Do blogs need codes of conduct?

O’Reilly Radar: Draft Blogger’s Code of Conduct

I’m really quite surprised that it’s taken the recent “Kathy Sierra affair” ([1], [2]) for the blogging community to get around to drawing up a “code of conduct”, but the law does already prohibit libel and threatening messages. The draft code also includes an “anything goes” badge (complete with dynamite and lit fuse), disclaiming responsibility for people’s comments. Again, this falls foul of the law in some countries - much as a newspaper is responsible for the articles it prints, even though they are not written by the proprietor or editor. (I’ve rejected, and removed, comments because of this, including a suggestion that the Hemel Hempstead oil fire was started by the local council in order to free up land for housing development.)

The code barely mentions that much of the abusive behaviour under discussion also goes on on online fora, including abuse related to material published on blogs. The line between a blog and a forum is often blurred, of course, but I’ve had an experience of online threats which were made on a forum and “provoked” by things I’d written here and on other blogs. This code, if it’s to have any value, needs to take in online fora as well. Apart from anything else, there is a reference to authors of threatening or abusive comments withdrawing them, which you usually just can’t do on a blog if it’s not your blog, as the software just does not have that functionality. Blogs are often highly personalised, with the (often sole) author deciding what goes and what doesn’t (this is certainly the case here); besides, many of us could not have open comments or trackback nowadays because our sites would get filled up with spam pretty quickly. But it’s a welcome development, even if a lot of blogs and fora already exist for the purpose of spreading mistrust and misinformation about entire groups.

Also, this article by Oliver Kamm appeared in the Guardian yesterday, debunking the idea of blogs being some sort of revolutionary participatory democracy: he calls it parasitic, reliant on the mainstream media for material to which to react, and “a reliable vehicle for the coagulation of opinion and the poisoning of debate”. This was in reaction to the recent controversy over “Guido Fawkes” in the UK. Still, I’m sure Oliver Kamm will continue blogging himself.

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