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April 15, 2007

Corporate Blogger Code of Conduct

There's near-universal agreement in the progressive blogosphere that the proposed Blogger Code of Conduct is a terrible idea. Cf. Kos, Bitch PhD, Pandagon, As I Please, just to name a few.

A lot of bloggers, myself included, resent the proposed code because it seems as if its authors are trying to introduce restrictive, arbitrary rules under the guise of responding to online threats.

Bloggers who adopt the Code pledge to be responsible not only for their own words, but also for all the comments on their sites. They promise to abide by the "Civility Enforced" standard, which commits them to deleting not only threats and libels, but also comments that violate intellectual property rights and confidentiality obligations.

Signatories also promise never to say anything to each other online that they wouldn't say in person. The people who will sign up aren't the ones making death threats. So, in practice the rule will pressure nice bloggers to make nice with each other, not a real solution to intimidation, and hardly conducive to vibrant discourse.

Even more troubling, signatories swear to "connect in private" before they blog about each other in public. A mandatory institutionalized blogging cartel is antithetical to the ideals of the blogosphere. There's nothing wrong with bloggers talking off-line, but compulsory back-channels are very troubling indeed. I don't want bloggers to promise to iron out their differences in private.

The architects of the BCC are major tech bloggers/biz bloggers in Silicon Valley.

There's widespread suspicion in the liberal political blogosphere that the BCC is an attempt to smuggle in corporate-friendly comment moderation policies under the guise of "civility."  Why else would they bother? A voluntary code of conduct like the BCC one isn't really about protecting citizens who speak out online, it's about creating an environment that's safe for major advertisers. 

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Thanks, Lindsay, for the link-love, to say nothing of the company among whom you place me.

When I used to have a blog called "Move Left," I had a message in the Comments section which went something like, "Be polite. Your comment may be deleted for any reason or for no reason."

I rarely deleted comments, but wanted to make the possiblity known.

I don't see why a blogger would prefer a code which includes:

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

I don't want to be responsible for other people's words.

If I saw a Comment which was Off-Topic, I might delete it, but I wouldn't want to be responsible for all the Comments I don't delete.

Apparently, the line "1. We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog" is a reaction to a blogger who knowingly allowed threatening comments and said he's not responsible.

If a blogger wants to announce a different attitude, then a narrower declaration like "We take responsibility threatening comments in the sense that we will delete them if told about them" would make more sense.

The BCC suggests that the blogger take responsibility for upholding the norms they call "Civility Enforced." That's a much more specific commitment than a promise to delete threatening comments. Some of their norms are good, but some are questionable at best.

Wankers, the lot of 'em. Rogers Cadenhead came up with an uncivil civility enforced badge.

Um, is there some sort of worldwide regulatory agency which has the authority to impose and enforce this so-called "code of conduct"? If not, who cares?

Cranky

The BCC bloggers are part of a very well-connected group of entrepreneurs on the West Coast who are trying to forge partnerships between blogs and businesses.

Again, since this is all voluntary, there's nothing nefarious about it. Big companies want those kinds of assurances, ordinary bloggers aren't going to offer them.

If corporate-friendly bloggers want to band together and form the online equivalent of a Better Business Bureau/Chamber of Commerce, that's fine.

But let's not kid pretend that the BCC is some kind of altruistic attempt to protect the vulnerable. This isn't an attempt to protect women, it's an attempt to browbeat other bloggers into voluntarily relinquishing autonomy for no good reason.

Shelley Powers pointed to Joe Clark's criticism of Tim O'Reilly as a good example of why non-polite, non-civil criticism needs to be defended (Joe left this comment on O'Reilly's blog):

"Essentially, people called bullshit on every point of your ā€œcode 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 ā€“ really, the apotheosis of an A-lister talking down to the little people ā€“ has been rejected by your subjects, and you're the only one who doesn't know it yet."

