Posted April 9, 2007 10:28 am by with 28 comments

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If you’re a long time reader of Marketing Pilgrim, you’ll know my unease with anyone trying to define blogging; who should and shouldn’t blog; and, especially, talk of a “bloggers code of conduct.” So, you can imagine that my Monday morning is not off to a good start, when sipping my coffee I see Tim O’Reilly’s attempt to draft a code of conduct for bloggers.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I completely understand his intent. What happened to Kathy Sierra, is not an isolated incident, and perhaps bloggers should look at means to protect themselves (and others) from blog trolls looking for a fight. But, as I’ve said before, any attempts to define or restrict blogging, will ultimately suck the life out of it, and kill much of the momentum we have going on.

Let’s take a look at O’Reilly’s draft, and I’ll show you were I think it goes wrong…

We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.

Heck no! Sure, I take responsibility for my own words, but I’m not going to put in writing that I’ll take responsibility for what you have to say.

We define unacceptable content as anything included or linked to that:
– is being used to abuse, harass, stalk, or threaten others
– is libelous, knowingly false, ad-hominem, or misrepresents another person,
– infringes upon a copyright or trademark
– violates an obligation of confidentiality
– violates the privacy of others

Again, how am I supposed to know if a comment is libelous? That’s for the commentator and the complainer to decide, not me. Also, the courts can barely figure out what qualifies as copyright infringement, and what’s considered “fair use”, so how am I supposed to know? Lastly, where do we draw the line on “privacy of others?” While Eric Schmidt thought CNET went too far, others didn’t see it that way. Moving on…

We define and determine what is “unacceptable content” on a case-by-case basis, and our definitions are not limited to this list. If we delete a comment or link, we will say so and explain why. [We reserve the right to change these standards at any time with no notice.]

Huh? Are we abiding by a code or not? If we “reserve the right to change these standards at any time”, doesn’t that leave room for abuse? Couldn’t a blogger that violates its own code simply decide to change the code for that particular incident? What becomes the point of even having a code, if it can be changed on a whim?

We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.

Ok, I agree on this one. Mr. O’Reilly, I’m a fan, I love much that O’Reilly does, but this code of conduct appears to be a way to milk a topic that is getting you some attention. (Invite me to one of your conferences and I’ll tell you this in person too!)

We connect privately before we respond publicly.

Sounds fair in theory, but the blogosphere just doesn’t seem to work like that. Did Matt Cutts approach BMW before outing their spam tactics publicly? Did Jeremy Zawodny come even close to this mantra?

When someone who is publishing comments or blog postings that are offensive, we’ll tell them so (privately, if possible–see above) and ask them to publicly make amends.
If those published comments could be construed as a threat, and the perpetrator doesn’t withdraw them and apologize, we will cooperate with law enforcement to protect the target of the threat.

Wait, you want me to police the content of other bloggers and drop them an email if I don’t feel they’re playing nicely? While you may intend for this to apply to just the blogs you have control over, that’s not how it reads. Besides, who gets to decide what is offensive and what isn’t? Do I have to start pulling any content that just a single person deems offensive? Seems like another avenue for abuse to me.

We do not allow anonymous comments…We require commenter’s to supply a valid email address before they can post, though we allow commenters to identify themselves with an alias, rather than their real name.

You know what, that’s great for any blogger that gets hundreds of comments each day, but what about those that are glad to see any comment on their blog? Sure, anonymous comments are more likely to be abusive, but, if you’re going to allow commenters to use an alias anyway, what’s the point of banning anonymous comments?

We prefer not to respond to nasty comments about us or our blog, as long as they don’t veer into abuse or libel. We believe that feeding the trolls only encourages them–“Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.” Ignoring public attacks is often the best way to contain them.

What if that “pig” has a point? What if the comment merits a response from the blogger? True, I tend to not reply to comments that attack me – or defuse them with humor – but I still read them as they sometimes contain clues about larger issues.

