drained of its potential by all of the subclauses. As soon as you noticed Sierra’s case, you spoke up. What about the years of misbehavior preceding? Did you speak up because she is your friend or a female or an attractive female? Is it a human issue of dignity or a sexist issue of gender over gender?

A thread runs through these debates and others like it. There is an increasing revulsion to violence in the world for reasons too obvious to debate. The web is not a different medium; it just has more readily available microphones so everyone is at the podium right now. That’s good, but it isn’t that different.

Something like the Imus case becomes an opportunity for many powerful agendas to be attached to an issue of the moment, to ride the media whirlwind into public consciousness until it is so overloaded that it fails to make much change unless followed by an even more egregious incident of the same type. That is terrorist thinking and a terrorist strategy. It is what so many are becoming because by example, they see it working and being intelligent, they adapt to the strategy that is succeeding.

Mean has been succeeding for a long time on the Internet. It isn’t men being mean or women being mean, or bloggers being mean or listers being mean, it is mean succeeding. You do better to understand why mean is the successful strategy than to create complex codes that chip away at the freedoms you worked so hard to gain in society and with these technologies.

Until you know why mean succeeds, you don’t know what you need to do about it.

len

• B. Waite

Tim’s original post was a line in the sand, separating blogging pioneers from bandit trolls. The sheriff’s badge confirmed the direction of his manifesto: frontier justice, not civility.

This wasn’t Tim’s intent, but many people recognized that it pointed down that path. Let’s pull the wagons over, and reconsider the situation.

• We want to encourage free speech within (highly subjective) limits.
• Imagine a commons-style collection of participation guidelines (mentioned before). The guidelines do NOT define what is civil; rather they define what corrective actions will be taken when you cross the host’s line.
• The guideline options range from “I’ll delete comments at my discretion” to “I won’t delete comments for any reason”.
• The corrective actions are based on community management best practices, and are known to be the most effective policies for fostering constructive discussion.
• The result? Jurisdiction remains with the blogger, not a code of conduct. Expectations are set–say what you want, here’s what I’ll do if I don’t approve.

If that makes sense, the next step is to identify the best practices. What are they?

• J G

This thread is going in circles. I’ve already taken this approach, already announced it here, and Tim has given his tacit encouragement, if not endorsement, earlier in the thread. see http://civilities.net/CommResp-Proposal .

I’m just waiting for the second person to say here, “yeah, that’s a good idea, let’s move forward with it.”

• http://www.owenkelly.net Owen

@JC: Since you asked then, yes, I will say that’s a good idea. I will also say that it looks like a workable idea.

(*That* is the ideas posted at http://civilities.net/CommResp-Proposal )

It may look superficially as though it is a similar idea to the proposed code of conduct, but it has a completely different (and to my mind much healthier) starting point.

Like the proposals (including mine) to look further at filtering tools, it does not try to make bad people good, or horrid people nice, or suggest/impose/proselytise any “standards”: it simply says “This is how I deal with things here”.

But, we have to come up with a neater name than “CommResp”, please.

:)

• Nunya

“Anonymity certainly has a place, but that place needs to be designed carefully”

And designed by who? The blogger-jailing Egyptian gov’t? A bunch of complacent middle-class white westerners pretending to be some kind of hive mind?

What’s a “griefer”?

• http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2007/04/08/new-york-times-features-my-blog-pornographer-impersonator-story/ Richard Silverstein

I see a real problem w. section 230. As a general rule it may be helpful to have such protection. But in the case of someone who created a fake blog in my name to savage me, used my name as the URL, ripped off my copyrighted images, refers to sex acts I perform on myself, says my favorite book is Mein Kampf & that one of my interests is “destroying Israel”…all of that disgusting material is protected by section 230. Blogger.com is using precisely that provision to disclaim any responsibility to remove the offending material. Yeah, I got the images removed but the other crap remains.

Blogger’s suggestion: contact the blogger & ask him to remove the material. GImme a break! So what do I have to do–spend thousands of dollars finding someone prob. hiding behind anonymity & an alias or sue a blogging megalith like Blogger.

I say Section 230 can be abused. Whatever happened to honoring one’s Terms of Service which Blogger is refusing to do?

• http://irishkc.com/index.php/a-code-for-conversations.htm EolaÔøΩ

Tim,

why do you see the current existence of terms of service by the major blog-hosts as meaning there’s no significant risk to them adopting a newer standard of mechanism which would render the notion of voluntary standards meaningless?

Why do you believe that risk is not significant?

• http://straitofmessia.blogspot.com Bliss

Well, if a lawyer did, in fact, scream “Fuck you Justice/Judge” in an argument, then the lawyer’s own jurisdictional civility code had a net effect of jack squat as well, didn’t it? Civility code in place, but it still happened…the civility code isn’t the remedy, the power to sanction is (parallel – deleting the comment, etc.). Here, we already have terms of service; we already have moderation tools – what does a code of civility add, other than fertile grounds for content-based speech restrictions?

And yes, yes, that’s my point – my house, my rules. See my earlier comments – the risk of a Code isn’t what individual bloggers do – if you want to ban the words “cat” and “pudding” from being uttered on your blog, either by you or your readers, more power to you. The risk is in widescale adoption of a Code that’s later imposed (directly or indirectly) on bloggers that want nothing to do with speech-regulation.

As for readers, we already have the tools to keep them in check – don’t like anonymous posters? Turn on the “no anonymous comments” feature. Want to be sure no one’s eyes are burned out by reading a naughty word in a comment? Turn on the moderation function. Don’t want strangers stopping by? Make it a private blog.

The internet is a public realm. What you post is going to be subject to public scrutiny and public comment, just like if you went to the public square and announced “I REALLY REALLY DON’T LIKE GEORGE BUSH.” Isn’t it the perogative of a passerby to hell “Fuck you!” (or, as we saw in Louisiana, post-Katrina, “Go fuck yourself, Mr. Cheney”)? If someone voices their opinions in public, they need to have thick skin – and if they get nasty comments, well, then it’s time for them to put on the Superman/Supergirl Underroos, and tough it out.

This all being said, I do agree with the proposal of more, and better, moderation tools – it gives the blogger (and other readers) a hand in establishing the acceptable parameters of a subject blog, but without the “Sermon On the Mount”-type dictates of an extremely ambiguous Code of Conduct/civility (and less-than-loved logos).

• Excuse me

Bliss your village square analogy is valid, but the point is that many bloggers are not just shouted at by passing louts, they are systematically harassed over a period of time by high profile bloggers and this has got to stop.

Harassment by so-called “high profile” bloggers is unacceptable, encourages troll like behaviour, damages relationships, reduces any credibility the blogosphere might have once had in once claiming to show up bad behaviour in the mainstream, and generally is leading down a path many people feel extremely uncomfortable with.

• http://andybeard.eu/ Andy Beard

If you want something that bloggers will be willing to adopt, try the new “Don’t Be an Idiot” badges.

• Excuse me

And as an afterthought, my congratulations to Kathy for naming and shaming. It’s the only way to stop the bastards.

• Nunya

What this really reminds me of is the advent of the FAQ “enforcer” on usenet. Despite not owning the hardware and network the communication is happening across, some people still wanted to set themselves up as regulators.

And FAQ “enforcement” really chased the “trolls” off usenet, didn’t it? It didn’t attract people relishing a recreational kick against some midget authoritarianism, at all…

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

You say:

“Looking back at the creation of the United States and the institution of the Federalist papers, civility has generally been seen as the enemy of openness. The discourse between the US founding fathers was far from civil (even, in the celebrated case of Hamilton vs. Burr, ending up in a disagreement on civility ending up in a duel that greatly shortened the life of one of America’s greatest genius.)”

Yes, and because of a change in prevailing sentiment, we now longer allow duels. We also no longer allow slavery, have given women the vote, are in a fierce national debate about gay marriage, and so on. What we as a society allow and condone changes over time. There’s national variability, historical variability. But ultimately, we are called on to choose where we will draw the line. And I’m saying, that at least for me, we’ve drawn the line in the wrong place by tolerating and justifying a kind of abusive behavior online that we generally censure in face to face discussion.

