"Free speech enhanced by civility"–I promise you this is the last time I’ll bring this up . . .

April 12, 2007 — Leave a comment

but I just find it so interesting.

On Monday the NY Times ran an article entitled, “A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs – New York Times” which opened with the question, “Is it too late to bring civility to the web?”

In light of my post from last week (My Lord and My Blog: On Blogging and Drive-By Comments)–and the comments it generated, both posted and not, I was interested to read a secular perspective on the issue of anonymous “drive-by” comments.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts:

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.
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.

“If it’s a carefully constructed set of principles, it could carry a lot of weight even if not everyone agrees,” Mr. Wales said. The code of conduct already has some early supporters, including David Weinberger, a well-known blogger (hyperorg.com/blogger) and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. “The aim of the code is not to homogenize the Web, but to make clearer the informal rules that are already in place anyway,” he said.

But as with every other electrically charged topic on the Web, finding common ground will be a serious challenge. Some online writers wonder how anyone could persuade even a fraction of the millions of bloggers to embrace one set of standards. Others say that the code smacks of restrictions on free speech . . . Menacing behavior is certainly not unique to the Internet. But since the Web offers the option of anonymity with no accountability, online conversations are often more prone to decay into ugliness than those in other media . . . But the same factors that make those unfiltered conversations so compelling, and impossible to replicate in the offline world, also allow them to spin out of control . . . 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.”

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