Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Screw the Code

The first question that popped into my mind, revealing how utterly jaded and suspect I am of the so-called MSM (mainstream media), was why on earth was this a front-page story for The New York Times? Do they think, as I do, that this idea will lead the blogosphere to implode, and that makes them all giddy and anxious? Seriously...why on earth, with wars and tsunamis and political corruption as far as the eye can see, does the NYT devote front-page space to a far-from-widely-accepted desire to police the blogosphere?

Here's what I'm talking about:

The conversational free-for-all on the Internet known as the blogosphere can be a prickly and unpleasant place. Now, a few high-profile figures in high-tech are proposing a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse.

Last week,
Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher who is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, began working with Jimmy Wales, creator of the communal online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to create a set of guidelines to shape online discussion and debate.
I nearly threw up on my paper.

The last thing the blogosphere (the entity I credit as single-handedly having kept me this side of an institution during the past 6 years of political insanity) needs is to have some ill-conceived ethical hierarchy forced upon it. Nannicize anything else you like, but PLEASE, leave the fucking blogosphere alone.

The rationale behind this call for virtual white gloves and petticoats and nosegays stems, from what I can tell, from a group of one blogger's friends coming to her rescue to protect her from some cyber-bullying (and if I'm wrong, it hardly matters). From
O'Reilly's site:
I was quoted in a BBC article a few days ago and a San Francisco Chronicle article on Thursday calling for a "Blogger's Code of Conduct" in response to the firestorm that has arisen as a result of Kathy Sierra's revelation that she's been targeted by a series of increasingly violent and disturbing anonymous comments on her blog and on a series of weblogs that appeared to have been created for the purpose of celebrating cyber-bullying.
Now I've blogged in all kinds of virtual environments, from those with "posting rules" to those where I actually got so angry one time I challenged the little punk to meet me in Manhattan and "say that to my face." But I've never, for even a moment, thought free speech was so potentially painful that it required a standardized code of ethics, essentially homogenizing the blogosphere. Screw that. Let each blogger decide what tone they want in their space and use the tools they have to deal with those who step outside their comfort zone, sure...I'm all for that, but the idea that one would be deemed a renegade of sorts for not agreeing to self-police to some utterly retarded set of lame-ass wimpified rules drives me over the edge.

Look at just one of the suggested guidelines:

* Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person.
That is moronic. Forget that in person I'm a much more volatile hothead than I tend to be online, where I can edit my comments, unlike in person, where things that get me into trouble sneak out of my mouth all the time. The entire concept of pseudonymous comments facilitates saying things online one wouldn't feel free to say in person. That, in and of itself, is why I think the blogosphere is so valuable, why I believe (and I don't think this is hyperbole) that it has saved our very way of life. In the darkest hours of Patriot Act America, the blogosphere allowed people across the country and across the globe to find other voices as horrified as they were by the abuses of the current fight back, in real-time, as they systematically worked to strip away any platform for dissent and solidify their permanence in power. I absolutely refuse to water that down.

What's particularly disappointing about this call for a code is that it is a self-inflicted nannification than even the Supreme Court, that bastion of bleeding-edge liberalism, feels is not good for the country:

June 26th of this year will mark the 10th anniversary of the ACLU vs. Reno decision in the supreme court, which struck down the communication decency act and extended first amendment protection to the Internet:

The record demonstrates that the growth of the Internet has been and continues to be phenomenal. As a matter of constitutional tradition, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we presume that governmental regulation of the content of speech is more likely to interfere with the free exchange of ideas than to encourage it. The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship.
When bloggers start heading to the right of SCOTUS on such issues, they really need to step away from the keyboard and get outside for a while.

Now none of this is to say I welcome abusive comments against other commenters here or wish to see four-letter words littered throughout every thread, nor do I encourage pseudonymous swipes at me or others. I have my own standards, and I work to enforce them. But they are MY choices, and I don't want to be associated with other blogs through some coordinated ranking system because of them. The blogosphere is positively fabulous the way it is. Leave it alone!

