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Blogger Codes of Conduct

I very much like Tim O’Reilly’s post about a bloggers code of conduct.

It’s certainly possible to quibble with the specifics of Tim’s post, although personally I think he’s right on the mark. But more important, his post is among many legitimizing taking responsibility for the comments we allow on our blogs (Tim’s point #1). It’s a call not for a single code of conduct to govern all sites, but for codes of conduct.

We’ve always been responsible for comments: There’s always been a line we wouldn’t allow commenters to cross, or if there’s been no line, we’ve been responsible for that as well. But we need to be OK with setting out explicit guidelines. Conversations always work within norms, although they rarely need to be explicitly expressed: You know not to do a lot of insult humor at a board meeting and you know not to argue with the mourners at a funeral no matter how overstated the eulogy. Likewise, if you’ve been reading a blog for a while, you probably have a sense of what’s ok and what isn’t. But people leave comments on blogs they’ve read once. They come in with their own sense of what’s allowed. Fine. Good. But we should make explicit to them what our norms are.

Tim joins many in pointing to the BlogHer Community Guidelines. Count me in. I’m adding them to my comment form this morning. I’ll probably work on some minor personalizations over the next few days. (Passover approaches, and I’m under the weather, so it may take me a little longer.)

PS: There’s been a discussion along the same lines over at StopCyberBullying [Tags: ]

24 Responses to “Blogger Codes of Conduct”

  1. Dave,

    It’s a compliment to have you use BlogHer’s guidelines – thank you. They’ve worked really well for us since we launched last January.

    (thread drift)

    AND, I’ve been meaning to write and tell you how much I enjoyed your keynote at last month’s NewComm Forum. Here’s my favorite quote of yours:

    “The attempt to be infallible drives out humanity, drives out humility; It make us look like assholes.”

    I take it out of context deliberately — it’s working for me on everything, from journalism to cooking.

    (/thread drift)


  2. Lisa, thank you. That means a lot to me.

    – David W.

  3. Dave,

    You fall into the same legal disclaimer trap that litigation fearful corporate types do.

    Compare with DVD “Don’t steal this film” warnings.

    1) You offend all the upstanding readers of your blog – despite a shared loathing for obnoxious/reprehensible posts.

    2) This is because the obnoxious posters aren’t going to be reformed simply by you stating you find their posts obnoxious (they may well be gratified).

    3) Therefore your audience of upstanding readers in recognising that they must be the only people who would take on board your reprimand, hence become offended that your reprimand must be directed at them.

    End result: fewer upstanding readers, just as many obnoxious readers (or more, given evident reaction), greater ratio of incorrigible obnoxious posters.


  4. I sit and I think and I wonder: WWTHTS (What would The Happy Tutor say?). Actually, I have no idea whatsoever; I am not the Tutor. But thinking of him inspires some roughly hewn thoughts on the matter…

    1. All individuals are responsible for the work of their minds (1), and as such should maintain the highest standards of civility, decency, and honesty in their writing.
    2. The only exceptions to rule 1, of course, are True Works of Satire (TWoS), and the writings of Fetish Action Figures.
    3. Exception two is permitted only when the target of the TWoS is a work that shows knowing or unkowning disregard of rule 1.

    (1) This may seem to provide a loophole for corporations and governments. It does not. Governments and corporations are not capable of producing works of the mind since, by definition, they do not nor ever will posses minds. All writings/communications/blurbs/what-have-you are created by people and hence those people are beholden to the rules (guidelines?) given above.

  5. Crosbie, I don’t see why upright posters would be offended. They know that the rules are directed at a handful of obnoxious assholes that upright posters presumably dislike as much as I do. And, unlike the pointless DVD warnings, the aim of these guidelines is to give me grounds for removing comments. Applying these guidelines to the current comments on my site would result in very very few removals; in fact, I want to amend the guidelines to permit some mindless name-calling and to make it clear that I’m going to use my judgment, not the strict enforcement of guidelines.

    The truth is, Crosbie, that when I come across sites that state the rules of the road, I am unbothered and unoffended. So, I’m just not seeing the force of your objection.

  6. Come on David, you know about friction. If you increase the transactional costs of posting comments to your blog from upstanding members – riven by angst as to whether the submission they are almost minded to compose might fall foul of your ‘comment rules’ – then they’ll go “Heck, I’ll skip it. I’ll find some other blogger who doesn’t treat all their commenters like sociopathic drug addicts who’ve just nicked yet another a wifi notebook from some mug on a train and fancy a bit of cybercafe-slander before their fence turns up”.