Understanding the difference between “censor” and “censure” seems like a worthwhile thing to do. Both can be abused. I am happy that we broke the narrow and hypocritical strictures of the 50s, and am not advocating a return to them. Many of the people who castigate my position as a quest for “happy shiny people” (as one commenter did) seem to me to be building a straw man to attack. I have no problem with the word “fuck” or any word. I have a problem with hostility disguised as discussion, with attack disguised as argument, with the rule of the loudest and most offensive disguised as the protection of freedom.

You go on: “I think, if I hear you well on this that you would deal with this by making the code more granular. Am I correct in my understanding? If the system is about expressing a policy, as you mentioned, isn’t it about that policy being more restrictive (or will you have binaries on each of the items, allowing for opt-in and opt-out on each item?)”

Yes, that’s the second aspect of what I’m talking about, binary opt-in/out of modular set of signals of what a blog owner will accept. This is a separate issue from changing the social consensus on what is acceptable, which is what I wrote about in the paragraphs above. It seems to me that a mechanism for blog owners to signal in advance what is likely to get a comment deleted might be a good thing. E.g. on radar, I allow profanity, but not personal insults or disclosure of private information. What’s more, comments with two or more links are automatically put in a queue for moderator approval. (How many people ask why their comment didn’t show up immediately? I have to confess I’m not always sure myself why comments are flagged for moderation by MT. I sometimes have to approve my own comments! So yes, I think that modular expressions for letting people know the rules could be a good thing.

You write:

“one person’s entertainment is another person’s abuse. Let me take an extremist example here to amplify this point: battles around porn have often found feminists and religious conservative in the same camp opposing nudity in magazines. They see it as a form of publication demeaning women. However, a substantial portion of the male public sees it as attractive and does not consider it demeaning.”

Yes, but as I noted above, communities do sometimes come to consensus that certain behaviors are inappropriate. I do think that there has been tolerance in the name of freedom of certain anti-social behavior online, and I hope that changes. But I’m not looking to legislate that, merely to change sentiment. Meanwhile, I think that the grey areas like the ones you refer to do highlight key issues. A blog that is open to comments is different from a print magazine in that the readers are invited to participate in the space. They therefore need to be respectful of the mores of the site owner — to do otherwise is a kind of abuse.

So, for example, posting images of scantily clad women or sexual images on a religious site could be a kind of abusive behavior, while posting them to a porn site could be being a good citizen.

A lot of it comes down to respect. If I respect someone with whom I disagree, I want to be careful about how I disagree: I want to make sure I stick to issues, that I don’t call names, that I don’t insult him or her just *because* we disagree.

You ask “What if the attempt is not answered? Does that make it OK? Do we need to vet every comment beforehand? Should I send this to Tim and wait for his comment before I publish it? What if he sits on it: does that quash the story altogether?”

I’d say “you use your judgment.” And that judgment is most required when the charges are especially inflammatory. This is one of the things professional journalists have learned over the years: the need to verify a story from multiple sources. Did you ever see or read “All the President’s Men”? Verifying the story was a big part of the Watergate drama.

You also wrote: “What constitutes an unfair attack? So I disagreed with your post and thought it was an unfair attack on the people on the Internet who believe in a more open framework. I took action by posting my reply to you about it.”

Yes, you took action, and appropriate action. But I disagree with you that what I did was an “attack.” But basically, I agree with you. Speaking out when you disagree is important. One of the things that came out as a result of Kathy Sierra’s post is just how many women and minorities said they’d experienced similar harassment. The fact that this has just been let slide is unacceptable. That goes back to my first point: public disapproval of certain kinds of behaviors *can* act as a check on that behavior. It won’t stop the most determined perpetrators, but it can give people pause who might otherwise think it’s OK.

Finally, about the contradiction between the advice to “ignore the trolls” and the advice to delete their comments — I think you misunderstand the definition of a troll. A troll is not necessarily overtly offensive. It’s a post or a comment designed to elicit an angry response. Deleting trolls can work, but if they’ve done their work cleverly, they’ll accuse you of censorship…

BTW, yours was exactly the kind of thoughtful disagreement that I encourage. It’s much more useful than insults, isn’t it?

• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

Regarding: “Many of the people who castigate my position as a quest for “happy shiny people” (as one commenter did)”

Sigh. Please look at what I actually wrote, repeated again, sorry:

“I don’t like the way you seem to be framing this as you’re for motherhood and apple pie (or defense of the “cute kitty”, to borrow CNN’s phrase), and anyone who points out that frankly, your proposals seem knee-jerk, uninformed, naive, somewhat arrogant, and irritatingly, ONLY HEARD BECAUSE OF YOUR STATUS, is then going to be cast as some sort of bad guy for not joining the Shiny Happy People train about backscratching each other regarding the terrible terrible problem of nasty blog commenters and how the A-list should fix it (note: making fun of that sort of platitude-pushing is basically what led to the satire sites that went awry).”

Tim, people have *repeatedly* asked you to get set straight by talking to more of the accused bloggers here (not Chris Locke, but Jeneane and Frank, and I’ll add in Joey). And while I realize you’re a busy man, you continue to harp on *the* *accusations* *OF* *ONE* *PARTY* as the revelation.

To put it simply, and bluntly, and loudly, if you:

1) Repeatedly uncritically echo the charges of your friend

2) HAVEN’T TALKED TO MANY ACCUSED, even when people KEEP ASKING YOU TO DO SO (not Chris Locke, but Jeneane and Frank, and I’ll add in Joey)

3) Use this as the justification for your proposals

THEN,

Can you understand, why a fair-minded observer could think that the ultimate result is just going end up an ideological weapon, that’s only going to benefit A-listers who are your friends?

Now, what didn’t I do here?

1) I didn’t call you a censor
2) I didn’t swear, and I hope my severe criticism didn’t amount to insult

What I did do was to ask you if you could grasp how someone could honestly have an educated, informed, but still negative, view of your proposal, and how your actions were feeding into that.

For what it’s worth, I agree with you about “I have a problem with hostility disguised as discussion, with attack disguised as argument, with the rule of the loudest and most offensive disguised as the protection of freedom.”. This is why I keep asking WHO ENFORCES, as everything you describe is the pathology of the bogosphere, where the A-list can freely bully anyone “below” them since nobody else has the power to call them to account, or even get their side of the story into play much.

• Excuse me

Seth, having followed your conversation with Tim, I believe something needs straightening out. Someone named Len Bullard posted earlier about “mean”, which is, actually, what this is all about.

There is a small minority group in the blogsphere whose members suffer under the delusion that they can do others a favour by publishing death and rape threats. Their theory, is that mean works and the world is mean and being a shitstirrer helps “toughen up” others so others can understand the mechanics of mean. Which is, of course, a piss poor excuse for psychopathy. There is absolutely no reason to be an asshole to demonstrate mean when there are plenty of real life examples of mean, and simply writing a book about mean would do the job with greater success, harming no-one. Proponents of mean theory are unsophisticated merchants of dross who, I suspect, do not understand history, have no understanding of ethics and have no moral compass. Essentially these people are intellectually stunted and cannot think for themselves, very often having been co-opted by mean theory not because they understand mean at all or have given the theory much thought but because they have too much time on their hands and too many user friendly tools, which other people developed, at their fingertips. About the only thing proponents of mean can do, in the blogsphere, is string together a few words and make a collage with images other people have produced (proponents of mean are rarely innovative). These people rarely think out the consequences of their actions, and are in fact encouraging mean rather then averting it. They quickly lose sight of their original goal, which was, as far as I can tell, to end mean as an exception by making mean the norm. Additionally these people frequently have no idea what their chosen targets have already experienced and do not seem to care even when they do know. So you end up with ludicrous situations where, say, someone in the middle of a real life war zone might be targeted by real bombs, real journalists, real government funded agencies, and real idiots. Afterwards the real idiots will try and excuse their behaviour, just as Chris Locke et all are trying to do now.

The good news is, mean only works in certain circumstances.

When mean works:

1. When there are no rules, laws or regulations and mean can proceed unhindered.
2. When there are too many convoluted rules laws and regulations and mean can proceed by throwing up obscurification.
3. Most spectacularly after a period of lawlessness where mean has succeeded and then starts making it’s own rules, without consultation, which are often sufficiently convoluted but boil down to one thing – lots of rules for everyone else, and one rule for mean.

