Monday, April 09, 2007

Very Important Stuff: Blogger Ethics

There's a lot of chatter going on about the need for standards and civility in blogging. (If I were worried about such a red herring, I'd first call for standards and civility in talk radio and cable news programs.)

The argument goes something like this: bloggers are very nasty and their discourse, if left unchecked, degenerates to threats of violence.

It should go without saying that threats of violence are completely unacceptable. But, there are already protocols to follow if you receive a personal threat. It's called the law. Call the police. It's their job to investigate such things. I don't see how a blogger code of ethics and a badge on your blog indicating you follow such a code is going to provide more effective protection than the police (Note: that was not a statement on the effectiveness of how police handle threats. Read again if necessary.).

Additionally, when I've seen violence threatened at a blog, everything typically stops. The blog author(s) steps in, removes comments, and alerts the authorities. Other bloggers join in and call the threat what it is: unacceptable.

This article in the NYTimes gives such an example. It's an example showing that, in effect, the blogosphere tends to respond when actual threats occur. If only talk radio policed itself so efficiently.

Blogger ethics proponents also worry about the freedom to delete threatening or offensive comments. They feel that unless everyone has a badge on their blog stating that inappropriate language and threats will not be tolerated, they will be accused of censorship upon deleting select comments. I want an example of regular commenters at a blog accusing a blogger of censorship over removing comments from trolls.

I'll add that my blog is a free speech zone for me. While I rarely delete comments, I have no inner conflict over deleting comments from trolls or language I deem out of line. It's my blog. If someone has a problem with that, there are many other blogs to read. Or better, they can start their own on-line free speech zone.

But, the only paragraph from the NYTimes article that's necessary to read if you're trying to understand how proponents of blogger ethics think is this one:

Mr. O’Reilly said the guidelines were not about censorship. “That is one of the mistakes a lot of people make — believing that uncensored speech is the most free, when in fact, managed civil dialogue is actually the freer speech,” he said. “Free speech is enhanced by civility.”
Because speech is always freer when it's controlled by guidelines. Now I get it.