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Do We Need a Bloggers' Code of Conduct?

In the brouhaha following the matter of Kathy Sierra, there has been a call for a blogging code of conduct. Respected technology guru, Tim O’Reilly, has posted some suggested provisions gathered at the Etech conference in San Diego last week.

Most are common-sense items about removing abusive comments, not baiting the trolls, not publishing anything you wouldn’t say in person, etc. leaving the level of tolerance to individual bloggers. But one suggestion is disturbing: creating some “easily deployed badges pointing to a common set of guidelines.”

“This would let people know which sites to avoid, if they aren't willing to put up with foul language and insulting comments,” continues O’Reilly…”I'd love to see the major blogging platforms offer comment rating systems that would allow automatic moderating down of nasty comments.”

Whoa! Let’s slow down here just a minute:

  • Whose common guidelines would those be?
  • Who defines “foul language”?
  • Who defines “insulting”?
  • Who determines what “nasty” is?
  • Who in their right mind would let a blog host deploy automatic comment moderating?

When you consider the implications, this is treading precariously close to an affront on the First Amendment.

For most of the life of this blog, I have carried on my lengthy “Blog To-Do List” an item which states “write disclaimer.” By that I mean to lay out clearly how this blog operates, what is allowed, what is not and when transgressed what I do about it.

It remains undone because it has been so infrequently needed. Elders and others who visit here have always been capable of disagreement and strong opinion without abuse.

I like to flatter myself that I have set a tone others follow, a tone I deliberately and carefully thought out when I started writing TGB. But I suspect the real reason for the high level of self-restraint among those who comment has more to do with the wisdom of age, that elders know from experience, perhaps more than younger people, that invective does not further intelligent discussion.

The only comments removed have been either spam or, most annoying, people promoting their commercial products. (I explain they are welcome to purchase an ad, after which they slink away.) And twice, I have removed a link from the Elderbloggers List on the left due to racial slurs on their blogs, not here. I vet that list carefully because I consider them recommendations and although some may not appeal to all readers, most readers will find something of value and interest within in the list.

Some bloggers moderate comments. That is, they approve each one before posting it. That is one way to ensure civility. Others post disclaimers and codes of conduct, their personal rules for maintaining the kind of blog they want. It is fair warning to the trolls and to those who would be intemperate with their words - or to readers, if blog owners have a broad defintion of civil discourse.

The key, however, is that those codes and rules are personal to each blogger’s sensibilities, not imposed by an outside “authority” handing out “approved” badges linking to a set of rules based on one or a few people’s judgment of what is acceptable speech.

And if that badge idea takes hold, then are those who, like me, stand as First Amendment absolutists against imposed standards of speech to have their blogs labeled – as Tim O’Reilly suggests - “dangerous territory”? One person’s insult is another’s satire. What constitutes foul language is highly individual, as is what is nasty.

Censorship is a trecherous undertaking. Once imposed, it doesn’t take much to go from banning individual words to opinion, books and soon, ideas. And then it has arrived at groupthink.

The American Library Association maintains a list of Most Frequently Challenged Books. “Challenged” because few succeed, thanks to our First Amendment, in being banned. The ALA defines "challenged" as including complaints, public attacks, access restriction as well as outright banning. Among the most challenged books in recent years are certain ones written by Judy Blume, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Maya Angelou, R.L. Stine and John Steinbeck. When the censorship devil is let loose, there are people who would ban everything.

As a contributing editor at, I am required to adhere to their set of guidelines. Although I object on principle to such an imposition, these are useful, not restrictive and an organization has a right to establish them within the bounds of their internet space. All publishers, including bloggers, may set their own standards.

Given the hysteria surrounding the matter of Kathy Sierra, it probably is not a bad idea to suggest some general guidelines for civil discourse within the blogosphere that bloggers can use as they wish.

But when badges are introduced to announce a blogger's loyalty to a subjective, universal code of conduct, it leads to coercion. Next thing you know, there would be lists of "dangerous territory" blogs. I would be proud to have Time Goes By among them.


As you have so politely pointed out, the wisdom that (often) comes with years allows each to clearly define personal boundaries... and the courage to enforce them.

The quote from Treasure of the Sierra Madre comes to mind: We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges.

The best thing about the internet is that it is self-regulating via meritocracy.The user pulls the content; ie, I choose what I want to read. Unlike MSM content is not foisted on us by a few media moguls. TGB has found its kindred souls and some sites some would consider low and demeaning have found theirs. But the choice of who we want to hang out with remains, at least for now, ours.

I have deleted two or three comments that contained language that I don't allow in my house. I can't imagine allowing someone else to define what that language might be.

AlwaysQuestion - you beat me to the punchline - the Sierra Madre quote was perfect!

Censorship makes my Texas blood boil.

Everyone knows Texas is always "dangerous territory!"

I tend to adhere to the speed limits of our roads and highways. It’s the law you know. Not all that many folks however share my view on that matter. And over time I have found it amazing just how many people I have pissed-off by those actions. Some have even entered early phases of “road-rage” due to my law abiding antics. Now, I am not talking about driving 30 miles per hour in a 60 mile per hour zone. I for the most part, unless there are extenuating circumstances, drive the maximum speed of the posted speed limit. But….for a majority of the drivers on the road, well they just really don’t like that driving habit. Everybody knows you’re “supposed” to drive as fast as everybody else around you “wants” to drive. Pretty much just like any law, rule, or code - you either choose to obey it or not to obey it. If you don’t want to obey it, you will find a way to justify your actions for not obeying it. Is someone out there under the impression that when you make a “rule” everyone follows it?

