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Why The Blogger’s Code of Ethics Won’t Work

By gerardmcgarry on 16th April 2007, filed in Blogging. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed. Tags: , ,

The last 3 weeks or so have been uncomfortable for bloggers. It all started with Kathy Sierra’s claims on her blog that she was receiving death threats and being intimidated by anonymous bloggers. Kathy, by the way, writes a fantastic blog called Creating Passionate Users.

For whatever reason, some people took a dislike to Kathy and started singling her out for abusive comments on other blogs and forums. Some disturbing pictures appeared with Kathy’s head pasted on to them, and her personal details were leaked on the Internet.

Kathy is a high-profile example of how someone can be abused on the Internet. In a digital culture it’s easy to forget that there’s a real-life person on the other end of the screen. In the absence of human contact and direct accountability, some people think they can say or do anything online.

Recently, Tim O’Reilly published a draft Blogger’s Code of Conduct. It’s an attempt to lay down some basic principles for interaction on the web. I have a problem with it though. I don’t think it’ll work.

Why a blogger’s code of conduct won’t work:

No Enforcing Authority
In an opt-in system like this, the people who will adopt a code of conduct are probably fairly ethical already. What about the trolls? Well, they’ll just continue character assassination as before – why should they care about a code of conduct that has no authority to back it up?

Unclear Legal Jurisdiction
So, what if a blogger in Australia threatens a blogger in the UK? What if they make the threat in the comments section of an American blog? Supposing that sufficient evidence can be gathered, can it be brought to court, and if so in what country? It’s these gaping legal issues that make it so easy to post anonymous stuff online.

Limited To Bloggers – What’s That About?
I don’t understand why a code of conduct applies ONLY to bloggers. Bloggers only form a small part of the fabric of the Internet. What about forums, social networking sites and good old-fashioned email? I’m sure there are other methods of interaction that don’t necessarily involve bloggers.

Maybe I’m being too cynical about Tim’s intentions, but this looks like an ill-conceived bit of bandwagon-hopping. As Darren said, the principles resonate with me, but I can’t see myself signing up to principles that cannot be universally upheld.

I heard the phrase “like herding cats” for the first time last week – I think it’s particularly appropriate for this situation.

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