Labels: Blogs, code of conduct


Blogger kurt said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/11/2007 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger paulraphael said...

I usually agree with you, but this rant really goes over the top.

So you disagree with the people cited in their article or the importance of the article. So your own blog isn't typical. Fine.

I grow weary of all these allegations against the "mainstream media" ... especially when the term lumps together Fox News and the NY Times (which it often does). We should be so lucky as to live in a country where the Times was actually mainstream.

4/11/2007 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous JEC said...

Most discussions I've seen about blogging ethics have centered on issues of disclosure. For example, is someone is working for Hillary's campaign and blogging anonymously (but shilling for Hillary) that is viewed by most bloggers as dishonest and unethical. It's kind of like how James Carville was being touted as a "Democratic Strategist" on CNN, not as part of Hillary's campaign. He would then make comments that were, at best, dismissive of Hillary's opponents, and appear to be speaking as an objective expert. BTW, following a lot of outrage about this on progressive blogs, Carville is now identified as part of the campaign.

Oh, and I'm really not trying to single out Hillary and her campaign with these examples (or am I)?

4/11/2007 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I usually agree with you, but this rant really goes over the top.

Yes, that's kind of my point, though. Going over the top. In the context of this blog, where I don't often do that, doing so every now and then can be a very effective means of communication. If you regulate that out of the discourse, you've got one less tool with which to express your opinion.

To paraphrase Twain, sometimes too much obscenity is barely enough.

I grow weary of all these allegations against the "mainstream media"

I understand being averse to having the NYTimes lumped in with FoxNews (which I don't even consider a valid news agency, but rather simply a propaganda machine for the GOP), but I will not let up on the Times or the Post or let any of the rest of them forget how miserably they failed us by not questioning the march to war in Iraq more than they did. The better of them (including the Times and Post) have since apologized to their readers, but I'm still not satisified. They remain on probation in my mind with regards to regaining my trust. If they want off probation, they'll have to demonstrate, vigorously, for years to come, that they are serving the interest of the people and not those of the Bush administration or corporate America. If they fail to do that, I'll continue to chastise and otherwise keep them fully aware that just because they print it doesn't mean I believe it.

4/11/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I don't feel much like commenting on the main topic of this post, which is discussing what could only with the most extreme hyperbole be called a tempest in a teapot. Nay, what caught my eye were these two bits from Ed:

I actually got so angry one time I challenged the little punk to meet me in Manhattan and "say that to my face." person I'm a much more volatile hothead than I tend to be online...

Wow. Ed, is this your Irish getting up? Because I can't even imagine your engaging in fisticuffs -- and surely it would be fisticuffs, not a brawl -- and to say that you're volatile or hotheaded....

It's just unimaginable. You're one of the politest, most pleasant, most even-keeled people I've ever met. Except for Bambino, maybe. Granted I'm not your best buddy or anything, but....

You must have a Harley stashed somewhere or something.

4/11/2007 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

This just in from Cosmic Coincidence Central: The word verification string for my previous comment was "fopnyc".

I am not kidding.

4/11/2007 12:01:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

If that blogger code goes through, we'll just veto it.

4/11/2007 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Sunil said...

Ed, I like your blog very much and I like the point of view expressed in this post, but I really respect the Times too much and I don’t think they would have printed this had not events filtered upto their attention… . If I had read/heard this on some two bit place like Fox or O'Reilly, I would have dismissed this right away (not that I listen to them anyways), but coming from the NYT, it could have a modicum of truth to it...

4/11/2007 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I agree Sunil, that the Times only ran the story because they believe it's true and important, but putting a piece on the front page generally lends a good deal more importance to it, and I don't get why they did so in this instance. There's no consensus or anything close to one, so I read their stamp of importance as suggesting they want to nudge it along. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

If that blogger code goes through, we'll just veto it.


4/11/2007 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous jason said...