Thankfully, Tim’s proposal seems devoid of all three circumstances where mean tends to flourish.

I basically, have no time for any of the people Kathy named and having seen the pattern played out so regularly in the blogsphere over the last four years, can only observe that the parties now complaining to have been “miss-accused” are actually reeling, a little, in shock and trying to buy their way out of the mess they have made and got away with for so long.

Personally, I do not believe taking a stand against mean means the end of fun, or the end of debate, or the end of the right to post anonymously. Nonsense can operate perfectly well in the absence of mean, debate is better quality and more challenging with a code of conduct (of some sort), some bloggers, like professional journalists, already understand the value of providing anonymity for their sources and reliable anonymous sources understand the value in not hurling abuse with wild abandon. The only thing that changes when people take a stand against mean, is that mean people who once had power suddenly have none.

• http://misobserver.wordpress.com Joey

Seth,

Tim is trying. I think he’s moving beyond events and trying to articulate matters which will and shall always remain difficult to lock down — especially in a society of free choice and individualism. It is not an easy task. In all honesty, we should wish him luck! Though, keep in mind that Tim isn’t representing any government agency and a rather large, world wide, one would be required to enforce many of the ideas floating around on the net. I think we’re safe from that for a few decades, at least.

Besides, he’s stating what he feels and believes and has duely considered — which is always what all of ‘this’ was ever about, in my opinion, especially once the emotions and accusations are removed. Eventually, they will be.

My take on all this: what Bloggers may need is information: how to handle various situations, especially those related to legal process and liability, maintaining privacy, and how such liabilities relate to the infinite post/comment/moderate environments certain to evolve. Software changes will also help — the free blogging stuff is primitive and isn’t really a bulletin board, yet. The designers (of massively free blogging services) need to find a balance between performance and configurability — they likely didn’t consider the issues at hand while jolting down PHP code.

What Bloggers do will be decided by what they feel comfortable doing: some will want control, others will not. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? Perhaps. But there is nothing wrong with discussing it and flushing out the flaws; this conversation has been going on for 557 years, maybe far longer.

Best & on your side, in the long haul,

Joey

• http://3donthewebcheap.blogspot.com len bullard

Mean works when it obtains rewards. That’s all you have to know.

This isn’t psychopathic behavior. It is sociopathic. The post quoted below is about political figures, but I note the zeitgeist of this kind of behavior. The people who don’t understand the reactions about A-listers need to understand the role of resonance in signal systems. The web is just an amplifier. The mean behaviors are predictable.

As Linda Mealy puts it, the sociopath becomes “apparent at a time when immediate environmental circumstances make an antisocial strategy more profitable than a prosocial one.”

• Robert

Tim says (April 14, 2007 2:16 PM):

“I have a problem with hostility disguised as discussion, with attack disguised as argument, with the rule of the loudest and most offensive disguised as the protection of freedom.”

This is a tremendously disturbing revelation for many reasons.

I don’t think there could be a more open admission that Tim wants to limit speech to what he nebulously defines as civil.

Most disturbingly is the drift from what actually happened to his newfound position on “hostility disguised as discussion.”

How he proposes to be the “truth detector” and reveal what is behind the disguise is absolutely beyond me! In his quote he uses “disguised” three times to describe objectionable behavior. If it is so disguised, I contend it would not policable and I think I could reasonably posit that one who takes offense to even the slightest thing would find this road to paranoia smooth and easily travelled.

Oh right, but this was clear harassment, wasn’t it? Not disguised at all? Then why are we talking about disguised behavior and intent?

“Yes, Your Honor, I believe his statement that looks mildly reasonable is in fact only a disguise. He’s actually hiding his true hostility towards me, and any defense he makes, especially if it is loud, is further admission of his guilt. Take him away”

What happens when a person with power and influence takes an entrenched position based initially on reasonable goals but becomes so embroiled in the battle of ideas that they lose their way?

Anybody remember McCarthyism?

• http://theangrydome2.blogspot.com Dario Sanchez

Bloggers have the right to be self-regulating, and seeing as how blogging is increasingly popular, the system apparently works.
In this regard, your attempt to introduce a Blogging Code Of Conduct smacks of the book 1984, and its notion of ‘thought-crime’.

Can you derive the intent behind someone’s words, Mr. O’Reilly? Are you psychic? If not, then your code is open to abuse, and blogging will become a dystopian sphere similar to Wikipedia, where innocent new editors are hounded by the senior editors, who can pick and choose from Wikipedia’s Code Of Conduct as they please to suit themselves.

You know where to stick your code of conduct.

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

Robert, go look at all the comments on these posts, and see if you can still say that with a straight face. Here’s an excerpt from one of the three or four comments I’ve deleted, as an example of what I’m talking about, from one zenofeller:

He starts out hostile, but within the bounds of discussion, in fact so much so that I approved his comment from moderation without reading the whole thing.

“How to prove the world you’re an idiot? It’s really really simple. Two easy
steps.

Step 1. Assume we are important. Not in a limited, “I’m important enough
not to be used for making glue” sort of way. Really take the stoppers out. Imagine you’re important to people that never met you. Imagine you really matter to people that are smarter than you. Go for it all : Imagine you really matter to everyone, in fact, imagine you’re everyone’s top fuckin priority.”

This goes on for several paragraphs. Then he warms up:

“…I’ve kept it warm for you boys. Here it is :

Fuck all of you, fuck The New York Times, fuck Jimblow Wales, fuck the mommy bloggers that don’t understand shit belongs on their children, and
the tech bloggers that don’t understand where technology comes from, and that sleazy bitch Kathy Sierra…”

It gets MUCH worse from there.

Deleting comments from this guys isn’t McCarthyism. It’s common sense. He only thinks he’s participating in a conversation. He’s on a rant. He can do it on his own blog. Not in my space.

I understand how you can put the spin you did on what I said, but I think you’re pretty seriously misrepresenting it.

• Dario Sanchez

My last line was uncalled for; I apologise. The thought of free speech being limited is less than appealing to me.

• Excuse me

Len, I agree. Mean works when it gets rewards, but before mean gets the reward, mean needs the circumstances to try itself out. Very often, mean discovers it is rewarded by accident, in the course of enjoying it’s own power rush. Simple ethical rules work as a disincentive, because simple rules pose a situation where mean can be punished and have it’s rewards taken away. Rules cannot be expected to rule out mean altogether, but rules certainly discourage mean.

I was actually thinking about it this morning before I saw your comment, and think what follows might pose a solution to Seth’s question (who enforces the code).

Once a basic code of conduct/ethics has been agreed on, what we need to do is, is work with the developers of the tools that mean bloggers use to evaluate their rewards (google rank, technorati, the bear ecosystem thingo). Maybe it could be a matter of once a blog starts ranking “successfully”, certain blog search tools will rank a blog down if a blog doesn’t have an endorsement of the code in it somewhere. Some bloggers would probably kick and scream about this, but we have to consider it (I suspect those who’d kick and scream most are the meanies whose rewards might dry up). Alternatively, or perhaps additionally, after complaints against certain bloggers had been investigated, their blogs could be “black-listed” and down-ranked.

I would also like to suggest that where the blogsphere is concerned, the behaviour we are talking about is psychopathic as well as sociopathic. Bloggers can, at times, delve deep into their psyches – writing is an exploration of the psyche. Although developers tend to consider a lot of tools available on the web “social networking tools” developers often ignore the way psyche plays out, and I believe this is a mistake as much of what we create on the web is related to our inner selves, and the materialisation of our psyche.

I do not at all consider Tim’s proposal Orwellian. Once a thought makes it’s way out of a head and into an image or words in a public arena, it has “materialised” and is no longer just a thought. A death or rape threat, whether spoken or written, is not a “thought-crime”, someone has chosen to put it out there – someone moved beyond thought into action.

Essentially we need to consider four things, in creating a solution:

1. An agreed code of conduct.
2. Implementation of the code.
3. Evaluate our solution based on social factors.
4. Evaluate our solution in terms of the psyche.

• http://www.humorlessbitch.com Zo

Tim,
I’m not sure you’re aware of it, but each time you’ve referred to Chris Locke’s position, which could be quickly summed up as, Each Responsible For His or Her Own Words … you’ve trivialized it.

