Howls of protest over bloggers' code of conduct


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May 24, 2005
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Howls of protest as web gurus attempt to banish bad behaviour from blogosphere

Opinion divided over code of conduct meant to rid postings of offensive and abusive comments

Perhaps it was inevitable. When two leading internet pioneers came together this week to propose a set of guidelines that would filter out offensive and abusive comments from blogs, they were met by a torrent of offensive and abusive comments.

Images of excrement were abundant amid the reaction yesterday to the proposed "bloggers' code of conduct". The anonymous blogger bynkii (motto: because misanthropy is fun) likened the idea to "troll faeces, specifically designed to create a special group of self-satisfied, smug, condescending dingalings looking down their noses". The new media site 910am described it as "weapons of mass stupidity" and carried the health warning "do not read on a full stomach".

The text that has got the collective bowels moving of these and many other bloggers is a draft set of rules on introducing the concept of civility to the blogosphere. It is the combined work of Tim O'Reilly, inventor of the phrase Web 2.0 to describe the next generation of interactive communications, and Jimmy Wales, founder of the communal encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

They have posted a seven-point programme that would attempt, they say, to address the plethora of abusive comments on the web, while preserving the free spirit of the medium. Point one of the code is that anyone signing up to it would commit themselves to a "civility enforced" standard to remove unacceptable comments from their blog.

Unacceptable is defined as content that is used to abuse, harass, stalk or threaten others; is libellous or misrepresentative; or infringes copyright, confidentiality or privacy rights. Anonymous postings are also to be removed, with every comment requiring a recognised email address, even if posts are made under pseudonyms.

Point six encourages bloggers to ignore "trolls" making nasty comments that fall short of abuse or libel. "Never wrestle with a pig," is the advice. "You both get dirty, but the pig likes it."

To back up the code, they propose a "civility enforced" badge marking sites which subscribe to the guidelines, and an "anything goes" badge to denote those that do not. The proposed guidelines can be interactively amended by web users, until a final version is agreed.

Mr O'Reilly writes on his website radar.oreilly: "Setting standards for acceptable behaviour in a forum you control is conducive to free speech, not damaging to it. There's no reason why we should tolerate conversations online that we wouldn't tolerate in our living room."

Many sites, including the Guardian's Comment is free blog, already deploy several of the points. But this is the first attempt to apply a common framework to the rapidly growing population of blogs which already stands at 71m.

The move formalises concern among many bloggers and web publishers about abusive language. Last month a woman blogger went public with the attacks she had suffered on her site. In her account of the harassment she endured, Kathy Sierra refers to photographs being posted of her head beside a noose, and comments such as: "**** off you boring slut... i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob".

"The guy who wrote this is anonymous," she said. "I have no way of knowing just how disturbed he might be."

The draft guidelines have prompted wide debate with varying responses. Dan Gillmor of the Centre for Citizen Media, a group devoted to grassroots media attached to Berkeley's graduate school of journalism, rejects the need for a code of conduct. He says bloggers require only one simple rule: be civil. To define unacceptable behaviour is to create a monster, he says, as "Who'd be the judge of it? The government? Libel lawyers? Uh, oh."

901am says the idea is the preserve of rabid feminists and professional victims. "Civility is subjective, and controlling what people say and do on blogs can only be a recipe for the decline of the medium and the introduction of totalitarianism online."

Ed Pilkington in New York
Tuesday April 10, 2007
Guardian Unlimited
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