O’Reilly’s code includes a nice little badge that you can proudly display on your blog. They also have an “anything goes” badge, which proclaims…

This is an open, uncensored forum. We are not responsible for the comments of any poster, and when discussions get heated, crude language, insults and other “off color” comments may be encountered. Participate in this site at your own risk.

Which to me, just reinforces the notion that this is just about publicity and links back to the O’Reilly web site. If “anything goes” why would you need a badge?

To sum up, I don’t believe any broad code of conduct is going to do any good in preventing abuse, libel, or threats on blogs. If someone is hell-bent on being abusive, a pretty badge on your site is not going to deter them. While I appreciate the gesture – and understand this code is just a draft – I don’t think it’s going to do any good. Bloggers worried about the activities on their blog, and by their readers, are better off just implementing their own comment policy, which can be customized to their own individual needs.

Maybe I should create a “Code of Conduct? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Code of Conduct” badge. 😉

  • Andy, you’re right on about this issue (again). While I agree, what happened to Kathy was completely unacceptable IMO, this code of conduct is also unacceptable.

    My issue is that I’m a fairly straightforward person. I’ll wholeheartedly agree with the “Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person” bit, the only problem is, I’ll say things to you in person that many people wouldn’t. That’s just my personality. Some say I’m a jerk but at least you always know where you stand with me. If I think you’re full of it, I’ll let you know. If I disagree with you, I’ll argue my point all day long. Because of that, I tend to piss people off from time to time.

    So if I piss the wrong people off (like whoever would enforce this code of conduct) would my blogging “actions” suddenly become inappropriate? Hell no!

    O’Reilly’s simply manipulating the situation to benefit himself and create a bit of linkbait while he’s at it. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that capitalizing off the misfortune of others is probably goes against his own “code of conduct.”

  • +1

  • This is so stupid it’s mind blowing Andy. Not you, the conduct thing.

  • Pigs don’t like to wrestle, in fact such insensitivity shown toward pigs could be deemed offensive and possibly libelous.
    Definitely out of line with any sort of decent code I associate myself with.

  • That last one is a great idea… a badge that says that this badge means nothing. Fantastic. Hmm, maybe I should come up with a badge that certifies that any website that it’s displayed on is authorized to display the badge, nothing more, nothing less…

  • Did I read ‘mind blowing Andy’…off color comments like that are not appreciated…=)

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  • Did I read ‘mind blowing’ Andy…off color comments like that are not appreciated…=)

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  • Hazel

    Codes of Conduct are about behaviour and I have no right to control your behaviour. I have a right to say that I find your behaviour offensive, immoral, anti-social or otherwise not fitting into my “normal”. Society as a whole makes “laws” and if the society that is the blogosphere allows behaviour that I find unacceptable then I’ll leave it. Yes, one person may wish to propose a list of acceptable behaviours but to be workable it needs to be endorsed by others and someone has to “police” it. “Thou shalt not kill” is generally accepted as a good law and duly policed in the real world – but not everyone agrees or there’d be no murders. “Thou shalt not be offensive” is more difficult. I am offended by certain words which seem to be accepted as every day speech in some cultures – I can’t legislate for it but can avoid it.

  • If it ever gets to the point where my blog actually needs a “code” of anything other than HTML and CSS, my policy will be much simpler: “Don’t be a jerk.”

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  • Jordan McCollum

    Well said, Andy. I think you’re absolutely right and your comment policy is well stated.

  • Agreed. I have too much other stuff going on to worry about some code of conduct. Blogging is hard enough already and many of us are in the opposite boat – trying to encourage people to comment! All I’m going to do is come up with a comments policy – adding badges and stuff is just too much.

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  • A week prior to the Kathy Sierra thing, I made my own Blogger Code of Ethics, which I think was a little less severe:


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  • Here is the only bloggers code of conduct one should ever need:

    “Please be civil and polite.”