    Obnoxious morons of course, couldn’t give a damn, and the worst of the trolls will go through your list ensuring all the rules are violated.

    Spammers as we know, remain oblivious.

    And compulsive commenters like me suffer pain each time we subconsciouly confront the fact that the blogger has felt the need to reprimand us for the behaviour of our lesser brethren.

    You may have a cast iron sense of your own integrity, and instantly recognise that all exhortations against misdemeanors cannot possibly be directed at yourself – or that being pure as the driven snow, they couldn’t possibly be addressed to you.

    I fear (yup, I’m really concerned) that your audience will diminish and those that remain will feel a taint of castigation, albeit indirectly slighted. And only cold hearted bastards like me will point this out in spite of the “Something must be done!” hand-wringers united against online harassment and death threats.

    Compare with the warm and heartfelt welcome you engender when you line your drive with signs such as “Trespassers will be prosecuted”, “Keep off the grass”, “No circulars, hawkers, tinkers, Jehovas Witnesses, etc.”, “Maximum speed 5mph”, “Warning: Guard Dogs”, “No turning”, etc.

    Incidentally, I do expect to infringe copyright from time to time in many of my posts…

  7. Ok, I understand what you’re saying, but we honestly do react differently to rules of engagement. I want to edit the BlogHer rules so they’ll better express my own sensibility about this, and they may end up way shorter. (I plan on removing the copyright infringement stuff, for example), but I think transparency about the existing, unexpressed rules (which is what this is about) is a good thing.

    I do want to make sure that you always feel your obnoxious, obstreperous, borderline-offensive comments always feel they have a welcome home here, Crosbie :)

    Now I’m going back to sleep. Damn flu.

  8. A better approach would be to be positive toward your commenters, e.g.

    “This site respects, and will help you uphold, your human rights to life, privacy, truth, and liberty.”

    You see, that way you’re asserting something positive to the commenter – for their benefit.

    The implication is that you will also uphold these rights for yourself, and for other commenters.

    You should not be talking and cautioning those you don’t want in your audience. You should be talking to those you do want in your audience.

    Put the explanation of precisely how the commenter’s rights are upheld in a hyperlinked article – for those who don’t yet know.

    Upholding the commenter’s right to life means you will not accept any speech that threatens their or anyone else’s life, or incites violence or hatred towards them, whether directly or because of their gender, skin colour, etc.

    Upholding the commenter’s right to privacy means you will not accept any speech that violates or invades their or another’s privacy, nor will you knowingly tolerate the theft and dissemination of their or anyone else’s private intellectual property.

    Upholding the commenter’s right to truth means no libel, defamation, misattribution, misrepresentation, etc. against them or anyone else.

    Upholding the commenter’s right to liberty means you will be fair and unpartisan in accepting their or anyone else’s comments (that are otherwise acceptable), and will be clear on any rejection criteria (expletives, etc.).

    Rejecting commissioned editorial or promotional submissions (spam), well, that’s your editorial policy. Some may accept on topic advertising, some don’t, there’s no intrinsic violation of anyone’s rights. Commissioned editorial, being of suspect veracity, well, sure reject it if you find out, but how do you know? And when you do find out, will you track the commenters down and tell them not to do it again?

  9. Crosbie, I see your point but the positive way doesn’t state as directly what you shouldn’t do on the site. It’s not as clear. It reads like a circumlocution.

    When I get around to writing the policy, I imagine it will say things like: “We’re adults here and can stand some salty language. But we’re trying to have a civil conversation, so attacking a person’s character – whether you use the f work or not – instead of the person’s arguments isn’t going to work. If it’s vicious and/or persistent, I reserve the right to remove your comment.” Stuff like that.

  10. As readers we don’t have an insight, but is there actually a siginificant number of comments that you have to reject at the moment?

    What proportion of these are authored by those who wouldn’t have submitted them (or who would have self-moderated them) had they read your policy?

    If you really have a large number of commenters who would respond to cautions then perhaps a negative approach is necessary, but I will be surprised.

    I think a positive one liner (with a hyperlink to a full explanation for the benefit of those aspiring to more humane intercourse) – would be far better. The circumlocution can surely be rectified without making it negative?