I blogged on three different blogs. Of those, two had the same general comment policy: this is a free space, and unless you advertise viagra, you can feel free to comment. On UTI, that policy was necessary to promote health debate about the issues, which were too controversial and flammable to be discussed otherwise. It worked, first with the arguments about religion and tradition and science and Iraq, and then with those about the I/P conflict. It even worked on my blog; I had commenters who voiced absolutely noxious opinions, but I wouldn't even dream of banning them, because if I did, it would no longer be about their wrongness but about my inability to deal with it. Appletree generally adhered to the same principle, with one exception; indeed, the one time he branded a commenter a racist and deleted his posts, that commenter left along with his valuable perspective on foreign affairs.

A voluntary code of conduct like the BCC one isn't really about protecting citizens who speak out online, it's about creating an environment that's safe for major advertisers.

I wonder if part of the reason they want a code has to do with the way many ads show up through ad services (e.g., GoogleAds). While it's odd when a Glen Beck show ad shows up on a liberal blog site--it's just that: odd. But imagine if by some weird algorithm, your children's teddy bear company ad showed up on the Stormfront blog. That could be really misunderstood...

I imagine comment moderation takes a fair amount of time. The cheap cost of entry to blogging is part of what defines blogging. Adding time cost to blogging is a very bad idea. It's a barrier to entry for new bloggers, afraid they can't commit adequately moderating their comments.

There are already several technological fixes that address abusive comments, the option to not have comments at all, or the option to post comments you receive via e-mail ala Andrew Sullivan or Josh Marshall. It's overkill to have a 'code'. If we still had the Comics Code we would have never had anything like Maus. Only Repo Men should have a code.

A "blogger code of conduct" is oxymoronic. What the fuck does civility have to do with blogging? Isn't blogging a haven for snark, non-PC goodness and flaming? Seriously though, would be the point of this "code" other than a sort of back-door censorship? Who decides what's civil? Are comments inherently uncivil if they don't agree with your position? But seriously...

If this code is in fact meant as a means to justify censorship and/or create a more comfortable climate for corporate advertisers, it may have the unintended effect of reducing traffic. The core appeal of blogs is the free exchange of ideas. By placing curbs on this exchange blogs inherently become less interesting. Less interesting blogs lead to declining traffic. Declining traffic results in diminished participation. Diminished participation makes a blog less interesting. Repeat.

Blogs reflect society albeit sometimes magnified and/or through a fun house mirror. Our society has become increasingly coarsened, impolite and intolerant. Until civility makes a comeback in our overall culture, blogs won't change.

While I believe strongly in civil discourse, it's an individual responsibility. It's impractical for bloggers to impose rules of conduct on their readers nor can they enforce them. They don't have the time. To hold a blogger responsible for anyone else's comments/opinions is a preposterously archaic concept. A blog is not the court of a medieval kings and its readers are not its subjects.

AF

"Bloggers who adopt the Code pledge to be responsible not only for their own words, but also for all the comments on their sites. They promise to abide by the "Civility Enforced" standard, which commits them to deleting not only threats and libels, but also comments that violate intellectual property rights and confidentiality obligations."

What sort of Nanny-state nabob conjurs this drivel?

To imply that one countenances unreservedly the opinions of others, whether agreed upon or not, merely by publishing them does more damage to the concept of 'free speech' and individual responsibility for same than a hundred online louts and their impotent rage at a failed life, scribbled in pixels.

Civility can be granted, negotiated, shared, or ignored...Never 'enforced'.

And wilful ignorance, fact-free bias, attempts at coercive intimidation, and other linguistic luggage shifted by bellboys dabbling above their intellectual paygrade deserves no civility at all.

I'm an asshole in real life too, pledging to not say things I wouldn't say in real life is meaningless ;)

Also I'd like to point out that a "blog" is really just a fucking web page. There are technical blogs, there are blogs about video games and people's cats, blogs about food...there is no common bond that ties blogs and bloggers together.

A blogger code of conduct makes as much sense as a website code of conduct, or a real life code of verbal conduct.

