Monday, April 9, 2007

Permission to Breathe

NYTimes continues the saga of benighted bloggers beset by beasties and what they propose to do about it.... For those who are fans of "Red Dwarf" the discussion is familiar. For the fans of Douglas Adams and "Hitchikers Guide To The Galaxy" the needs only Zaphod to leaven it.... As usual with all exerpts, the highlights and comments are mine...

The conversational free-for-all on the Internet known as the blogosphere can be a prickly and unpleasant place. Now, a few high-profile figures in high-tech are proposing a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse.

Last week, Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher who is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, began working with Jimmy Wales, creator of the communal online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to create a set of guidelines to shape online discussion and debate.

Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship. (What next a secret blacklist to identify scurrilous scribes? Alliteration is running deep today-AJ)

A recent outbreak of antagonism among several prominent bloggers “gives us an opportunity to change the level of expectations that people have about what’s acceptable online,” said Mr. O’Reilly, who posted the preliminary recommendations last week on his company blog ( Mr. Wales then put the proposed guidelines on his company’s site (, and is now soliciting comments in the hope of creating consensus around what constitutes civil behavior online.(Go-! Comment- Speak your bit. Please do.-AJ)

Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Wales talk about creating several sets of guidelines for conduct and seals of approval represented by logos. For example, anonymous writing might be acceptable in one set; in another, it would be discouraged. Under a third set of guidelines, bloggers would pledge to get a second source for any gossip or breaking news they write about. (Gee... One would think that honesty and common sense would prevail. However, holding bloggers to a higher standard than the NYTimes, WAPost, Reuters or AP seems a bit unfair. At least the blogging community polices itself and most bloggers will correct shortly after being notified. The same cannot be said for the larger Media-O-Sphere-AJ )

Bloggers could then pick a set of principles and post the corresponding badge on their page, to indicate to readers what kind of behavior and dialogue they will engage in and tolerate. The whole system would be voluntary, relying on the community to police itself. ( When the BIG guys do it, then the little will follow.-AJ )

A subtext of both sets of rules is that bloggers are responsible for everything that appears on their own pages, including comments left by visitors. They say that bloggers should also have the right to delete such comments if they find them profane or abusive. (Why does this deserve a loud "Duh"... "No Sheep Sherlock" as we said about the Blinding Flash of the Obvious in grade school-AJ)

That may sound obvious, but many Internet veterans believe that blogs are part of a larger public sphere, and that deleting a visitor’s comment amounts to an assault on their right to free speech. It is too early to gauge support for the proposal, but some online commentators are resisting. ()I wonder where these same folks stand on the War With No Name? Will these dhimmies seek permission to live and breathe-? How do they choose to shop, dine, travel? AJ)

Mr. O’Reilly said the guidelines were not about censorship. “That is one of the mistakes a lot of people make — believing that uncensored speech is the most free, when in fact, managed civil dialogue is actually the freer speech,” he said. “Free speech is enhanced by civility.”

The Rules At This Lemonade Stand:
1) Be polite.
2) I will try not to be boring.
3) I am responsible for goes up here.
4) If you don't like the rules go set up your own stand.
5) Nothing is free. See #1 and #2 above. When in doubt see #3 & #4

Yale Law Professors have a wordy discussion about the similar issues of AutoAdmit and related scurrilous blog commentators. Prof Althouse adds some thoughts

Here's a big write-up on the codification efforts in the NYT:
A subtext of both sets of rules is that bloggers are responsible for everything that appears on their own pages, including comments left by visitors.
This is a terribly damaging idea that would stultify debate. But I do think bloggers need to respond and delete when they are notified about certain things, like threats of violence, clear libel, and the fraudulent appropriation of a person's name.
[The codifiers] say that bloggers should also have the right to delete such comments if they find them profane or abusive.
Should? Obviously, we do have this right! I think the point must be that other people don't have the right to criticize a blogger who deletes something if it's whatever The Code ends up saying is deletable. But that is absurd. If there is a code defining deletability, people will argue about whether the standard of deletability is met and also -- not everyone will subscribe to The Code -- about how deleting is repressive. And, of course, there will be assertions of selective deletion -- that is, people will accuse the blogger of only deleting the profane/abusive comments that go against the blogger's ideology. And these accusations will probably be correct. But we'll have to argue about whether they are correct.

