Do Bloggers Need a Code of Conduct?
Tim O’Reilly has posited forth the idea of a Bloggers Code of Conduct in light of the Kathy Sierra death-threat meme. Seems like a good idea; after all, one does note a lack of civility and decorum in the blogosphere from time to time, and futhermore, what was at the heart of the issue than a lack of respect for others?
Well, that sounds all well and good, but I’m not sure if a Blogger’s Code of Conduct would have prevented the entire fiasco, or even if its a good idea at all.
First of all, were bloggers the real problem in the Kathy Sierra incident? No. That is to say, there weren’t a well definable group of individuals who blog, and therefore, own blogs, who were writing death threats. These were the acts of cowards who decided to hide behind the cloak of anonymity, and furthermore, we don’t even know if they *are* bloggers at all. Perhaps the thing that makes the idea of a Bloggers Code of Conduct ineffective in this instance is that idiots who get their jollies doing this sort of thing will ignore such trifles anyway.
Should bloggers treat each other in a civil fashion? Of course. Ought there a sensible way to resolve disputes other than ad hominem attacks? Sure. Is instituting a voluntary Code of Conduct an effective way to encourage this behaviour?
That depends — but, mostly not.
And the reason is that there is no real self-regulating body that can enforce things if a code of conduct is broken. Sure, we can easily envision some sort of “badge” that’s created where people can voluntarily sign up and announce proudly that they stick to a 12 point Code of Conduct (cue in triumphant chorus).
But what does that really mean? And more to the point: what happens if they break that Code of Conduct? Well, the answers are “not much”, and “nothing”. A Code of Conduct for most bloggers doesn’t have much a point because the blogosphere is self-regulating. If you act like an ass, people will know, and for the most part, will readership will decline. If it doesn’t, that probably means they won’t care a whit about any rules of conduct anyway. Secondly, even if one did have an audience who might care, if you broke it what really happens? Nothing.
There are no real consequences that come of breaking an Official Blogger Code of Conduct.
Again: should bloggers be civil to each other? Of course. But do I think a Blogger Code of Conduct is necssary? Not really. And I don’t think it would have helped Kathy Sierra even if there was an official one — principally because her “assailants” attacked her anonymously.
Now, should bloggers take responsibility for the comments section? I think there is certainly a moral obligation to do the best that you can. But that’s really a post about making sure you have a good comments policy.
Not about Blogger Conduct. ;)
Tony Hung is the editor of the BlogHerald. He is also a physician finishing his last year of residency in General Internal Medicine, and blogs at Deep Jive Interests , where he rants, occasionally, on new media topics.
Nevertheless, as was pointed out in Micah and Abe’s post on how blogging is used as an educational tool, a definitive list of ” blogging etiquettes” wouldn’t do any harm. On another point, from what I’ve seen, some of those who shout the loudest are the biggest culprits themselves!
While a “standards” for bloggers might be better than a Roberts Rule of Order for Bloggers, I’d really like to see a Better Business Bureau for Bloggers. This could be a way to report scrapers and splogs (and hopefully get something done about them) as well as provide ratings for bloggers or some way of reporting on bloggers gone bad.
Tony, you are right. It isn’t the fault of “bloggers” but individuals. Blaming the blogosphere or the web for the evils of the world is just stupid. Humans are infatuated with stupid human tricks and their results. Until we get over “ourselves”, the real truth of Web 2.0 will have to be self policing.