    1. You don’t offend the delicate sensibilities of fragile folk such as myself
    2. Those who would respond to guidance will click-through to read it
    3. Everyone else carries on regardless and their foul comments have to be rejected anyway

    In any case, the existing quality of discussion itself can help demonstrate the standard for others to follow.

  11. Crosbie, I can’t remember a comment I’ve rejected that wasn’t spam or some other type of auto-post.

  12. Crosbie, I can’t remember a comment I’ve rejected that wasn’t spam or some other type of auto-post.

  13. QED: You do not need ‘Rules for Commenting’.

    You have to decide whether you’re having a conversation, or whether you’re an editor of a large circulation journal with necessarily strict criteria governing what readers’ letters may be accepted for publication – which you have to display prominently on the letters page because your poor staff would otherwise be flooded by obnoxious hate mail.

    Of course, back in the real world, journals don’t tend to publish such ‘no hate mail’ criteria on the letters page, especially if they’re running short on letters. That doesn’t mean they don’t gladly bin many mediocre but otherwise compliant letters.

    I’m happy to have a conversation with you, albeit a tad one sided, but if you start coming on all high and mighty and redundantly educating me as to the things I should bear in mind whilst I’m composing my blather, well, consider my posts subside by at least 10%. :-p

    Commenters do NOT have right for their words to be published on your site. You do not need to publish your criteria for acceptance/rejection. You reject or you accept – or you publish and then remove. A caution is not a courtesy, but a contempt of the respect that commenters are obviously already giving you.

    If every comment you’ve rejected so far was spam or auto generated, then your rules would have been as effective as ‘keep off the grass’ signs to aliens who comment via crop circle.

  14. Ertreh, that’s most interesting, however may I bring your attention to the ‘Rules for Commenting’ which stipulates the following as unacceptable:

    “Contains editorial content that has been commissioned and paid for by a third party, (either cash or goods in barter), and/or contains paid advertising links and/or SPAM…”

    It would be interesting to have your opinion concerning whether or not you believe your comment meets this criterion? If you believe it does, it would also be interesting to know your reasons for submitting your comment in spite of it.

  15. Darn, Crosbie! I wanted to let you have the last word, but you refer to what apparently was a spam-comment that I removed. So I just wanted to clarify that…

  16. Don’t worry, I knew that my reference to Ertreh’s ideogrammaticisms might cause you a minor decision crisis… ;-)

    I still don’t know how you expect your guidelines to have any affect upon those who would contravene and a priori ignore them.

    I can only assume your intention is perversely, to produce some effect in your commenters who would never have infringed the guidelines anyway.

    Perhaps you consider many of your potential commenters (unlike me) will be impressed and reassured by their bloggers’ sentimental demonstration?

    “Oh, he’s against nasty commenters is he? Excellent. That means it’s safe for me to comment here in the full knowledge that no-one will respond with a bullying comment, or abuse or stalk me, well, at least not on this blog.”

    It’s like having a sign at a bank entrance that says “Bank robbers are prohibited from entry” – as if you’re otherwise encouraging them. “Oh, we bank at Joho’s. It’s safe to bank there because they prohibit bank robbers”.

    At least make your ‘guidelines’ a javascript link to a pop-up box.

    You will let me know if you feel that I’m bullying you, won’t you? ;-)

  17. You’re perfectly on target, Dave. After my unauthorized Steve Ballmer biography was published, I received the most vile and nonsensical comments from folks who’d rather not reveal their names. Amazon took down at least a half-dozen libelous reviews. Then when I let a site run three paragraphs of my piece about the adopted-at-birth Steve Jobs biological father, you’d think I’d created AIDS. It wouldn’t surprise me if Microsoftians were behind the Ballmer-related stuff. What better way to attempt to discredit an author than have your public relations propogandists hide behind screen names and whip up a negative campaign, clouding an issue with blog smog. Only when bloggers are held to a higher standard will they legitimize themselves. More power to ya, Dave, and the BlogHers as well.

  18. Hi
    Some may accept on topic advertising, some don’t, there’s no intrinsic violation of anyone’s rights.

  19. thank you.

  20. thank you.

  21. Thank you for the nice article!

  22. I have your site bookmarked and your feed link saved. I should be good to go now.

  23. Hello!
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    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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