Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bringing Civility To The Blogosphere

Okay, I'll admit it. After reading yesterday morning's New York Times (NYT), I'm feeling blessed.

I've been blogging for almost twenty months now, and I've been remarkably lucky. Ninety-nine percent of the individuals who read and comment on my blog or who've emailed me are lovely people. People like B.E. and Lainey who drop by to leave friendly, encouraging messages. People like Laura who always gives me something to think about. And friends like Marie, Maria and Sherrill with whom I have frequent off-blog conversations. I look forward to getting to know new visitors like Peter, David and Rob better.

I've had the occasional unpleasant experience. Bloggers who try to improve their search engine numbers by driving traffic to their own websites. And the rare troll who posts a lengthy, bombastic rant. My informal policy has been to simply delete such comments.

The NYT article described the terrible experience of one technology blogger last month:

In an online shouting match that was widely reported, Kathy Sierra . . . reported getting death threats that stemmed in part from a dispute over whether it was acceptable to delete the impolitic comments left by visitors to someone's personal Web site.

Distraught over the threats and manipulated photos of her that were posted on other critical sites--including one that depicted her head next to a noose--Ms. Sierra cancelled a speaking appearance at a trade show and asked the local police for help in finding the source of the threats. She also said that she was considering giving up blogging altogether.

Two Internet legends, Tim O'Reilly and Jimmy Wales, were moved enough by Ms. Sierra's plight that they joined forces to address the problem.

I've mentioned Tim O'Reilly on this blog multiple times. He is the founder of O'Reilly Media and is credited with coining the term "Web 2.0." You can read about him on my post for November 7, 2005 here.

I've also mentioned Jimmy Wales on this blog a number of times. Wales is the genius behind the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. You can read about him here.

Both O'Reilly and Wales are champions of the open source approach.

The two propose "a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse . . . Mr. O'Reilly and Mr. Wales talk about creating several sets of guidelines for conduct and seals of approval represented by logos."

They've talked about setting up a website where bloggers could choose among an array of guidelines for Internet conduct and then post the matching logo to warn visitors to the site of the rules in place. "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."

The idea has already provoked criticism with some people describing this initiative as an effort to destroy free speech. In my opinion, those arguments are specious; in other words, a crock.

Free speech means your right to post your opinion on YOUR blog. Your freedom to speak ends at the tip of MY nose.

You should not be permitted to make terrorist threats against another person or against a group of people. Examples of the first are what happened to Ms. Sierra. Examples of the latter are racist groups or someone who shouts "fire" in a crowded theater.

If you come into my house, I expect a certain code of civility. Otherwise, I'll ask you to leave. The same theory applies to my blog. I wouldn't permit you to nail a political rant to my mailbox or fence; why should I permit you to post one on my blog?

For more, read Tim O'Reilly's post for Sunday here. Check the Most Active box on the right side of the screen.

1 comment:

Sherrill Quinn said...

Great post, Maya. You're right--one person's rights end where another person's start. Your right to smoke ends where my right to breath fresh air begins. Your right to rant about whatever end when you try to do it on my blog. If I don't want to see it, if I don't agree with it, if *I* find it offensive, I'll delete it. That's not censorship, that's me exercising my rights. Why someone would expect otherwise is beyond me.