April 9, 2007

Does The Blogosphere Need A Speech Code?

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.


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Comments (33)

Posted by ScottM [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 7:15 AM

What the blogoswamp needs isn't a "code," but simple decency and courtesy. Remember those?

Posted by Mr Lynn [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 7:28 AM

There is a problem with anonymous posting and comments: the potential for serious mischief by starting and spreading malicious rumor and gossip, as perhaps against a political candidate.

Newspapers generally require bona fide names, addresses, and phone numbers before publishing letters. With the volume of participation on blogs, that might not be practical, but it might not be unreasonable to expect the proprietor of a website or blog to edit out suspicious or scurrilous posts, and/or to require that the poster provide verification.

I realize that any form of editorial management is thought (erroneously) to be 'censorship' by free-wheeling Internet denizens, but I can see the better blogs, like this one, taking the lead in promoting responsible Internet publishing—for this is, after all, a form of publication, however fleeting in some cases.

BTW, Captain, speaking of TypeKey, it's awfully buggy. Sometimes it plain doesn't work, and even when it does, it invariably gives me a 'submission error', making me click through again (there never is an error). I suppose I should try different browsers, but there is no good reason why TK should dislike Safari. I expect a fair percentage of CQ readers are Mac users.

/Mr Lynn

Posted by Tom Shipley [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 7:30 AM

Taking anonymity out of the equation would great clean up discourse. People posting under pen names have no accountability and will say things they wouldn't say as "themselves."

That's one reason I use my name. Helps keep me honest.

Posted by rbj [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 7:41 AM

It would be real nice if courtesy would be extended from blog comments to the real world. My rule is if you have to resort to name calling, you have lost the debate, although snarkiness is o.k.

Don't bloggers already have their own codes -- some with no commenting allowed, others who will delete spam/off topic/abusive comments and another group where enything goes?

Posted by qwerty182764 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 7:55 AM

Anonymity is somewhat necessary though. I wouldn't be able to post the non-vitriolic stuff that I do if people could pin it to my name and address.

While threats should be investigated, demanding the compulsion of decency is a bit over the top. Tolerance used to mean that you put up with your rude, crude, heretical neighbor under the mutual contract that he puts up with you. Not that you could go through life unoffended.

Posted by docjim505 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 7:56 AM

The rules ought to be up to the blog owner(s). If they want to allow "anything goes" commenting, it's their business. If they want to put in various rules, that's also their business. Their readers will decide whether or not the "rules" are OK by continuing to post or going elsewhere.

Posted by Tom Shipley [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 7:57 AM

"I find that writing in a non-inflammatory manner generally produces a calmer atmosphere in the comments"

This is also spot on. If you (universal) keep the premise that reasonable minds can disagree on most topics, things usually stay pretty calm. If you start believing that those on the other side of an argument are wingnuts or moonbats, that's when the fur starts to fly.

Posted by ajacksonian [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 8:09 AM

Luckily comments are not a worry with me, although I do try to stick to my own rules on such... Godwin's Law is always a good 'rule of thumb' but the even better one, I think is 'The Mommy Rule' - if you wouldn't say it in front of your mother or other person who taught you manners, then don't say it.

Civility and being able to address issues and *not* attack individuals is the foundation for building a better world. And if folks cannot agree to disagree on things, then having a common realm that is *not* polarized is diminished until it disappears. I find most often personal outlook from my view fits no current 'side' in anything... yet those wishing to imply intent to outlook without bothering to understand the entirety of the person involved are giving no respect to that person and none to the common ground of having something between all of those that disagree. That last is pernicious and destructive in the extreme both to individuals and society as a whole. By dividing up this house so much we will soon only find that there is *outside* as the house has collapsed.

One can get my *name* easily enough through civil means. That means civility *first* which, on the net, is no longer an assumed, but something that needs be demonstrated. I do not care to be remembered by name... but if one or two ideas I have help to build a better Nation and give forward looking to the world, then that matters far and above my own failing flesh. The only thing required is to acknowledge that the work of civilization does not either begin nor end with yourself and only moves through you and that it must be defended to be passed on in whole. And that, too, appears in short supply, and will come to no good end.

