Blog News. Miss Manners: How to be Civil in Cyberspace. Second City Style Fashion Blog

Fountain of 30

April 9, 2007 • Magazine

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This isn’t exactly about the fashion world but since the industry has been transformed by the internet and the blogging that inevitabley followed, I thought this was a *very* newsworthy piece for our readers. This morning the NYT offers us the view "Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher who is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, and…. Jimmy Wales, creator of the communal online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to create a set of what to many would be common-sense – though already controversial – guidelines to shape online discussion and debate."

My thoughts? If you’re reporting then you have to share the good news and the bad news, but like most good mothers would say, "If you can’t say anything nice…." Read below to hear their plans for making the web a friendly place and the concerns about censorship that follow.

Is it too late to bring civility to the Web? The conversational free-for-all on the Internet known as the blogosphere can be a prickly and unpleasant place. Now, a few prominent figures in high technology are proposing a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse. Last week, Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher who is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, began working with Jimmy Wales, creator of the communal online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to create a set of what to many would be common-sense – though already controversial – guidelines to shape online discussion and debate.

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 O’Reilly, who posted the preliminary recommendations last week on his company blog (radar.oreilly.com).

Wales then put the proposed guidelines on his company’s site (blogging.wikia.com), and is now soliciting comments in the hope of creating consensus around what constitutes civil behavior online. O’Reilly and 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 that 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. "If it’s a carefully constructed set of principles, it could carry a lot of weight even if not everyone agrees," Wales said. The code of conduct already has some early supporters, including David Weinberger, a well-known blogger (hyperorg.com/blogger) and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. "The aim of the code is not to homogenize the Web," he said, "but to make clearer the informal rules that are already in place anyway."

But as with every other electrically charged topic on the Web, finding common ground will be a serious challenge. Some online writers wonder how anyone could persuade even a fraction of the millions of bloggers to embrace one set of standards. Others say that the code smacks of restrictions on free speech. Wales and O’Reilly were inspired to act after a firestorm erupted late last month in the insular community of dedicated technology bloggers.

In an online shouting match that was widely reported, Kathy Sierra, a high-technology book author from Boulder County, Colorado, and a friend of O’Reilly’s, reported receiving death threats that stemmed in part from a dispute over whether it was acceptable to delete the impolitic comments left by visitors to personal Web sites. Distraught over the threats and manipulated photos of her that were posted on other critical sites, including one that depicted her head next to a noose, Sierra canceled a speaking appearance at a trade show and asked the local police for help in finding the source of the threats. She also said that she was considering giving up blogging altogether. In an interview, Sierra dismissed the argument that cyberbullying is so common that she should overlook it. "I can’t believe how many people are saying to me, ‘Get a life, this is the Internet,’ " she said. "If that’s the case, how will we ever recognize a real threat?" Sierra said that she supported the new efforts to improve civility on the Web. The police investigation into her case is pending.

Menacing behavior is certainly not unique to the Internet. But since the Web offers the option of anonymity with no accountability, online conversations are often more prone to decaying into ugliness than those in other media. Nowadays, those conversations often take place on blogs.

At last count, there were 70 million of them, with more than 1.4 million entries being added daily, according to Technorati, a blog-indexing company. For the past decade, these Web journals have offered writers a way to amplify their voices and engage with friends and readers. But the same factors that make those unfiltered conversations so compelling, and impossible to replicate in the off-line world, also allow them to spin out of control. For the full story go to NYT.com

–Joanne Molina for Second City Style

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