    If someone chooses not be be civil and polite, then simply delete their comments. Your blog is your domain, you control the atmosphere. We should consider that our purpose for leaving comments is to enhance the conversation. To do this, one should make their case for their own viewpoints, instead of attacking the writer as a person. Improving our knowledge on a particular topic, and perhaps our vocabulary, increases the likelihood of polite and civil conversation.

  • Proud to be Anonymous

    Re: Call for Code of Conduct by Tim O’Reilly

    The Kathy Sierra business needs closer examination because I think something might be getting overlooked. Kathy Sierra published the IP number on her website

    of the alleged perpetrator of these threats that turned out to be someone using an ISP in Madrid, Spain (according to the IP number)

    Once the victim, Kathy Sierra, collected the evidence of a crime against her, she purportedly sent it to the Police, whereupon it should have been subject to secrecy on the grounds that the perpetrator wouldn’t get a fair trial if the details were made public. And what happens next? The whole scenario is sent to the New York Times, CNN, the BBC and many other minor news outlets. This seems to prove that there’s NO EVIDENCE of any CRIME having been committed against Kathy Sierra or anybody else. It would be logical to express ones anguish to the world if one had been stabbed. But without seeing the blood, the story remains fictitious.

    BY PUBLISHING the IP number of the perpetrator Kathy Sierra has probably inadvertently stalled any further investigations into the crime. I don’t suppose she has even been given a crime number and I suspect the Law Enforcement Officers concerned pointed out that there is a delete button on her computer.

    BY PUBLISHING THE IP number of the alleged perpetrator of a crime, she has committed a crime herself. (http)

    IP address legality in Europe

    It is important that this significant difference in legal status be understood, because Websites that provide for third-party interception of IP addressing information and Traffic Data, without website visitor consent, are committing a criminal offence in the UK by virtue of the regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, where through the requirements of European Council Decision 2005/222/JHA, such Website owners face serious sanctions, including the winding up of their businesses, being debarred from running a business and more than 2 years imprisonment.

    P T B Anonymous

  • Proud to be Anonymous

    “This is G o o g l e’s cache of as
    retrieved on 23 Apr 2007 13:11:52 GMT.
    G o o g l e’s cache is the snapshot that we took of the page as we crawled the web.

    Google is neither affiliated with the authors of this page

    End Quote

    Google owns Has Tim O’Reilly contacted Google with the section of his proposed code that must (by ipso facto) also apply to the platform as well as the blog administrator?

    In an interview with Wired on Friday (13th) to promote his latest web 2.0 conference,O’Reilly said: “I’ve come to think the call for a code of conduct was a bit misguided.” The admission came two days after a post on his Radar blog entitled “Code of Conduct: Lessons Learned So Far”. In it he wrote: “I was proposing a modular set of terms of service, so somebody could say, ‘I don’t want this kind of behaviour.’ Now, a lot of people already do that, so it’s really much ado about nothing.”

    Despite coming to the above conclusion, The O’Reilly Saga continues in his comments section with commenters posting ridiculous off-topic subjects and stupid Youtube links. O’Reilly says he knows the person who attacked Kathy Sierra. He gets the victim and the perpetrator together on CNN – then somebody pumps up the NY Times publicity machinery for both the victim and the perpetrator. It doesn’t take a genius to see who may be benefiting from this little fracas.

    Then O’Reilly starts blaming a random responder (Lessons Learned So Far) as being one of the attackers…and…he’s started deleting and prioritising the “best” replies, ones that mirror his opinions, which are severely lacking in substance. So, the entire “Lessons Learned So Far” thread must be accessed and read from the Google cached copy.

    When bloggers respond from their websites,the sources seem to have been obliterated once the post is published – most of the track backs lead to O’Reilly’s Radar Website – and (duh! – as an Internet expert!) he is unaware that there are persistent error messages generated in his responders’ posts, so that it becomes a hit and miss game whether the post actually gets published or not.

    Perhaps Tim’s involvement relates to this little gem.

    Sierra’s current gig, along with her partner Bert Bates, is
    developing and producing the bizarre new Head First series of books for O’Reilly.

    Proud to be Anonymous

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