Since Chris has a such long and important history with the web, even before the web, I think his position on Comments deserves a more respectful, explanatory tone on your part. You’ve made it clear how you feel about it … but haven’t given it much respect.

I think what Chris has to say is much more than a “disclaimer” or abdication of responsibliity. Whether it works in this day and age or not–whether you think much of it or not–your argument is weakened throughout until you give this matter its due.

Sincerely,
Zo

• Robert

Hey Tim, I think I just misunderstood you. When you said “disguised” I took it completely wrong… as if you had moved from something completely obvious (as you detail in your reply) to something more subtle (which I saw no evidence of). I think what you were saying is that these people are calling what they are doing “discussion/argument/whatever” and it’s so blatantly not it’s scary. Fair point.

• http://3donthewebcheap.blogspot.com len bullard

As Mealy points out, sociopathy in the general population is frequency-dependent. Given feedback-mediated controls as emergent systems, I agree that having A-listers pushback is a good start and locally configurable rating systems with clear signals (signs) for content types is desirable. I disagree with a single code per se except insofar as it comes as a best practice or elite cultivar. For any scalable control regime, local controls that negotiate among peers comprise the evolutionary sustainable system.

To this point, we’ve been doing that with human brains. Where that isn’t working in some locales, alternatives that provide the minimal effective force can/should be provided. Some locales don’t need it because the primary controls are advanced enough to do the job. :-)

• Thomas Lord

It’s noteworthy what Tim chooses to not reply to in these comments. As Seth F. helps to point out, the brouhaha around the original event has left Ms. Sierra’s plight far behind, has ignored history and the plights of others, and has become a media spectacle that seems to mainly be about the industry “A-listers” and seems mainly to have the effect of further entrenching their social position.

It is hard to take Tim’s efforts seriously here. Cyberbullying has been around for as long as their have been network-based forums. Driven largely by the form and function of Web 2.0 technology, it has in recent years had notorious effect on, for example, a lot of kids on MySpace. Yet, finally, a favored “B-lister” is impacted and, suddenly, the reflexive response from Tim is to adopt an “I’m the leader posture” and take to the podium.

Here, may I remind us all, is Tim’s leading words from the original Call for a Code of Conduct, the apparent most important aspect of the story:

I was quoted in a BBC article a few days ago and a San Francisco Chronicle article on Thursday

Look, we recognize it when someone in a position to do so decides its their turn to grab for the reigns on the bandwagon. Should it not offend us when that occurs in response to a non-exceptional event and has the form of promoting speech codes?

Dressing up the codes in an emporer’s new coat of voluntary adoption and modularity is no comfort here. If the code had political legs — which I suspect it doesn’t but that was the intent — then what would follow next? Simply: it would appear in the software. And here is what that means:

Let us suppose that, going forward, an increasing amount of Web 2.0 development effort goes into software features that empower any owner of a forum to “be their own Ministry of Truth.” This is quite democratic: everyone has equal power, right? And it is quite free-market: if you don’t like the censoring of one forum, pick another, right?

No, that isn’t right, because while all Web 2.0 forums are equal, some are more equal than others. Some are quoted on the BBC and in the Chron, others are not. Of those that are quoted, most quote and link to one another far more than they link to others.

And so, apparently out of a fairly ordinary sense of self-righteous self-promotion we have hear the clear precursors of a new product: pick your censors. Tim is already, above, working on building his brand by arguing that his judgement of civil vs. non-civil is one that has populist appeal — who could, “with a straight face” reject his judgement?

It’s the wrong question to ask. The right question asks why we have so much riding on a Web 2.0 infrastructure that has “celebrity built in” — that makes it so incredibly easy for the A-listers to build echo-chambers of self-reference that one must suspect that, in some sense, this is what the design is optimized for.

In any public debate over issues like this, one always has to look at the elements that go with the least questioning. In this case, those elements include: “Kathy S. is more worth protecting than the many children who have been attacked over the past several years.” and “Tim O. is the goto-guy for figuring out how to protect Kathy and other industry B-listers from future attacks.”

As I said earlier, here: impressive framing.

-t

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

tom —

You have no particular reason to believe me, but I would much rather NOT have become a spokesperson on this issue. I was asked for comment not because of some mythical status as an “A-lister” but because Kathy cancelled her appearance at one of my conferences.

My comments were circumspect, and NOT particularly focused on the Kathy Sierra situation. In fact, I tried to generalize from Kathy’s situation to address the very fact you address here, that the problem is far more widespread than Kathy Sierra’s situation. And what I chose to focus on was a moral position — yes, morality is subjective, but any of the people arguing here that moral judgments are a slipperly slope must acknowledge that we are on that slope whether or not we want to be. The real slipperly slope is using a legal loophole to avoid making any moral judgment, or any requirement to stand up for what we believe.

I mentioned this “code of conduct” idea off the cuff, and saw that the BBC picked up on it, and so then I started thinking about it more, and mentioned it to the Chronicle. Then Jimmy Wales picked up on it and wanted to do something together, and the NY Times saw that as news.

So I had a choice: to run with this idea and try to shape it, or not.

It seems a worthwhile discussion — far more worthwhile than focusing on the Kathy Sierra vs. Meankids/Unclebob case per se.

FWIW, just for educational value, your argument is an example of an ad hominem attack. Rather than arguing the merits of my proposal, you choose to try to frame my motivation.

I’d like to know: where do you draw the line in comments on your blog (if you have one?) Why?

I will guarantee that you do draw one.

I bet that:

* everyone does their best to delete obvious spam
* everyone would delete disclosure of their own private information (e.g. cc number), and most likely would delete private information of others
* most people would delete comments that were libelous or potentially opened them to legal liability, unless they were particularly trying to make a legal case or precedent
* many people would delete racial or ethnic slurs, threats, or graphic sexual descriptions that offend their personal sense of propriety
* some people would delete any profanity
* some people would delete comments that are clearly off topic

And yes, there are judgment calls in all of this. I make no proposal for a uniform judgment.

The major focus of my proposal is this: get off the idea that you aren’t responsible for making decisions about what appears on your space. Whether your judgment is “anything goes” or “I delete comments I deem offensive” you are exercising judgment.

Go for it.

Secondarily, I am urging people to draw the line a little closer to the wind than I would have before this event put the kind of abuse that women and minorities are subjected to online on my radar.

A comment I received in email say it all on this front:

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope….”

I think the main positive effect of badges would to give hope and encouragement to like-minded folks. They give a bit of courage to people who want positive conversation but have felt like they were in the minority.”

Yes, “moral” can go too far — the “moral majority” and its insincerity being a prime example — but moral is about the act of choosing where we draw our lines, and we’d be better off if people take the time to think through where they’d draw their lines, and to enforce them in their space.

• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

Sigh … once more unto the breach …

Tim (my emphasis): “not because of some mythical status as an “A-lister” but because Kathy canceled her appearance AT ONE OF MY CONFERENCES.”

Do I have to say more? Isn’t there a problem that the above sentence is even written?

“Jimmy Wales picked up on it and wanted to do something together …”

Umm, that another A-list publicity-seeker saw an opportunity for jumping on the controversy hype-wagon in order get attention for himself and his brand, is not exactly the best defense.

Now, you can try an argument along the lines that the media was going to write these sorts of stories anyway, and better you than someone else perhaps more hostile. That’s a tough call. But I tend to think you and Wales are in fact giving the story more “legs”, by generating a media angle of community-leaders-denounce-scary-members. Sort of like it’s one thing when Newt Gingrich criticizes African-American culture, but another when Bill Cosby does it. Myself, I don’t think this story is going to have any lasting political effect (as opposed to being a publicity touchpoint). But you should recognize that politics in play.

Y’know, the bogosphere runs on attention, so we’re not stupid when it comes to seeing some means by which it’s acquired and distributed.

The rest of your comment is a bog-standard recital of the “There’s No Such Thing As Free-Speech” cliche. There’s even a book by that name. Note, to be clear, I’m not calling you a censor, I’m not saying you’re against free speech. I’m saying there’s a very well-known and much-examined free speech argument that you’re making. It’s been heard in many contexts, and it’s not something that people shrivel up in awe as a masterful insight. The counter-argument is basically that it’s an extreme moral relativism, and creating a strawman to smugly knock down. It’s a bit like saying all governments restrict freedom, so there’s no such thing as a free society – i.e. it’s just a tedious reading of the terms.