It does seem to me that the point here is that you can put a little gif on your site that says "BCC approved!" and then businesses can feel safe linking to and referencing those blogs.

By the way let me also say that majikthise has quickly become one of my favorite blogs because Lindsay is not just some snarky ego-centric hack addicted to the sound of her own voice. I find her comments to be well-informed and well-reasoned, as opposed to on many blogs where the posters make some of the dumbest comments out of anyone.

Reading this blog I actually get an interesting, thoughful viewpoint and occasionally even learn something. Amazing.

Very clever scheme. I would imagine, after the badge gains critical mass, there will be official body one needs to be a member of.

"Pay your fee for the badge or else no advertisement money"

I should have notice how they insist on no "copyrighted material" and "confidentiality" What do they have to do with civility?

All the important and biggest blogs thrive on gray area of content ownership. (entertainment, political news, music, tech/gadget news)

We'll see how this unfold. interesting theory.

I'd rather that most of the blogs I read delete comments that insult the blogger, or are mere insults or trollery
(which we all know when we see it, as Potter Stewart would have) -- but they aren't my blogs. OTOH, it is gratifying that we won't have this proposed wear-uniforms, form-a-straight-line, don't-talk-out-of-turn regime to make the Web safe for advertisers and cable pundits. The law gives us remedies for criminal and tortious speech, threats and libels, and they should be enough.

My feeling is that what most trolls want is evidence that the target is paying attention. Deleting their outbursts really does encourage them because it's proof that the target notices or cares.

Ignoring trolls can work. I realize that it's just one strategy among many. I don't call on other bloggers to do the same. Personally, I just find it's easier to let the comments of trolls stand like roadkill on the interstate.

Personman - Shhhh! Don't let our little secret out. We like this peaceful refuge for intelligent discussion Lindsay has created. We want to keep it that way.

Ha!

AF

Another angle is that in my online experience, published rules are just excuses for trolls to cause trouble by exploiting perceived loopholes and bitching about inconsistent enforcement of those rules.

But, yes, generally this is yet another attempt to create insiders and outsiders so that insiders can extract monopoly rents from their cartel.

Thanks for such a clear take on the issue. Having to take responsibility for the comments of others is somewhat troubling, partly for reasons enunciated here, but also because it is sometimes difficult to know what comments have been left on past posts once they fall off the front page. Trolls could start causing trouble on posts from a few weeks or months before. That alone would make me hesitant to adopt this code, even with my fairly uncontroversial topics.

"5. We do not allow anonymous comments. ...
From EFF
"Anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A much-cited 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission reads:

Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society. "

While I agree that the proposed BCC is a poor idea and looking at the potential effect vs. the stated purpose seems to be massive overkill this does still leave the "blogging community" with a problem which will be very difficult to solve. How can the community protect itself and its members (particularly its female members) from the sorts of abuse which happened to Ms. Sierra?

This is of course an issue which has plagued the online community almost since its inception (the infamous Bungle incident on LambdaMOO in the early 90's) in a world of true anonymity, which the internet is not but does resemble to the casual observer; most forms of community shaming don't really work. You can't shame someone who will simply pick a new name and a new IP to come back.

Of course the BCC won't help with this, what is the help of creating zones where assholes aren't welcome when they can simply go somewhere else. These comments weren't left of Ms. Sierra's own blog after all. The only idea I can think of is using the state, there is precedent for real world investigations as a result of online threats, but that also has a long list of associated problems.

Any alternative ideas?

Don't just do something, stand there!

"comments that violate intellectual property rights and confidentiality obligations."

So much for whistleblowers. And I don't agree with IP laws as they stand right now. I'll enforce them to the extent of my liability and not one inch further. I am not becoming a policeman for policies I don't agree with or laws I don't agree with.

I also am definitely not accepting responsibility for comments in that fashion. That's openning you up to a huge amount of work and liability.

Not to say I won't moderate - I do, and I will, but my code is my own, thanks.

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