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Ear to the Ground

Civilizing the Blogosphere

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Posted on Apr 10, 2007

A couple of leading Internet personalities, including the creator of Wikipedia, have proposed a set of voluntary guidelines to help rein in the nastiness and abuse that can thrive in the blogosphere. Critics say the proposal would limit free expression, while supporters argue that “free speech is enhanced by civility.”

Click here for Arianna Huffington’s take on blog comments and civility.

New York Times:

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 [Tim] O’Reilly, who posted the preliminary recommendations last week on his company blog ( [Jimmy] Wales then put the proposed guidelines on his company’s site (, 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.

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By Bukko in Australia, April 11, 2007 at 7:50 am Link to this comment

Sid, the problem is, who sets the rules and how are they enforced? Devil’s in the details, mate.

I work in hospital, where I’m exposed to people who are literally demented. I also worked as a nurse in state prisons before I left the U.S. That put me in face-to-face, and sometimes fist-to-face, contact with some nasty characters. The incivility of the Internet is nothing in comparison.

On most websites, including this one, there are localised rules. If you don’t like the climate of a site, don’t go there. If you’re being cyber-stalked, most police departments are aware that there are laws to prevent harrassment, although they seem to be as bad at dealing proactively with that as they are with preventing other crimes. However, I see no effective way of policing manners on the Internet.

For what it’s worth, the U.S. seems to be the angriest when it comes to websites. The Aussie and British blogs, newspaper comment sections and other forums I’ve seen have been contentious, but not as unhinged as American ones. I’m not saying that other nations are all sweetness, but I perceive a much higher level of hatred in America.

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By Joe R., April 11, 2007 at 12:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Let the web be free.  It is really the only place left and the government is doing everything it can to ruin it for everybody.  Put the religious right in the mix and all you end up with is lies and bullshit.

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By TAO Walker, April 10, 2007 at 7:48 pm Link to this comment

The sometimes overheated rhetoric pouring from peoples’ private self-esteem engines seems to vent more-or-less harmlessly here in cyberspace….the offense taken by those of tenderer sensibilities notwithstanding.  Still, there might be something to be said for getting all that rage and rudeness back out onto the streets and highways, where it belongs.


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By Sid, April 10, 2007 at 2:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


You say that the Internet is not for wussies. Who gets to decide that?

Just because there is a bully in the schoolyard doesn’t mean that he gets to set the rules for that schoolyard.

I say it’s time for the rest of us to take back the internet from the bullies.

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By Stephen Smoliar, April 10, 2007 at 12:35 pm Link to this comment

The real problem behind this story is that cyberspace, particularly the blogosphere, is a SOCIO-TECHNICAL phenomenon.  There is no faulting folks like O’Reilly and Wales in matters of technical competence;  but, when it comes to social matters, it seems as if their grasp of the situation runs the gamut from the woefully incompetent to the hopelessly naive.  I have tried to use my own blog to sort out the problems at stake if we are to address seriously the question of safety on the Internet.  Here is my latest post:

Hyperlinks will lead the interested reader to further discussion.

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By Outraged, April 10, 2007 at 11:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The “rules of conduct” they seem to be advocating are what I like to call “generically specific”.  In other words we hold all the cards and decide what WE think is OK and what WE agree with.

Hate speech, slander, stalking, threats and libel are illegal and should be investigated.  However, bloggers already have the “right” or opportunity to set up their “space” as they see fit.  What they allow or don’t allow in the comment section and the content of the site will directly influence the amount and type of vistors they attract.

If wikipedia wants to curtail its comments they can.  I don’t frequent “car sites” because I’m not interested in cars.  But, if I were I’d like to say Chevys/Fords suck because that’s my OPINION!  If I threaten to kill someone because they endorse one or the other THAT’S A THREAT AND IS ILLEGAL.

Let’s not forget that the opportunity to be heard no matter how stupid the comment is GOOD!  I say let the people be heard!

Why go after the internet anyway?  A far more likely candidate would be MSM.  Look at the lies, spin and hate-mongering there.

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By Bukko in Australia, April 10, 2007 at 10:22 am Link to this comment

If you can’t take the cursing, stay out of the blogosphere. The Internet is not for wussies. Or Christians. At least not the wussy Christians.

And name me ONE Internet death threat that’s actually been followed through. Not something where the people had contact in the meat world and also clashed on the ‘Net before the killing was done, but where a nutjob actually got incensed enough over electronic content to commit murder in the flesh. I’m not saying it never happened. Perhaps some of you stalker types out there know of a case. I remain sceptical until I see facts.

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By Lee Driver, April 10, 2007 at 9:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In the old days, “you wanna step outside” was an invitation to duke it out, that contained some consideration of those others in the room, or for the china or the furniture. Perhaps blogs would provide a place for that, like a side room to go and get raucus, be nasty, off the main floor for those who want to. Sure, there would always be some who won’t leave and will need to be electronically blocked from the main floor, but it could help overall the situation for participants who ARE constructive. Would-be or real psychologists could even sit in in these fight rooms, maybe do some good. Rabble rousers might even could earn their way back. Inclusiveness, in the end, could be a kind of answer to the problem.

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By James Yell, April 10, 2007 at 6:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Bush/Cheney Republicans have indulged in all sorts of name calling and throwing out fiction for fact towards candidates and individuals who don’t agree with them. Nothing has been done to these people. It is a notable pattern that George Bush always stayed in the background until the spurious comments had done damage, had taken hold of many peoples minds and then he would step foreward and say well of course this isn’t the way I feel or believe. This is supposed to clear him of any complicity in these dirty deeds.

I for one believe that as he is personal friends of many of the people who do these things and his political apparatus is working with many of the others, his position that he is innocent of these violations of truth, is in itself another lie.

So now that the Republican’s are being the object of the type of hateful language that they have so freely used themselves against others, they want a code of decent speech? Please, they can dish it out but they can’t take it. They have spent over 6 years being very free with the truth and floating all sorts of hateful and hurtful disinformation, why should the opposition be any kinder, than Bush/Cheney and associates have been?

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By Bert, April 10, 2007 at 3:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I disagree, I think that the internet is a great place for people to hold forth and hopefully be somewhat honest in their views, even if those views are critical of the status quo, I say the truth can be painful, but we’re better off for having it laid out on the table. There may be some bureaucrats out there for whom this is a VERY painful exercise, but chances are it’s a reaction to their past karma, as it were, moreso than anything else. China’s famous for its’ online censorship, we should be intolerant of censorship, though its’ intolerance might bring new controversy into our lives, rather that than complacency and make-nice uber alles. That having been said, civility also has it’s place in the realm of public discourse, and while free speech by definition should and must remain unlimited, good taste does have some definable boundaries, and such boundaries are best defined by the internet community itself. Much as television and other broadcast media have general guidances defining obscenity, hate speech, and so forth, the internet and the blogosphere as digital extensions of these should likewise be viewed as a realm to which many different people can gain access, and to whom some views might be extremely inflammatory and/or offensive.  I think there should also be improved user agreements, so that people have to make an informed choice to gain access to what could be considered controversial viewpoints. I also think that the door should be guarded against those who seek conformity of opinion above all else. If push comes to shove, give me offensive, contradictory, controversial, and conflicting views over predigested preapproved, censored, insubstantial media pabulum any day of the week. It’s the internet, speak your piece, or don’t, and share and converse with your digital peers, or don’t, the choice is yours.

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