I know we’ve been back and forth many times. I really wish you’d grasp that it’s possible to understand what you’re saying, think you’re well-intentioned at heart, and still disagree because it’s possible you’re actually wrong.

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

Seth, I’m happy to agree to disagree as well. I’ve learned a lot by debating the issue with you. I’m sorry if you feel everything I’ve said is old hat to you and to be disregarded as a result.

And yes, I’m well aware of the power of media to spread important new ideas. I used that power to introduce and promote such ideas as open source and web 2.0. So are you saying that if someone is good at understanding when the media is picking up on something that they are saying that somehow invalidates their points? Or are you just making a disguised ad hominem attack, saying I’m doing it only for the publicity? There’s a big difference between using publicity to advance a cause, and using a cause to advance personal visibility. If you’re saying the former, I’m happy to own up to it. If you’re saying the latter, I’ll just have to suggest you re-read what I said to Tom. I have a lot of other things to do right now besides deal with this issue, and ended up getting pulled into it because it seems important.

• Thomas Lord

Tim,

Mine was not an “ad hominem” comment. I’ll explain why in a moment.

You ask where I draw the line on my blog (if I have one). I deny that that is the important question. Whatever my personal standards, I don’t go running to the press with them. I don’t declare from my bully pulpit that the need for agreed upon codes of conduct is suddenly important simply because I have declared it so. I don’t decide that after the BBC picks up on an off-the-cuff, unconsidered remark that I should experiment to see if it flies with the Chron. I don’t find the content-starved Chron’s attention, coupled to the fabled Mr. Wales, picking up further on the statement as evidence of momentum-filled “happening” that suddenly needs “shaped.”

You did all of those things, by your own account. You turned a fairly routine offense into an attempt to create an Issue for which you came with a ready-made solution. For gosh sake, you even commissioned badge artwork for websites: an effort at promoting your brand.

Tim, I really wonder how you feel about the distinction between motivation and consequence. You are quite correct when you observe that neither Seth nor I are giving you uptake on the internal logic of your stated position. We’re focused on the consequences of your actions and how they typify a process of class-based oppression. We’re noting the relentlessly self-referential habits of a group of people of whom you are most definitely a member. We’re pointing out some of the ways that when that echo-chamber, deaf-to-the-world group gets a bee in their bonnet it has fall-out effect for the rest of us. It’s all about consequences, baby, not Motivation. I’m speaking to the effect, not to the man.

Now, since you have raised the topic of your character, let me point out how obnoxiously condescending you are when you presume to educate me about what is and what is not an ad hominem argument. And with no little amusement, let me also point out that you got it wrong.

Where I come from, we don’t measure a man by “motivations” or intentions. We look at consequences, and at taking responsibility (for one’s own consequences, not those of others such as Sierra’s attackers). Your stubborness in thinking that you can do no wrong so long as you have an explanation of how you think you are doing good is, well, disappointing, to say the least. This is not to say that it is surprising.

-t

Discussions so far have been disproportionately about inconveniences, affronts, and risks that commenters pose to bloggers, with not enough attention having been given to known and potential problem behaviors of bloggers toward commenters.

• Excuse me

Len

Good, we have agreed on a way to push back those “A-listers” (for want of a better word) who operate without a code. And no-one else seems to object to the solution so far.

Next part of the idea: (and this relates to Thomas’s concern about all the myspace kids out there, a concern which I share), blog providers need to build in an agreed code of conduct.

Blog providers (blogger, MSN, wordpress, typepad, whatever everyone’s using these days) need to consider a short brief user agreement, a sort of a blogger oath that a blogger swears to uphold. So, for example, a blogger registering a blog name and password would receive a prompt reading something like “I pledge to use my powers as a blogger for good and cause no grievous harm” (or suchlike) and then tick an “I agree to abide by the code” box before proceeding. This raises awareness, reinforces what is and is not acceptable, and serves as a reminder of those great qualities most of us hold dear. A small line of text and icon at the bottom of a blog template, that states the blogger has agreed to the user code of conduct, could be created by the provider (something short and sweet, about the length of a copyright mark).

So far, it seems most of us can agree on some basic ethical guidelines (if not exactly as proposed by Tim) and some blog/diary providers already have user policies in place (as so many commenters have already pointed out). All that remains is for blog providers to consult with one another and come up with a shared “code” of conduct, and then raise the profile of the code, making sure users are more aware of it. Existing bloggers could be prompted to “sign” the agreement when they next log on to their blog.

Thomas I completely agree, it’s a real pain that it takes a celebrity to air the issue – but needs must. It doesn’t diminish Kathy’s experience or the experience of many others. We have to use this opportunity to make the changes that need making, we have to use this opportunity to protect users and make the blogsphere the great place it was supposed to be.

• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

Tim, you’re getting play in the media because of your very real status as an A-lister, which *derives* from your conference and other positions (i.e., that status can’t be put in isolation and ignored). As I’ve pointed out above, it is irritating to see half-baked A-list pontifications presented as a moral crusade we’re expected to blithely endorse, on pain of being deemed enablers of the moral dregs of the earth. I have my flaws, one of which is being no diplomat. While a better person than I am would patiently try to explain the difficulties of the issues, I have to bear the cross that seeing a celebrity echo-chamber simply makes me blunt and harsh.

And it does come off as an attention-grab. You may have the best of intentions in your own mind, I acknowledge that. However, the impression of special pleading can’t be removed by simply saying it shouldn’t be there. It’s one of the factors that has to be addressed if you in fact *are* trying for more than an attention-grab.

• http://civilities.net/people/JonGarfunkel Jon Garfunkel

Tim,

It’s certainly great if were using your publicity to advance a good cause.

But from the evidence I have been gathering, the cause is pretty much dead in the water. The blog posts and comments to these threads have died down. The wiki page, despite Angela’s re-arranging of it, has stagnated. You may have gotten a good debate with Seth out of this, but what lasting artifact is left for the community?

The BCoC has lost its steam. You’ve conceded a lot of ground, and it’s not really clear where you stand now. I appreciate your endorsement of my proposal earlier in the comments, but as it’s buried in there, no one will hear of it again, aside from Seth Wagoner, who is the third named contributor to the wiki.

I think at this point is to clarify what you really want to see going forward, and then ask some influential people to drive it (as you are busy with the Expo). I spoke with and exchanged emails with several somewhat influential blogging/online journalism. They all want to see something good done, but no one came close to committing to do something.

• http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

Jon:

Crisper version – They all want Something Done, but nobody knows What To Do

• http://www.tnl.net Tristan Louis

Tim,

First of all, thanks for taking the time to reply. Here’s my counter:

But Duel wasn’t allowed back then either :)

While I agree with you that opinions over time can change, I think what you point to here is what I find worrisome, the fact that the line is your line and not necessarily everyone’s. Remember that the first amendment was created to protect the weak. The basic idea behind it is that unpopular people could still speak. The many tests over time (and, in fact a lot of the cases that go to the Supreme Court) involved unsavory people. For example, just looking back at cases that the ACLU has backed on 1st amendment issues gets you a nice gallery of porn suppliers, people who’s speech might be censured (and worse censored) in our post 9/11 age, etc… My fear is that your code could lead us down the path of those people not being represented. While I feel uncomfortable with those people being protected, I suspect that it was exactly the thinking of the founding father: protecting people who make others full queasy about what those people are doing. And that’s why I’m so adamant about 1st amendment rights online. From a more philosophical point of view, you could turn to Voltaire, who once said “I may fiercely disagree with what you express but I will fight to the death for your right to express it.”

Agreed but my fear is that your censure will eventually become the first step in a move to censor.

So it’s not really a code of conduct as much as a rules of engagement model.

And what if the larger internet community were to disagree with you on that? What then?

