Blogging Code Of Conduct Proposed To Tame The Net

O'Reilly's recommendation to ban abusive or false online posts draws support, as well as criticism.
In the wake of threats directed at a now-prominent blogger and subsequent soul-searching among the Internet cognoscenti, Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, has proposed a Blogging Code of Conduct as a means to rescue online civility.

The code calls for a commitment to reject or delete online posts that "abuse, harass, stalk, or threaten others," or anything that "is libelous, knowingly false, ad-hominem, or misrepresents another person," "infringes upon a copyright or trademark," "violates an obligation of confidentiality," and "violates the privacy of others."

It calls for responsible speech, taking action against unfair attacks, and a refusal to accept anonymous posting.

Among those commenting on the draft rules on O'Reilly's Radar blog and elsewhere, reactions range from enthusiastic and supportive to, unsurprisingly, dismissive and abusive.

Acknowledging the limits of his draft rules, O'Reilly points to these ad hominem attacks in a follow-up comment and says that rather than deleting them, he "will probably allow [them] here because this post is trying to suss out sentiment on what is a controversial issue."

Most of the comments seem to fall in the nice-try-but-it-will-never-work category. "A blogger code of conduct would be like herding hornets -- nice idea but painful to all in execution," said a person posting under the name Steven Hodson.

In support of that thesis, there's an instructive parallel: spam. Spamming, like posting abusive comments on blogs, is all but free. There is a potential cost -- litigation -- but it's rarely imposed.

Thus, despite the fact that the American Marketing Association in 2004 issued a Statement of Ethics, calling for marketers to "do no harm," "to foster trust in the marketing system," and to "practice the fundamental ethical values that will improve consumer confidence in the integrity of the marketing exchange system," some marketers remain spammers and everyone online continues to suffer from abusive Internet marketing.

Curbing abusive speech online through a voluntary code of conduct appears likely to prove equally ineffective.

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