Last week there was a nasty meme flowing through the blogosphere. There’s no need to go into a lot of detail here, as it was hashed and re-hashed ad maseum last week. However, it was centered around the personal attacks of another blogger. It led to cries of cyberbullying, and because the victim was a woman, there has been significant discussion of misogyny. (I am not making light of the situation, just trying to move past the talk of what happened).
One result of the brouhaha was a call for a code of conduct within the blogosphere.
The first I saw of this was a post by Jim Horton at Online Public Relations Thoughts. He was reacting to an article on the BBC website that quoted Tim O’Reilly (more on Horton’s reaction in a moment):
Among those calling for a bloggers’ code of conduct is Tim O’Reilly - one of the web’s most influential thinkers.
He told BBC Radio Five Live that it could be time to formalise blogging behaviour.
“I do think we need some code of conduct around what is acceptable behaviour, I would hope that it doesn’t come through any kind of [legal/government] regulation it would come through self-regulation.”
He’s right that it should come through self-regulation. My first thought on this is to suggest that instead of a code of conduct, the leaders in the blogosphere should, instead, develop an international semi-professional association that could develop standards. Bloggers who join and adhere to these standards could then have the right to display a “seal of approval” on their blogs signifying their willingness to rise above the fray.†
You see, Horton is right. In his post, he said: “Codes of conduct are useless unless enforced — and they rarely are. Look at the Public Relations Society of America and its ethical code of conduct. Practitioners ignore it and the PRSA is helpless to enforce it. It means little, even as a guideline. Enforcement is fundamental. Those who call for codes without means of enforcement are naive.” His example of the PRSA notwithstanding - if an association has requirements for membership, it can and should expel members who fail to meet those requirements.
Tony Hung at The Blog Herald agrees with Horton. Hung writes:
A Code of Conduct for most bloggers doesn’t have much a point because the blogosphere is self-regulating. If you act like an ass, people will know, and for the most part, will readership will decline. If it doesn’t, that probably means they won’t care a whit about any rules of conduct anyway. Secondly, even if one did have an audience who might care, if you broke it what really happens? Nothing.
There are no real consequences that come of breaking an Official Blogger Code of Conduct.
Now, Hung also dismisses the idea of having a badge for the same reason. If there is no retribution for those who display their badge, but break the code for which it stands, the badge itself has no real meaning. (So I am all for having a mechanism to report abuse and to expel a member when the code is indeed broken).
Marianne Richmond of Resonance Partnership also agrees that there are really no punishments in cyberspace:
Addtionally, what is the consequence for violating the code? For Blogher, or any community with guidelines, violaters theoretically will not be allowed on the site. Thus if a member of the community violates the rules their membership ends. On our own blogs, we don’t have to permit behavior (comments) that offends us either. In either case, there are no “punishments” other than removal.
Okay, I will admit that an association is not perfect. But it’s a start. Of course, any list of standards needs to have a first draft - and O’Reilly included his list on his blog:
- Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.
- Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.
- Consider eliminating anonymous comments.
- Ignore the trolls.
- Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so.
- If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so.
- Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person.
This is a good list, and you can read his blog for a detailed explanation of each suggestion. John Cass at PR Communications has a post about how bloggers should take care in criticizing others (a take off from Jen McClure’s post here.): “I can certainly agree with Jen that is a good idea to act maturely. I do think it is okay to give your opinion and criticize other organizations and people. I think the way in which you should conduct criticism is through either positive or negative constructive criticism.”
In the end, we are each responsible for what we do. Marianne mentioned the Golden Rule. For me, it is a guiding principle off-line as well as in cyberspace. It’s probably the best place to start.