“All the President’s Men” was the book and the work done by Woodward and Bernstein inspired me into going to journalism school. And by this rule, the advice about story checking is advice that you yourself ignored when the Kathy Sierra mess started (which brought us to this discussion). I was actually surprised by the response to the Sierra post in that, during the first part of the cycle, EVERYONE (yourself included) seem to go along with the accusation with no double checking. As I pointed out in my post at the time:

And it seems that all this happened without anyone doing double checking. Please eat your own dog food here (especially since you agree that you own your own words)

But what happens when this type of disagreement becomes censured (an not necessarily by you but by someone who decides to use your code for more nefarious purpose)? What are the recourses?

Does it then need to be codified? Or should it be left to the public to decide on a case by case basis?

I’ve always agreed with that position in that insults generally lead to people closing down (or shutting out) conversation. As you can see from my blog, I generally tend to believe more in lengthy conversation :)

• Not Dorothy

I would like to raise a concern about the librarything proposal. The ability to vote down a comment.

Depending on the site this can be a good thing, it certainly seems to work on Slashdot but you should look at Digg as a counter example. Comments can be buried not because there are offensive in themselves but because someone and a bunch of their friends don’t like them.

It can be used to suppress ideas that the group think does not like. This is hardly improving the quality of the conversation, opposing views need to be aired.

I guarantee that any technology that you think will solve social problems (in regards to internet based communications) will just cause more problems.

• Jules

Just wondered, on the subject of alternative moderation techniques, whether you’ve considered disemvowelling as an option? It does cut down on accusations of censorship somewhat, although I understand that sometimes offending posters feel they’re being ridiculed. Still, it has been known to work.

• Jon Kay

I’d say that the posters (and remember that this was a group blog, not comments by anonymous posters) of a blog like this would want to agree among themselves and understand what their limits were EVEN MORE than a site that didn’t set out to be controversial.

Maybe it would’ve been good if they’d had a few thinks about civility before going far. But I think that would be about as likely as all teenagers in the US being civil to their parents, and for exactly the same reason: it’s a site about rebellion. When you rebel, you throw away as much of the stupid rulebook as you can. Or replace it, maybe, with a rule about deleting inoffensive posts.

Rebellion is a real and vital part of human emotion. Most creativity involves at least some rebellion. We’d be British subjects, and Silicon Valley would have much more farmland without it. It’s good stuff, even if it’s annoying by nature.

• Ian McPherson

I am establishing a Code of Conduct for the global Bearing Industry (www.bearingcode.com) to prevent the counterfeiters from bringing to OECD countries ball & roller bearings produced in China & the like, stamping them “Made in USA” or “Germany” and then fitted into aircraft that you & I maybe a passenger – all in the name of profit that I refer to as “doom & Gloom” waiting to happen.
Now, if you think a Blogs CofC is a waste of time beause it effects the written of the word, then think again as anything involving a Counterfeit remark or object is a most dangerous situation.

• http://five4all.com/blogs/wordpress musashi

Few comments above I see :
“… ask some influential people to drive it … “

I dont want to be acused for "taking it out of context". But !

Influential people ? Or maybe sooner amenable ...

This is the beggining of comunism-etization of internet. The "influetials" control and enforce THEM rules (or rules of ones behind the scene).

Peoples, if some/many of you have no idea/cant understand what mean freedom AFTER you know first what mean to HAVE NO FREEDOM, then please unplug your computers and donate to 3-d world peoples.

1- psyhosociology – boomerang effect.
Deny something and .. tadaaaam, there is the users !
Put some restrictions to freedom to use and youll raise the number of trolls. They will come as mosqitos to light.

2- web space is VIRTUAL REALITY. Is meant to make communication and information exchange easyer. Users of this facility, the www, are REAL PEOPLES. Some are good, some are average, some are bad, some are evil. You cant change that. LIVE WITH IT, mister Tim OReilly, becouse outthere were (and still are) lot of countries ruled by a system trying hard to do what/the way you plan to do, but nothing changed reff to numbers - percentages. Even whorst, good and average peoples were damned as evil. Is subjectivism. Whatever you may say in 20 lines of text, I can find at least half line offending somebody. LIVE WITH THAT.

3- Example of use of your code making MORE damage than a VIRTUAL unprovable death threat. Read carefully, coz IS A FEATURE OF YOUR CODE !!
One business related blog. Average traffic, average income. Owner(s) selling there something. A "troll" comes by and, IN TRUE REALLITY UNSATISFYED by the product, loud and clear state that there. Using the power of YOUR code, owner(s) are entitled to
- delete the post;
- start law enforcements against the "troll".
Needless to continue.

4- All this is YOUR and YOUR GROUP problem, is not a www problem. Is a local problem, raised by the unability of communication and wrong behavior of a certain webmaster. This is what I understand from one of YOUR comments. Then, to prevent happening again, simple way is .. DONT MAKE IT PUBLIC ! Each time you put on media a negative event, outthere some will start thinking how they would have done better. Or how to revenge.

Your idea is WRONG, from start to end, as well as idea and put it on practice.

And, as you pretend to be a qualified person talking about web, you own public explanations about the gesture of NOT closing comments on previous article, after you state you wont read there anymore. Is a prove of your respect for any other the fact you say there “I wont continue to read, so you can continue to talk to yourself here" ? This is the way you plan to make your plan valid, ignoring + 3/4 of peoples opinion ?

And you have made more mistakes ...

Who are you to (gather a small group of peoples and) start making rules for 2 billions internet users ? I ask that becouse I lived under a "leader who allways know all" for 26 years and I had enough, there for I have the right to question your abilities and qualities.

In this moment I see you as "the policeman" from Henry Thoreaus “Civil Disobedience”. I am the rebel. And I have a toy : the freedom to speak. As me are many, owning same toy. Do you really want to try to take it from us ? Are you gonna come with your big friends and make a web version of Tien An Men ?

Valentin Hornicar
Romania

• Not Given

I have also been “on the net” since before it was “the net”. Unfortunately, I have also had many bad experiences. From early days, I have been appalled that rude and/or “mean” behaviour is not only tolerated, but encouraged and facilitated in some cases. Granted, there is just as much of this “in real life” as there is on the ‘net … and I don’t appreciate it there, either. Consequently, I have chosen to participate only in private (i.e. “members-only”) forums where there are rules of engagement (code of conduct, standards, whatever you like to call them) that are known and enforced.

I am responding in this forum at this time because I see an important point which seems to me is being missed. There are comments to the effect of “it happens all the time, don’t make a big deal because it happened to someone ‘higher profile’ / that you know / etc”. And to the effect of “let them just not read, use moderation tools to allow messages only to be seen by those who wish”. To me, the point is: It’s the fact that it happens all the time, it’s commonplace, it’s EVERYWHERE that makes it a problem. The fact that it happens in real life, on the ‘net, on TV and radio, in the past, in the present, in the future, in the Senate, on the street corner, or is perpetrated by the rich, famous, and/or well-respected historical figures — makes it a larger problem, not a “so what”. And to those who are still saying “but Tim has his facts wrong about what really happened”: Who really did what to whom when, while it may have provided a spark for the discussion, is at this point however not relevant to this discussion. We should be getting off the point (which if I think about it, never really was the point) of specific details of what happened in the situation with Kathy. Which I admittedly don’t know, and I don’t know any of the parties involved. It provided a catalyst for discussion, and we are now trying to have that discussion. The fact that the discussion about civility on the internet (and in “real” life) has been going on for years, unfortunately withhout as much influence or effect as I might like, does not make the discussion less relevant.

Moderation tools are probably the best way we have to influence what goes online. Choosing to use them or not use them, whether or not your “code” is prominently displayed, shows that you have one. Personally, I would prefer to live in a world that doesn’t need them. I see Tim’s “code” and others, regardless of what they are called, as a sign that there are others, like me, who believe that we can have “free” speech without a free-for-all. It is not “law-making” that really makes changes, it is changing minds and changing hearts. Tim is saying that we can choose to be part of this “revolutionary” thought by changing the way we ourselves do things.

Nobody is talking about changing the entire internet by force. I, and others, are simply saying that we believe it’s important enough to be highlighted in some way. Does there need to be a “standard” arbitrated by an “authority”? No, and I don’t think that is what anyone is saying. We simply say, if you believe, stand up and say so. Say how, say why.