Righteous rant indeed. Just when I start to think that we have nothing in common...

Anyway, as I've said elsewhere, I have no problem with those who wish to regulate the level of civility on comment boards, but why not leave the moderating of blog content to the discretion of each individual blog? We don't need some bullshit standardized code.

I have to question you on one point though:

If they want off probation, they'll have to demonstrate ... that they are serving the interest of the people and not ... corporate America....just because they print it doesn't mean I believe it.

Better to always remember that the New York Times is not a sacred text, and has always, at best, had a mixed record of serving the interest of the people. Its extensive history of serving the corporate interest started long before Bush I or II came into office, and the Times has rarely (if ever?) found a war it didn't like.

4/11/2007 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Did you really use the f-word in a post?

It's a slippery slope, man. Get a hold of yourself.

4/11/2007 02:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The rant is good.

Code my ass dears...


4/11/2007 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Did you really use the f-word in a post?

Yes. I use it sparingly, but on occassion it's the only word that works, which reminds me of this great cartoon I saw once of an AIDS counsler lecturing a skeptical audience.

Counsler: When engaging in any form of sexual intercourse it's imperative that you use a condom.

Anonymous voice in crowd: If you mean "fucking" why don't you just say "fucking"?

Counsler:, uh...OK. When engaging in any form of sexual intercourse it's imperative that you use a fucking condom.
but why not leave the moderating of blog content to the discretion of each individual blog

My feelings exactly.

4/11/2007 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I have a sudden urge to sing the George Carlin Cheer.

4/11/2007 03:31:00 PM  
Anonymous ml said...

The government should keep its stupid fingers out of discourse and intercourse.

4/11/2007 05:20:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

totally ;) escpecially the second one :P

4/11/2007 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I agree ML, but the main source of censorship in question is not the government (the Supreme Court already said no to that), but rather bloggers themselves.

I don't follow all the spats, so I don't know what sparked this Nanny State response, but I do know that all of these feuds come and go, all by themselves, without self-inflicted the Supreme Court noted, there's no proven benefit to this kind of censorship, so why introduce it?

What I fear this will lead to is technology that blocks certain blogs to certain audiences based on whether or not they are pinned with a "Civility Enforced" badge or not (who came up with that lame-ass, Deputy-Dog-looking, cereal-box-toy design, anyway?). The whole thing reminds me of the goody-two-shoe student crossing guards in grade school who'd invent new rules to enforce because they got off on the power. Ick.

4/11/2007 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger kurt said...

In the interest of decency, I have self-policed my previous comment.

4/12/2007 07:56:00 AM  
Blogger Regina said...

i don't even understand why this is a debate. i completely agree with you, censorship is ridiculous, especially when it comes to blogs. is there anything left that we can do freely anymore? jeez.

oh, and i don't mind if you curse. it's not the end of the world, i've heard curse words before. if you're angry, you'll sound angry. i love your blog!

4/12/2007 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

this is the only thing America has that comes close to a public forum - with actual debate! Of course someone wants to regulate it and strangle it. I'm betting there's money to be made somewhere in all of this.
And yes Ed, the Times is so full of hypocritical b.s. that is bought and paid for, that they are barely a news organization at this point. People should be reminded that they are part of the political problem and so far show little sign of being a solution.Instead of limp apologies how about hard news for a change - how about some Truth?
This blogger story is another scare tactic about the loss of print media readership and the "blogs" are the boogeyman. Sounds like an op-ed from Bill O'Reilly.

4/12/2007 03:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just make sure you don't say anything to make al sharpton angry

4/12/2007 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger patsplat said...

Jenny and I were put off by this article as well. The worst is the headline -- Nasty Blogs -- when the story is about Nasty Readers.

The meat of the story is about how a Kathy Sierra received death threats in response to her comment policy. The title implies that opposite dynamic is at play -- that Nasty Blogs are threatening. I guess maybe they are for NYT headline editor.

4/13/2007 07:26:00 AM  

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