The New York Times reports on an effort that has percolated in the blogosphere over the last couple of weeks to clean up the on-line debate. Spurred by threats made against a female blogger over the propriety of deleting abusive comments, the new standards would more or less compel bloggers to eliminate offending comments and to discourage anonymous comments:
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.
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 (radar.oreilly.com). Mr. Wales then put the proposed guidelines on his company’s site (blogging.wikia.com), and is now soliciting comments in the hope of creating consensus around what constitutes civil behavior online.
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.
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.
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.
Who would police this structure? What would be the penalty for violations? Being stripped of the logo will hardly lose a blogger much of his or her readership. Any other penalty would have to be self-imposed, and if that worked, we wouldn't need Tim O'Reilly or Jimmy Wales at all.
If a blogger gets threatened by an on-line commenter or another blogger, then the FBI should get called to investigate. If a blog has an out-of-control comment section where abuse and vitriol rule the day, simply stop reading that blog -- or even better yet, start another blog and criticize it. As for me, I find that writing in a non-inflammatory manner generally produces a calmer atmosphere in the comments. I use Typekey for registration to keep out drive-by abuse in that section and to hold commenters responsible for their behavior -- and we have the best community in the 'sphere as a result.
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.