I choose to teach my children that “mean” does not have a place at any time, in any forum. I teach them that respect, compassion, and kindness are important all the time. I am one of “those” people who believes that people should be kind and compassionate and respectful, even if (and, perhaps, especially if) we disagree with or dislike someone. I have personally seen it make a difference — less tolerance for “mean” can and does result in less “mean”. There are those who categorize this as “phony” or “false”. I see it rather as being true to myself and my principles. My personal dislike for someone is based on my experience with that person, which in turn is affected by other experiences I have had — there is a “me” filter involved, and it is, as I see it, my problem. It certainly does not make that person any less worthy of my respect or compassion. And in fact, since it is in my human nature that it may be difficult to practice respect and compassion toward that person, it becomes all the more important for me to try. Just because I may slip and be less than perfect is no excuse for not making the effort. The destination is not really the point of the journey. The point is that you will never get anywhere unless you take one step, and then another and another.

Personally, I don’t see that obscenity ever really adds to a discussion, but I agree to disagree with folks on that point. However, I do reserve the right to say “enough” and ask that people tone it down. If they choose not to, then I may choose not to listen to their further comments. To me, that is a risk the other person takes by using that “mode” of communication — they risk not being taken seriously. That is, in my view, their problem — a consequence of their choice.

A blog owner who allows disrespect and “mean”-ness takes the same risk. I personally am more likely to read and take seriously a blog that does promote respect, and if it had an announcement that it did so, then even better — I don’t have to read the flames in order to find out that they are allowed before “changing the channel”. I do understand that sometimes this means I may miss out on what could be an interesting discussion (like this one right here). Guess that’s my problem to worry about.

Yes, I believe that people should be “nicer”, both on the internet and in person. I have been called many things for saying so, and if you choose to believe that I am weaker or thin-skinned, then I say you have the right to your opinion, though I would disagree. I have been called that and worse when expressing this opinion. Just be aware that in return, I will probably be respectful and polite in my responses, if any.

I may even be … nice (gasp! the horror!).

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

Not Given —

Well said!

And how sad that you feel the need to be anonymous. Doesn’t that say volumes: that people standing up for “niceness” feel the need to keep a low profile lest they attract hostile attention.

I’m amazed how many people have sent email messages of support but have kept quiet in the comments, which are dominated by people saying that requesting civility shuts down conversation!

Lack of civility shuts down conversation, and drives off many who would otherwise participate.

Thanks a lot for your clear and thoughtful post.

• Not Given

I agree — it is a sad statement that I feel that anonymity is a “safer” way to express my views.

When the comments are dominated by capital letters and vitriol implying that asking for a modicum of self-control is equivalent to dictatorial regimes, Nazism and the like … I admit I find it difficult to take those kinds of statements seriously. And who wants to open themselves up for that kind of abuse, really?

I just read a few posts referring to the concept of rebellion and how many good things have come of it. How true! Rebellion in reference to teenagers (which I believe someone mentioned very recently) is a part of growing up. Also true.

I have two teenage children. This may come as a shock to many who are acquainted with any teenagers at all, but they don’t always agree with me, and they often feel that restrictions imposed on them are unfair. We usually have “discussions” when this happens. Sometimes they are even heated or emotional.

However, my children know that passion and emotion do not equate to insults or outright disrespect. “F— you / F— this, you’re a b—-” etc does not constitute a discussion. They know that when they speak with respect, they have a perfect right to disagree with me, and dare-I-say, a duty to speak up. “Rebellion” — even that which might involve armed conflict — does not require the level of hatefulness and disrespect that I see just walking around in a day.

If two children can know that even at age 12-18, then I expect that the rest of us should be able to grasp the concept. Who am I to say what sort of talk is acceptable? Not the “internet Nazi”, not an ‘A-lister’ ‘B-lister’ or any other kind of lister. But just a person. A person who is also tired of rudeness, incivility, and drivel — that’s why I accept that I mostly, as the fellow from Romania put it about Tim, “ignore 3/4 of peoples opinion”. I can guarantee that the 3/4 of people’s opinion that is out there is missing the 95% of people who feel differently but don’t feel comfortable speaking up. Say what you like, but if you can’t express it with respect, I quite frankly feel free to write off your opinion — just as mine is written off by those who would describe it as akin to requiring “thought police”.

To everyone out there — I don’t want to police your thoughts. I want _you_ to police them yourself.

Regards,
Name: Not Given

• Forced to be Anonymous

Is this saga still going on? Tim persists in deleting posts that prove this whole code of stupidity is a sham. This isnÔøΩt about children, or teenagers.

Kathy Sierra was attacked, not verbally, but she was typed at in a nasty way by a middle-aged person who gives the impression, from his typing in various blogs, that he is a kid. He has an accomplice, also a middle-aged man; both characters are known to Kathy Sierra and the other targets. The accomplice has even been photographed and interviewed at the same venues as his target of ridicule. This is a group problem. It is not a WWW problem.

Somebody stole a picture from Flickr, and placed it on the attackerÔøΩs blog, but the owner of said picture explained the item, right from the get-go that it was always intended to be a humorous pictorial of a humorous situation. Kathy knows her attackers. She resolved the situation within a few days, whereupon somebody decided to explode the group problems into a global problem. Why are Tim and his Associates still relentlessly pursuing this code of stupidity knowing full well that the above facts are behind the attacks?

• http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

Forced to be anonymous —

I have not deleted any comments relating to the opinions you set forth here. Seems to me that rather than being “forced to be anonymous” you are using anonymity to pretend to circumstances that you know are not true. I’d wonder, in fact, if you were one of the people involved in the Kathy Sierra posts, and are using this subterfuge to make your point. Are you forced to be anonymous because you can’t stand up for your opinion?

FWIW, I’ve said repeatedly in my dialogue with folks like Seth Finkelstein, my argument for a code of conduct is independent of the facts of what actually happened on meankids or unclebobisms. Whether or not Kathy misunderstood the posts on these sites, or whether there was context (now lost) that showed that said nasty posts were atypical, there was clearly some kind of problem there, or the sites wouldn’t have been shut down. And what I mainly reacted to was Chris Locke’s disavowal of any responsibility for anything but his own postings. My argument is that the owner or moderator of a site *should* take responsibility for the content that appears there.

• Forced to be Anonymous

The proof is on the Internet of the psyche behind these attacks. Bringing up the subject of juvenile activities is very revealing in itself but beside the point at present. I will submit my evidence to an interested party and to somebody impartial if you would prefer that course. Either way, it doesn’t bother me. One of the perpetrator’s photographs plus an interview is on the Internet alongside one of the victims of ridicule. You can tell from my IP that I am not an attacker – quite the reverse. I have done my homework where others have not.

• Forced to be Anonymous

I apologize for the comment that I thought you were deleting posts. Some posts have been eaten. Are you aware that previewing the posts has been generating an error messages? But posting straight from the box is fine.

• Not Given

Forced to be Anonymous:

You and others have said that “this” is a group problem, not a WWW problem. You limit your remarks to refuting a specific situation, which is not really the subject under discussion. Personally, I have witnessed many incidents, including some posts to this very forum, which underscore the fact that disrespect, hatefulness, and drivel are not just restricted to a few websites belonging to folks just practicing their right to free speech and the pursuit of whatever floats their boat. “Hey, no big deal, it happens, so what?”

When bad behaviour is accepted and even celebrated, it diminishes us all. It happens on the internet, on radio, on television, in the newspaper, and in real life. This is not just a group problem, or even a WWW problem. This is a human problem.

Name: Not Given

• Nicky

You have actually deleted posts – you asked for people’s opinions, yet delete them?

Anyway, I suppose when you read something like this, you tend to jump to the defense and post before thinking and how it will come across, so I guess I understand why my initial post was deleted.

In any case, let me try to say it again, yet not so “harshly” I suppose:

The net to me is a place where people are free to express their own views and opinions without having anyone looking over your shoulder. Freedom of speech is a massive thing on the net, and yes, you do get idiots who abuse it.

We are more living in a world now where “Big Brother” is watching you, yet when you are posting in your blog, you know you have the freedom to say whatever you want to say as long as it isn’t libel.

