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article imageInfluential High-tech Players Call for Reform in Blogosphere

By David Silverberg     Apr 10, 2007 in Technology
Digital Journal — The Web lets you say anything, often under a veil of anonymity. But some notable Netizens, like Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, want to change how bloggers post stories and write comments by creating a set of guidelines to shape online debate.
Wales and conference promoter Tim O’Reilly (credited with coining the term Web 2.0) are proposing a code of conduct that bloggers should adopt in order to “help create a culture that encourages both personal expression and constructive conversation,” as Wales writes on the Wikipedia blog.
Some of the main recommendations include banning anonymous comments left by visitors on certain pages, deleting threatening comments, and encouraging bloggers to privately deal with conflicts before posting articles about them. As well, the code of conduct encourages bloggers to only write online statements they would also say in person.
The proposal to create guidelines comes on the heels of recent attacks against several notable bloggers. Author Kathy Sierra endured death threats on her blog, compelling her to ask the local police to investigate and to quit blogging altogether. A blogger who writes on Middle East issues, Richard Silverstein, was assailed with harassing comments on his site, as well as facing a new low: an anonymous blogger created a site depicting Silverstein in Photoshopped pornographic photos.
Wales and O’Reilly seek to curb this rampant form of cyberbullying by creating various sets of guidelines that bloggers can adopt. Each type of guidelines would be symbolized by a logo or badge that a blogger could use. One set, for example, would discourage anonymous writing and commenting, while another set would allow it. Another set of guidelines would urge bloggers to publish a second source for any gossip or breaking news they post.
All the guidelines lay out what blog comments are unacceptable: obviously harassing or threatening attacks; libelous or knowingly false statements; comments that infringe on copyright or trademarks; and comments that violate the privacy of others.
The entire system would be voluntary, relying on the blogging community to monitor itself. “If it’s a carefully constructed set of principles, it could carry a lot of weight even if not everyone agrees,” Wales told the New York Times.
While merely in the early stages — Wales is still soliciting feedback through his blog — the idea is a winner. For too long many blogs have undergone birthing pains because comment trolls were quick to barrage sites with garbage posts and comments. What a blogging code of conduct provides is a self-policing measure that lets bloggers learn how to deal with cyberbullies. It’s an issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
In an online world where 70 million blogs line the information highway, etiquette is absolutely necessary. But like in real society, enforcing written principles takes tact and a brave attitude. Bloggers are accustomed to allowing pointless comments to litter their pages because they’ve resigned themselves to how the Internet attracts the good, the bad and the very ugly. If any unified code will pass muster, bloggers must retrain their attitudes to view harmful posts and comment threads as a threat to their site’s credibility, and to deal with the attacks as outlined by the guidelines.
For some bloggers, this new idea of guidelines will leave a bad taste in their mouth. “What about free speech?!” they might cry. “Aren’t heated discussions full of attacks, abusive statements and flaring tempers?” Definitely, which is why Wales and company will face much dissension if they truly want to go ahead with the blogging code of conduct. No one likes being told what to do, especially libertarian Netizens. How can they solve this? Coupled with the code should be a simple marketing campaign that explains how a set of guidelines can strengthen a site’s integrity.
It’s all well and good to come up with a powerful idea to change how people post and comment online. But it takes passionate visionaries to see this proposal through to fruition. Are Wales and O’Reilly up for the challenge of a lifetime?
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