Won't that be fascinating?
She then cites some familiar voices:

As you can see from Memeorandum (and as you would predict), a lot of bloggers are writing about the NYT article. Here's Captain Ed:
This is one of those well-intentioned but doomed reform efforts that sound reasonable but will have no chance of changing anything. Before the reform leaves the dock, it has already split into several "standards", which will cause confusion on which logo means what rules and under which circumstances. Bloggers and commenters will have to look for logos, and then will endlessly argue over each individual post or comment as to whether it meets the guidelines....

Most of us came into the blogosphere to get away from editorial restrictions imposed by others. We allow our own judgments and values to guide our publications. That may result in some bruised feelings from time to time, but our readers make the decision as to whether we have met their editorial guidelines, and that should be good enough in a free market.
Ntodd -- who is always saying mean things about me! -- says:
Why do we need any "recommendations" from the leading lights of Web2.0? The whole point of blogging is to bring personal styles and thoughts to bear, not to follow some guidelines that wicked smart people who earn money doing consulting think up.

Oh yeah, sure, they're soliciting comments, like this will be some big Come To Blogger Jesus thing and we'll all talk about our feelings, sing Kumbaya, tearfully hug each other at the end of camp and promise to write each other. Then as soon as Mom and Dad pick up us, we'll promptly go back to our old lives and friends and forget about Tim and Jimmy and the cute girl--you know, whatsername--in Tent #4 and the camp mascot dog, Sadie.
Virgil Libertas calls the NYT "Miss Blog-o-Manners" and tells it to "go piss up a rope."
It is nice to see the Times has its eyes firmly on the important issues of our day, rather than unpleasant shit like Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Darfur....
Now that I think about it, the NYT really has an interest in siding with the blog-o-niceness movement. Bloggers are a threat to the Times in part because we can do so many things that a mainstream newspaper can't. So wouldn't it be great if we were stuck with their standards? Stop being vicious and wild! Write like the NYT, and maybe people will just read the NYT. (Anything to get some readers-AJ)

Here's Dan Drezner:
I hereby predict it will go nowhere...

The one fascinating thing about [NYT writer Brad] Stone's story is what's not in it. Despite endless complaints about rising partisanship in the blogosphere, no example was given of declining civility in the poliitical [sic] blogosphere. That doesn't mean it's not happening, of course, but it's still surpring that Stone failed to offer up such an example.
I hope people wake up and notice how the Kathy Sierra story is being leveraged (something I talked about here). A woman received real threats of violence. Those threats are criminal, and Sierra's case is being handled by the police, as well it should be. Nasty, cruel, ugly, unfair, mocking, abusive speech is a completely different matter. Anyone who blends the two subjects is selling out free speech and should be called on it right away. This repressive movement is gaining momentum. Be alarmed now, before it digs in any further.

Anyone who wants to write a nice, well-mannered blog with a kindly, benevolent comments section is welcome to do it. But if they also want to stigmatize cutting, mocking, aggressive speech, I'm going to aggressively cut and mock them. Of course, they have the freedom to try to stigmatize the bloggers like me who don't want to be nice, but all they can really do is be nice, nice, nice themselves. And readers will decide for themselves who they want to read.
If you've followed the discussion this far, I'll toss back in a reminder about the Rules .

The Rules At This Lemonade Stand:
1) Be polite.
2) I will try not to be boring.
3) I am responsible for goes up here.
4) If you don't like the rules go set up your own stand.
5) Nothing is free. See #1 and #2 above. When in doubt see #3 & #4
Getting "wrapped around the axel" over the rights of commentators vs the rights of the blog owner vs threats of violence vs Free Speech is just spinning readers in circles. People who will not defend their ownership rights will lose them. Those who will defend their rights find the strength to help others in their struggle. This dynamic is a foundation for civilization. That this needs explaining, clarification, expansion and defending shows why we have many enemies who doubt our willingness to be strong enough to survive a test or ten. Yes, it does relate to the "War With No Name". This is ultimately a war about our civilization

If the blog owner is not responsible for is posted the audience will flee. If the blog owner surrenders to abuse and trash, the audience will flee. If the blog owner chooses to publish abuse and trash, the audience will flee.

The marketplace of ideas like any other marketable commodity will go to those who provide value for expenditure. Abuse and trash are common. People will not seek it out and will shun places where it grows wild.


Scrappleface offers civility offsets for those who absolutely positively feel they must abuse and trash others.... Send em money via Paypal.....
I Love this country. Every problem is a profit opportunity

shows what happens when the abusers slip thru the screen. He reasonably asks if you would want this on your blog. I ask, would you bother to read it? weighs in with a report. I guess everyone has an opinion about the cnsorship-civility divide.

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