Posted by Guy [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 8:13 AM

The internal rules that I have established for my own blog are pretty simple. No anonymnity, no vile or filthy language, and no attacking the character of other folks. If any of that appears - it never goes to print. I review all comments before thay are published and garbage like that never makes it to the comment section. Works good for me and I don't have to answer to some vague board that presumes to have control over what appears on my blog.

Posted by Woody [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 8:37 AM

Whenever that "door" that says "Censorship" on it is opened, all that you find behind it is Political Correctness.


"Yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theater should only result in a profusion of bullet holes in the screen where the villain last appeared! "

Posted by Bennett [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 10:18 AM

I comment at this blog because the blog owner has interesting stuff and the other commenters are usually thoughtful and erudite. This is a haven for (mostly) serious adults. I think the more vitriolic blogs have their place and can sometimes be funny or provocative, I just don't find them as interesting.

As to using your real name, how could that be policed? Unless the blog owner did background checks, wouldn't any normal sounding name do? I think the blog owner can police this by banning someone who is abusive. Writing under a pen name makes me more willing to comment; if I were forced to use my real name I wouldn't write at all but mostly for security reasons.

Posted by Pete [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 10:45 AM

A posting code is futile.

As ScottM said, what's needed is not a code, but decency.

It's silly to blame the problem on the blogosphere, as the print media would have us to do. No, the problem pervades society itself, and is nurtured daily by certain politicians and their strategists.

Posted by thoughttheater [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 11:28 AM

Where is my Easter Bonnet?

While some may see the blogosphere and the behavior of its participants as a new phenomenon, it isn't difficult to find an appropriate predecessor model. That model is found on the streets of any metropolitan area and it is called traffic and the prevalence of road rudeness...or in its extreme...road rage.

Granted, personal attacks and snark on the internet are not likely to lead to fatalities, but if computers had wheels, it certainly would.

Read more on the relationship between blog civility and Easter Bonnets...here:


Posted by RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 11:30 AM

It's sometimes hard for Americans to understand the value that anonymity has in other parts of the world. Here we might worry about our car getting keyed if we apply some un-PC bumper sticker to it, but for most people in the world, that's just the beginning of the fears. Their government may "key" them, if they speak out too much. The internet is their anonymous little voice in the wilderness

Posted by rjschwarz [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 11:44 AM

The only way this would work is if someone came up with a reasonable code and then others voluntarily signed on (with an icon on their site). No punishment if they fail to live up, but an aknowledged attempt to keep it clean.

Posted by Lew [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 11:57 AM

Its your blog Ed, you make the rules and if any of us don't feel we can express our opinions freely enough we'll complain and eventually go away. You define what "vitriolic, abusive, vulgar, etc." means here and go with it. This is your creation, and sooner or later it reflects your value system. Be proud of it!

The last thing the blogosphere needs is a damned "Standards Committee" protecting us from each other. We're all big boys and girls and we can handle it!

Posted by docjim505 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 11:57 AM

Many here have talked about the virtues and vices of anonymity. Personally, I think it is liberating to be able to write what you like under a pen name. How many of us would state our opinions so bluntly if we were face to face with the other commenter(s) or the Cap'n? Hence, how many of us would be exposed to criticism of our own opinions, or a frank exposition of others?

CQ is by and large a conservative, Christian, American blog, but there have been openly gay commenters here; there was a muslim who commented just today (and I followed the link to his excellent blog*); people of different political persuasions, races, ages, nationalities. How many of them would comment if not for the safety of anonymity? Would we not be somehow a bit poorer if they didn't? And in our politically correct, litigious society, isn't a blog pretty much the last place where one can really have an open, honest, more-or-less uninhibited discussion?

A last note: haven't there been a few cases where a spiteful person found out the name - and work address - of a blog opponent and got them in trouble?


(*) http://asecondhandconjecture.com/?cat=9

Posted by Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 12:12 PM

I excerpted and linked at "Caution: This blog purchases civility offsets". (They're sellin' like hotcakes at Scott Ott's place). My attitude toward nasty comments is summarized in this excerpt from the Old War Dogs Comment Policy:

Let me try to put this in simpler terms since traffic has picked up enough for the occasional lefty to wander by the site. I'll try not to use any big words.