I am not sure if Mr. O’Reilly is a either a bit naïve or simply trying to increase his readership with such notions. Next we will start having to put rating symbols on our blogs. Well, now wait a minute….maybe that is a good idea. We could have “PG”, “G”, and oh yea….the infamous “R” icons that we could post on our blogs. That would put an end to those unsavory harassment bullies reading and posting on our blogs. And certainly some stiff fines for violators would be in order. This certainly sounds like something the Bush Administration might be interested in now that I think about it.

Oh, oh…..I got it! You could have one of those statements on your blog like “To post comments to this blog, please read our rules and regulations section and acknowledge your agreement and acceptance by clicking the appropriate box” then have four or five pages of rules and regulations the visitors could read. That would scare the hell out of the bad guys and stop all the bad crap. Oh wait…even the bad guy can click that box and probably even before reading the rules. Damn….well back to the drawing board.

You know, most blogs can be set up where you can have a membership and issue passwords. That would be my suggestion if you want to live in a blogger’s fantasy land with “pre-approved” responders. Short of that, you are pretty much pissing in the wind, stomping on First Amendment rights (meaning you have to take the good with the bad) and perhaps you should read my “driving the speed limit” analogy again.

In fact, if you are one of those folks who doesn’t adhere to the posted speed limits….I wish you would…..for my sake!

Badges??? Rating Systems??? We'll have the "Good Bloggers Seal of Approval" -- but, as you say, Ronni, whose approval?

Surely O'Reilly didn't stop to think, when he wrote that, or maybe he just wanted to get people's attention --

-- that if we don't take reasonable care in how we conduct ourselves that there are individuals out there more than willing to try to impose their belief systems, rules in every area of life on everybody. In Afganistan they call it the Taliban.

I just cruised in from a link over at "Boomer Chronicles" and I couldn't possibly agree more.

My blog - and I just turned 50 on March 2nd, by the way - sometimes contains language that I'm sure would be found offensive by the more priggish among us. More often than not, just minor curses (d*mn, h-e-double hockey sticks) but occasionaly the f-word and the s-word and the w-word.

(OK, I made that last one up. There is no w-word. I think. If there is one, let me know and I'll add it to my repetoire.)

Anyway, if someone had the temerity to tell me what words I could and could not use, I'd go down in an obscene blaze of glory, using every obnoxious and odious swear from... well, this is your blog, so I won't besmirch your pages.

Thanks again for the common sense!

Hi Ronni. I get quite distressed when the stuff I want to write has to be put through a super-fine filter of what is acceptable and politically correct. Initially I hoped that I could just bare my soul, share all the whisperings within without censure. But of course that is not the case. I have blogs that were set aside, and I've posted blogs that cause me anxiety over public acceptance. What I find most comforting is the confidence that among my blog friends, there would be some bold enough to let me know if I am treading on others toes. That bold one is the blog that I would give an "A" rating too (if we were doing ratings) for being forthright, honest, but at the same hopefully courteous. The reason I don't monitor my comments? -- My feelings are easily hurt and I might pout a bit and be tempted to withhold just and fair criticisms for that reason.

Sometimes adhering to politically-correct public expectations can really ruin an inspirational thought.

You and those who commented said it all as far as I am concerned. I like dissent but not nastiness. When I began my blog, I knew I'd be writing controversial opinions and instead of trying to be generally listed places or using moderation, I just looked for blogs I enjoyed, commented there and hoped like-minded folks would come see my blog. It has worked out well. The only comments I ever had to delete were spam but I would delete anything that was mean or threatening-- the need has never arisen. I think we self-edit the blogs we visig by finding they don't suit us and stopping going. I am personally not offended by swearing but don't do it and have found those visiting me don't either. I wouldn't want a list of approved blogs for non-offensive content because, as was said, who decides? And it could end up boring to read if you took out all someone else found offensive

We used to call it "netiquette", even before there were blogs at all.

personally, i'm with you. groupthink be doggoned. i think i'm old enough to know what i want to read or see online--or in the newspapers or books or on TV. i don't need anybody "protecting" my delicate sensibilities with a list of rules. that's why they've made such things as the "delete" button and the waste basket and the "off" knob. I use them all regularly, and with great relish.

thanks for this important set of thoughts. i believe that the imposition of rules, laws, policies, bylaws - whether on blogs or in our work lives or in our communities - only serve to shore up and deepen the abdication of personal responsibility so prevalent in our society today. it is the giving over of individual responsibility to some Other - and dangerous. You've given me a lot to think about - thank you.

When a Blog becomes pablum and there is no room for dissent it ceases to be interesting. We are already a divided society due to 'group think' and woe be to anyone who disagrees. I enjoy reading someone's comment who disagrees with my point of view as I always learn something, even if it's only how the other side is thinking. When you put limits on comments you are sliding into 'group think'. Ronni, I couldn't have said it better myself -- in fact, I couldn't have said it as well.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said:

"Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime."

I don't think we need or want that here in the Land of Blog.

Common sense, common courtesty, and common decency, yes. Censorship? A resounding and emphatic NO!!!!!!

I confess that I have deleted a bit of bullying from someone I knew but I don't consider that censorship -- it's just housekeeping as my blog is my home in cyberspace. I take out the trash in my home -- why not in my cyber-home?

Couldn't agree more. I see it as a personal ethics issue as much (or more) than a cyber issue. My guess is that folks who post spite and nastiness probably think and live that way, too. That's a real shame and I'll take care of any who show up at my place (blog or home) without any help from someone's 'code'.

I live at censors. No consideration of life drawing as an art form. No swearing in the notes....and if I had known of the editors close participation, I wouldn't have begun my blog there. Now I have family there. Friends I think of as family. I've mastered the coding with my fuzzy brain, and I'm here for a while.

Agree with your position. The (well intentioned) "Blogger's Code of Conduct" starts us down a steep and dangerously slippery slope that ends in censorship.

Just say "no."

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