Now, when I initially read this post, all I could see was a “rule” that someone (or some people) wanted to bring into the blogosphere for bloggers to agree to certain conditions before they post in their blogs. Most “normal” people do all those mentioned anyway, but why do I need to make a “pack” with whoever it is I’m making a “pack” with to stick to these conditions?

Visualise this – a group of people making a declaration and deciding to encourage others to make a declaration to in turn encourage others to join the club kinda thing. I just don’t get it?

What are we trying to say? “Be as good as we are”? It just comes across as snobby to me and like a bunch of goodie two shoes conjuring up an idea between themselves to try to make some kind of impression which will get them a few pats on the back???

It’s kind of like, great, you do that, but leave me out of it please.

I don’t mean to sound rude and I may have totally misunderstood the point, but it is my response.

• http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/ Larry Fafarman

Tim,

How come you are not speaking out against the widespread practice of arbitrarily censoring inoffensive comments just because the blogger disagrees with them?

While there is this big debate over whether it is OK to censor offensive blog comments, there is also a huge ignored problem of arbitrary censorship of inoffensive comments. Extreme cyberbullying (e.g., credible death threats as opposed to mere zealous advocacy or just letting off some steam) and arbitrary censorship of inoffensive comments are both symptoms of the same sick Internet culture that tolerates and even approves preventing and/or discouraging people from expressing their ideas on the Internet. The irony of all this is that the Internet had the potential to be a gargantuan leap in our ability to disseminate and debate information and ideas.

Cyberbullying can take subtle forms, e.g., when bloggers look the other way when their self-appointed goons taunt dissident commenters and then pounce on dissident commenters who dare to retaliate.

There is also the abominable practice of trying to ban commenters by means of blocking their IP addresses, which is hardly even censorship because it can block large numbers of people who share the same ISP proxy IP address.

Also, bloggers who arbitrarily censor inoffensive comments have shown an intention to present just one side of controversial issues and therefore their blogs should not be cited for any authoritative purpose, e.g., citation by court opinions and scholarly journal articles (blogs have been cited by court opinions and scholarly journal articles).

A New York Times article on cyberbullying quoted the following astute observation: “Any community that does not make it clear what they are doing, why they are doing it, and who is welcome to join the conversation is at risk of finding it difficult to help guide the conversation later,” said Lisa Stone . . .”

Once you have played the part of a fox, cooperated with foxes, or even just ignored foxes, it is difficult to get a job guarding a henhouse.

Repent, you sinning bloggers and blog commenters — before it’s too late.

Larry Fafarman,
Founder, Association of Non-Censoring Bloggers

Nicky — your previous post is there. It was not deleted.

As to the substance of your comment: people can post whatever they want on their blogs. My point was that in addition to taking responsibility for their own postings, bloggers need to take responsibility for the kind of comments that they allow on their blog. If you allow nastiness, you are tarnished by it, and shouldn’t just get to pretend you had nothing to do with it.

• http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/ Larry Fafarman

Bloggers and commenters often need to let off steam, so I think that abuse of others should be allowed so long as it does not disparage anyone’s race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin. A lot of the problems that women bloggers and commenters are having with abuse is that the abuse disparages them as women. Credible threats should of course be prohibited.

Also, I strongly feel that something needs to be done about the arbitrary censorship of inoffensive comments solely on the basis that the blogger disagrees with them, particularly in the case of blogs that are authoritatively cited by court opinions, scholarly journal articles, etc..

Larry Fafarman, Founder, Association of Non-Censoring Bloggers

• Nicky

Tim, I agree with the point you are making, but at the end of the day, if people are going to allow such comments in their blog then it’s unlikely they are going to take on a “Code of Conduct”.

I run 4 blogs and administrate 2 busy forums, I do not allow any kind of abuse, bad language or bad behavour as I want everyone who participates in either the blogs or the forum to feel comfortable knowing that they are going to be treated with respect whether they agree with what is written by me or others, or not.

This is my choice of how I moderate, and people understand that.

My point is, although I agree with the principle, I do feel that I need to enforce or encourage a “Code of Conduct”. It just comes across to me as something else in the WWW that people are wanting to control. And its the “Control” aspect of the “idea” that puts me off.

• Nicky

Scuse the 2nd post, I meant that “I “don’t” feel that I need to enforce or encourage a “Code of Conduct”.

• http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/ Larry Fafarman

Even if such a code of conduct depends on an unenforceable honor system, it is still much better than nothing. It will help create an Internet culture that frowns upon extreme cyberbullying (I mean credible threats as opposed to just letting off some steam) and arbitrary censorship of blog comments solely on the basis that the blogger disagrees with them.

Larry Fafarman, Founder, Association of Non-Censoring Bloggers

• http://bemusedoutsider.livejournal.com/ bemusedoutsider

Bravo for Tim and Not Given!

As a Usenet survivor, I support anonyminity on demand :-), mis-spelling, top-posting, ALL CAPS for emphasis, cross-posting, cross-dressing, thespianism, webscabbing, disagreeing with the majority, beginning posts with “You people” or “What you people are overlooking” etc … elipses and sentence fragments … even sockpuppetry an it harm none….

I also agree with what Tim is REALLY saying (note CAPS for emphasis). And applaud him jumping into all this, and keeping his temper.

Imo it’s good to have icons for what will and won’t get left intact at one’s blog. You know, like “no smoking” signs, or “shoes required”, or “clothing optional”, or “chains required, whips optional” or whatever.

And having those link to some repository of boilerplate seems like a good idea too, though most blog owners will tinker with the boilerplate (and for that matter, with the icons).

I’ll continue this rant and make some module requests on my own LJ, against profanity, personal attacks, mind-reading, burying attacks in subordinate clauses, escalating personal to political….

Mostly, to “Not Given” — bravo. What you said.

I do think that on Usenet the people who are trying to impose a particular STYLE have done damage. Too many prissy format rules drive out the reasonable people who have better uses for their time, leaving the field open to those who don’t pretend to care.

Just in case of deletion by friendly fire — I’ve already mirrored this post to my LJ. :-)

bemusedoutsider — thanks! Your support and clarity are much appreciated. You didn’t leave an email address — so please drop me a line (tim at oreilly.com). I’d love to get you involved in reviewing the “yellow card” plug in that John McGrath is developing.

• This is my real name

You say you’ve learned lessons from the comments, but it looks like you haven’t learned the only one that matters. You’re just coming across as a jackass trying to tell us and our readers how to run our websites, and we’re not going to let you do this. That you’ve edited a few books about computers doesn’t you have the legitimacy to attempt to police the Internets.

• Judith Ravdin

This is more than a year after the previous comments, but here goes:

(1) Professional blogging sites (those that allow advertisements) should be held to a higher standard of conduct, including, but not limited to, not permitting kinetic ads which are rife with Java and likely to infect their users;

(2) One professional blogging/news site (whose editors often appear on the television news shows) does not have particularly useful moderating practices. There is no uniformity or predictable consistency among the moderators, the moderators are not listed if one has questions, hateful and abusive comments are allowed to stand for long periods while a pattern of abusive behavior within one topic (manipulation of other commenters, repeatedly asking for links which have already been supplied numerous times, etc., cannot be addressed by a mere “flag abuse” button. That site had no mechanism for reporting such issues (I am a member of 2 voluntary sites which have varying mechanisms to allow this, with messages that are answered within a day or 2, actions taken beforehand if necessary). Also, there was no way to find out why certain comments were banned. FAQs help a little, but some human interaction is necessary. Canned warnings can be used, with an option to e-mail back. Some messages are suppressed because the moderator was ill-educated or an excited poster did not complete a thought that was not meant to be abusive. Commenters should be given a chance (in some cases) to reword their statements if the moderator is unsure whether the statement was really meant to be abusive. In addition, some sites seem to encourage the development of “gurus” among the anonymous commenters (as opposed to bloggers) and do not tolerate criticism of these folks.

I occasionally visit that site to read postings by particular bloggers, but have found another professional blogging/news site which I much prefer. But, by and large, the 2 volunteer-administered forums seem to have much better moderation and abuse notification procedures. I would also suggest that all blogs with any real traffic post glossaries for internet novices (many of us are old fogies who were highly skeptical about the reliability of any blog).

• http://www.ashesandmilk.com/blog Nikko Moy

Here’s a possible logo direction:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/nikkomoy/3268888211/