When you send a letter to the editor of your local paper it may or may not get published. The paper isn't obliged to publish it just because you took time to write it. If you call the editor or one of his top reporters dumb names your  letter probably won't be published. The same goes for letters claiming the world is flat, we've never been to the moon, George Washington was gay, etc.  The fact that you chose to honor my poor little blog with a comment does not obligate me to post it. If I like it I will. If I don't like it but it reflects some thought I probably will anyway. If you try to tell me Bush lied, the Jews blew up the World Trade Center and we need to invite Osama and the Iranians over for afternoon tea you're wasting your time and mine. I'm a Viet Nam combat veteran with a Masters degree in Engineering; I don't need some snotty nosed kid whose  biggest accomplishment in life is saving some Nintendo princess telling me what's wrong with our foreign policy. Don't waste your time and mine trying.

Posted by Stephen Macklin [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 12:16 PM

Badges? We don't need no stinking badges.

I can say with absolute certainty that my weblog will never bear one of their Good Housekeeping seals of approval. This may seem a pointless gesture given the pathetic size of my readership and the pitifully few comments I get, but it's the principle.

Posted by Gideon7 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 12:16 PM

How many of us would state our opinions so bluntly if we were face to face with the other commenter(s) or the Cap'n?

That's not a bug, it's a feature.

Posted by Don Singleton [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 12:48 PM

I tried http://www.captainsquartersblog.com/cq040807.cgi/9634 but that did not seem to work. I got Target doesn't appear to be a valid trackback URL

My post is here

Posted by NahnCee [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 2:12 PM

I am seeing increasingly vitriolic and personal attacks on women in recent years. Michelle Malkin is an excellent example, as is Kathy Sierra.

When comments segue into threats of physical violence, I don't think appeals to "decency" are going to suffice. And that is what's happening.

I *do* think something needs to be done about this type of tactic, but I don't know that involving the FBI is the answer.

To me, merely doing away with the practice of "Anonymous" and requiring a verifiable e-mail or IP address would solve a multitude of problems. Folks' e-mail addresses would not need to be visible to the world but some means of tracking down the threat-makers is needed.

And I do think that blog hosts need to be responsible for what's posted on their blogs, and if that means cleaning up verbal excrement then I don't have a problem with that. Or, if you want to leave the excrement in place as an example, then ban the poster.

Just because someone is trying to introduce a little law & order into the Wild Wild West does not mean that Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech are in jeopardy. Manners of the sort discussed by Miss Manners and advocated by people looking for "decency" are enforced by peer pressure. But you can't have peer pressure if all us peers can't get behind that stupid Anonymous shield that so many of these punk outlaws are hiding behind.

Posted by Mark [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 3:47 PM

I've had problem with cyber stalkers in the past. It's not fun. Especially if you have a family you want to protect. Lack of anonymous posting would allow the most dangerous amongst us to determine who can and cannot post their opinions to the web.

Posted by Mark [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 3:54 PM


e-mail addresses are a dime a dozen. There must be a dozen services that give away free ones. All you have to do is sign up.

There are also several methods for hiding the IP address of your computer.

Posted by Bostonian [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 4:21 PM

Given where I live, I treasure my anonymity.

If I didn't have that, I would not speak.

Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 4:24 PM

The link to the primary source for this article is
, whereby Kathy Sierra, lead editor of the "Heads First" series of programming books, describes being set upon by what appear to be a gaggle of peers. It looks like computer book authorship is pretty cutthroat in some quarters. But the graphics and words posted go beyond anything about the books -- they are personal attacks on Sierra herself.

This was not cyberstalking -- this was cyberbullying. Most of the sites are now down (due to TOS violations??), and Kathy indicates that the FBI is now involved.

If you'll look at the responses to her blog entry, it's amazing how many people said "get used to it" or "you're just faking it" or even offered up, verbally, more of the same. (I'm in there too, not in any of the aforementioned categories, but as a well-wisher who happens to own a few of Kathy's books on Enterprise Java and who knows exactly how public the internet really is).

I don't think any form of self-censorship will ever beat that of the blog owner. I'm plagiarizing here -- someone above already pointed that out.

