The NY Times published an article this morning on the efforts to develop a code of conduct for online discourse. The code is a reaction to recent comments made about blogger Kathy Sierra. Three things bother me about the proposed rules.
We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.
I don’t want to take one bit of responsibility for someone else’s words. A person’s words are their own. By taking responsibility for them, you open yourself up to all sorts of problems, mostly legal in nature. Why should someone get sued for slander or libel because someone else posts something on your site? Of course, I also believe that Google isn’t responsible for people posting copyrighted videos to YouTube, that Napster wasn’t responsible for people trading copyrighted material via its service, and that ISPs aren’t responsible for what their customers publish to the web.
We do not allow anonymous comments.
There has to be a mechanism for anonymous comments, even if they need to be approved before being posted. As the EFF says, “anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse”.
The missing piece in this discussion so far is: who’s going to police all this misconduct? Punishing the offenders and erasing the graffiti is the easy part…fostering “a culture that encourages both personal expression and constructive conversation” is much more difficult. Really fucking hard, in fact…it requires near-constant vigilance. If I opened up comments on everything on kottke.org, I could easily employ someone for 8-10 hours per week to keep things clean, facilitate constructive conversation, coaxing troublemakers into becoming productive members of the community, etc. Both MetaFilter and Flickr have dedicated staff to perform such duties…I imagine other community sites do as well. If you’ve been ignoring all of the uncivility on your site for the past 2 years, it’s going to be difficult to clean it up. The social patterns of your community’s participants, once set down, are difficult to modify in a significant way.
For now, my blogger code remains “B9 d+ t+ k++ s u= f++ i o x+ e++ l- c—”.