Draft Blogger’s Code of Conduct

Like Oliver Kamm, I’ve been thinking about this this blogger Code of Conduct.

1. Blogs are but one item on the varied menu of information available, both on and offline, to a person who chooses to seek it out. If a person lives his or her life on the basis of what can be gleaned from a single blog, they’re an intellectual anorexic.

2. Not all blogs are the same; in terms of quality, politics or tone. The Belgravia Dispatch is very different from the Daily Kos. If you don’t like what you read on a blog, then stop reading it.

3. Blogs, and people who post on blogs, are subject to the ordinary law of the land.

4. Trolling and misbehaviour on blogs and chat boards is a problem as old as the hills. Jonathan Freedland is right to be perturbed by what he sees on his home patch. There are some forums which are ruined by it, certainly. I think that the viciousness you find on LGF comments, or some of the showbiz related blogs, render them sewer-like. Those who seek them out are like football hooligans, turning up for a pre-arranged fight.

We’re not free from nastiness at Harry’s Place, sadly: but I’m phlegmatic about venom. It is part of human nature to be intemperate, at least at times. Sometimes anger is appropriate. When it comes to nasty expressions of bigotry, I don’t think there’s any point in pretending that these ideas don’t exist. Seeing it at least gives you an understanding of the nature of the problem you confront, and practice in opposing it.

We could shut down comments, as Oliver has done. We could respond by introducing a registration system. I’m not comfortable with that, though. I like the “drop in” atmosphere of this blog. Some heavily moderated blogs simply become sterile echo chambers. I’d hate that.

However, if this blog’s comment culture became like Comment is Free, for a prolonged period, perhaps I’d rethink my position.

5. The discussion about the standard of conduct on blogs is valuable: the Code of Conduct itself is not. It presents practical problems in application. How, for example, does a blog reconcile the advice in Point 6:

“Ignoring public attacks is often the best way to contain them.”

with the Point 4 obligation to “take action” against ad hominem attacks on other posters:

“When someone who is publishing comments or blog postings that are offensive, we’ll tell them so (privately, if possible–see above) and ask them to publicly make amends.”

The answer is that you play these sort of things by ear, and hope you get it right. You learn from your mistakes. That’s the sensible thing to do. Yet, though most of the Code of Conduct is sensible to the point of triteness, I can see a happy future in which the comments threads of Code-observing blogs are clogged up with arguments about alleged breaches of its standards. That – just as much as vileness, is the death of a blog.

A good, mature, blog has a healthy organic culture, which self polices to a significant extent. Most people are afforded due respect, most of the time. Long standing trolls are treated with a degree of affection, even. There is a common desire, among the most respected of participants, that the arguments should be conducted constructively.

Blogs which attain this standard of conduct should, and do, lead by example.