However, to know the (partial) resolution of this issue, look at "rageboy"s blog (Locke, aka rageboy is one of the bloggers Sierra accused of bullying her via nondeletion of repugnant posts) here, where Sierra and Locke issue parallel statements on this matter, in which both pointing out that we should prefer to self-regulate rather than think that the government (or governments) will do a better job.

I have occasionally seen the Captain delete a post -- it is VERY rare, and the remaining posts are never in truly bad taste. So self-regulation by all of us (including the owner of the press) is working here in this small neighborhood.

By the way, Captain, review this segment on CNN, where I think you'll find that the Captains Quarters gets a cameo appearance at about 1:19 minutes into the CNN story.

Posted by Pete [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 4:28 PM

Bostonian makes an excellent point. When I was working in D.C., posting my political thoughts with my true name would have been professional suicide.

Posted by Jim [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 6:01 PM


If you're posting non-vitriolic comments why do you need anonymity? Why are you worried if people know your name if you're posting non-vitriolic rational comments?

Jim C

Posted by NahnCee [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 8:25 PM

You can post as Bostonian here so that none of the readers know who you are, but you have to register with a verifiable e-mail address/IP - that is my suggestion. It provides the cover some people feel they need not to blow their Real Life, but it's also a way for the blog-owner to hold posters accountable especially if it devolves into threatening someone's kids.

I *know* that e-mail addresses are a dime a dozen, but I don't think not doing anything on the grounds that everything is too hard is a good response. Jihadists are a dime a dozen, too, and we're out there killing them one by one by one. Are internet posters who are trying to anonymously ruin other people's lives more sacrosanct for some reason?

Soft power hasn't worked with Iran. I don't see why anyone would think that pleas for "civility" or "decency" will work with the turnips behaving this way, either. To me, it's analagous to rape, which is not a crime of sexual desire, but a crime of power. Posting a death threat or a Powerpoint'd photo is also a crime of power, and like a rape to be successful, it requires anonymity and everyone clamming up to enable the perp to keep on playing.

Posted by Pete [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 9:05 PM

I would agree requiring an email address, normally held in confidence by the blog owner, seems a harmless measure that probably helps somewhat.

But a 'uniform blogosphere code' is silly and will only muddle the issues.

A blog is defined in part by the comments it attracts and allows to remain on its pages unmoderated. This is as it should be. Beyond this, let the market decide.

Posted by tony [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 12:33 AM

There will always be a worry of "Freedom of Speech" being denied when anyone is blocked from posting. I have been on the web for many many years now, and this past month I was removed from a Conservative site, with no explanation given. While I was not offended, it seems there is an advancing storm to stop all disagreement on some sites. But that is their privilege to do so.

Where will it stop? While I have always been at the forefront of wars against trolls and anonymous posters with their foul language and belittling comments, I have never found a comfortable middle ground. Has anyone else?

If everyone was required to post using their own, real names there would be less of the detrimental postings. And if someone can't post using their own name, then why are they posting? Although I do see where job security, and personal relationships may come into conflict. And there is no real way to ensure they are using their real name anyway.

If everyone that is honest enough to declare themselves a good christian, or even a good person with any or no religion, they should be honest enough and decent enough to not get online and harass, demean, belittle, or start trouble on any site. Come prepared to defend your ideas without having to rely on being someone else. If you would not act like that at work, home, or church, why act like that on the web?

It's just common sense. Every site should police their place for the MEMBERS that are faithful enough to support them on a constant basis. They are the ones that matter most. And the rules should be made, followed, and enforced by them. I would expect no less as a visitor to a site. And I have asked many people to follow the site rules. Although I usually get cursed for it.

Free Tibet

Posted by Mark [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 10:07 AM


Many on the left regard anything they don't want to hear as de facto hate speech, and respond accordingly.

You don't have to be vitriolic to stir up a hornets nest of hatred. You just have to be conservative.

Posted by Mark [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 10:13 AM


Doing something is nice, but I prefer to spend my time doing something that has even a tiny chance of sucess.

Wasting your time and resource, just so that others can see you are doing something is an activity with no value.

Kind of reminds me of campaign finance reform. It gets passed, with everyone acknowledging that the people who are the problem will easily find a way around it. That people who aren't the problem will find it enough of a hassle that they might stop getting involved in the first place.
Even though it made the situation worse, at least they "did something".