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Article in the Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,2053530,00.html

Ed Pilkington in New York

Tuesday April 10, 2007

The Guardian

Perhaps it was inevitable. When two leading internet pioneers came together this week to propose a set of guidelines that would filter out offensive and abusive comments from blogs, they were met by a torrent of offensive and abusive comments.

Images of excrement were abundant amid the reaction yesterday to the proposed "bloggers' code of conduct". The anonymous blogger bynkii (motto: because misanthropy is fun) likened the idea to "xxxxx faeces, specifically designed to create a special group of self-satisfied, smug, condescending dingalings looking down their noses". The new media site 910am described it as "weapons of mass stupidity" and carried the health warning "do not read on a full stomach".

The text that has got the collective bowels moving of these and many other bloggers is a draft set of rules on introducing the concept of civility to the blogosphere. It is the combined work of Tim O'Reilly, inventor of the phrase Web 2.0 to describe the next generation of interactive communications, and Jimmy Wales, founder of the communal encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

They have posted a seven-point programme that would attempt, they say, to address the plethora of abusive comments on the web, while preserving the free spirit of the medium. Point one of the code is that anyone signing up to it would commit themselves to a "civility enforced" standard to remove unacceptable comments from their blog.

Unacceptable is defined as content that is used to abuse, harass, stalk or threaten others; is libellous or misrepresentative; or infringes copyright, confidentiality or privacy rights. Anonymous postings are also to be removed, with every comment requiring a recognised email address, even if posts are made under pseudonyms.

Point six encourages bloggers to ignore "trolls" making nasty comments that fall short of abuse or libel. "Never wrestle with a pig," is the advice. "You both get dirty, but the pig likes it."

To back up the code, they propose a "civility enforced" badge marking sites which subscribe to the guidelines, and an "anything goes" badge to denote those that do not. The proposed guidelines can be interactively amended by web users, until a final version is agreed.

Mr O'Reilly writes on his website radar.oreilly: "Setting standards for acceptable behaviour in a forum you control is conducive to free speech, not damaging to it. There's no reason why we should tolerate conversations online that we wouldn't tolerate in our living room."

Many sites, including the Guardian's Comment is free blog, already deploy several of the points. But this is the first attempt to apply a common framework to the rapidly growing population of blogs which already stands at 71m.

The move formalises concern among many bloggers and web publishers about abusive language. Last month a woman blogger went public with the attacks she had suffered on her site. In her account of the harassment she endured, Kathy Sierra refers to photographs being posted of her head beside a noose, and comments such as: "f*** off you boring slut... i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob".

"The guy who wrote this is anonymous," she said. "I have no way of knowing just how disturbed he might be."

The draft guidelines have prompted wide debate with varying responses. Dan Gillmor of the Centre for Citizen Media, a group devoted to grassroots media attached to Berkeley's graduate school of journalism, rejects the need for a code of conduct. He says bloggers require only one simple rule: be civil. To define unacceptable behaviour is to create a monster, he says, as "Who'd be the judge of it? The government? Libel lawyers? Uh, oh."

901am says the idea is the preserve of rabid feminists and professional victims. "Civility is subjective, and controlling what people say and do on blogs can only be a recipe for the decline of the medium and the introduction of totalitarianism online."

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Guest Stephen Turner

In my experience many people are put off contributing to debate on forum's by the borish, and sometimes damn-right abusive behaviour of others, how is that contributing to free speech? A code of generally excepted conduct, with as few rules as possible should enable self regulating behaviour, with, hopefully, as little "moderation" as possible.

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In my experience many people are put off contributing to debate on forum's by the borish, and sometimes damn-right abusive behaviour of others, how is that contributing to free speech? A code of generally excepted conduct, with as few rules as possible should enable self regulating behaviour, with, hopefully, as little "moderation" as possible.

My experience is limited as I frequent mostly JFK assassination related sites. It's my experience people who would LIKE to share/aprticipate/opine are more put-off by their lack of proper writing/spelling skills rather than "abusvie behaviour of others". UNLESS of course you own/run/moderate a blog or forum...

Free speech on worldwide web USNET borards, private-public forums is illusion! Someone is paying server costs, ALL pay ISP fees, is that free speech?. Advertising is everywhere, that certainly is not *free* speech.... What's free, is your right *choosing* to participate!

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Jonathan Freedland discussed this issue in today's Guardian. It created quite a debate on the Guardian Blog.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...2054180,00.html

So you're at a public meeting on, say, the war in Iraq and the main speaker has just sat down. Someone in the audience rises to declare the speaker is talking crap, but that's typical of him because he knows nothing and it's a scandal that he's paid for the rubbish he turns out. A second man agrees that the speech was trash, but tells the first man he should crawl back under his stone because he never says anything worth listening to. A third man wonders why the speaker didn't mention Israel, especially given his Zionist-sounding last name.

The first man is now shouting at the second man, insulting him for insulting him first. A woman gets up to make a point about the war in Iraq, but she is rapidly drowned out by a fourth and fifth man now debating Israel and the Palestinians. A sixth man compares the speaker to Hitler and proceeds to read out a 1,500-word article he read somewhere six years ago. If that has an oddly familiar ring, it may be because you're spending a lot of time online, specifically in the new and still lawless world known as the blogosphere.

This month two titans of the web have launched an attempt at bringing "civility" to this ever-expanding realm, which now stretches to a staggering 71m weblogs. Jimmy Wales, creator of Wikipedia, and Tim O'Reilly, the man credited with coining the phrase Web 2.0, have proposed a code of conduct for online debate, even suggesting kite-mark style badges for sites that comply. Their move followed blogger Kathy Sierra's disclosure that she had been the victim of a violent and threatening campaign of cyber-hate: one manipulated photo showed her head alongside a noose; elsewhere she was called a "slut" who deserved to have her throat cut.

Predictably, Wales and O'Reilly have now felt the wrath of the blogosphere themselves, their idea torched by net users who detected an assault on their free speech. Indeed, in a neat proof of Godwin's Law - the pearl of internet wisdom that holds that the longer an online discussion continues, the likelier someone is to make a comparison with Hitler or the Nazis - it didn't take too long for one critic to post: "First they came for the commenters, and I said nothing because I did not comment."

Yet it would be a mistake to dismiss Wales and O'Reilly too quickly. Their specific remedy might not be sound, but they are right to see a problem. Nor is this some techie issue, of interest only to a few hardcore web nerds.

For the blogosphere represents an enormous democratic opportunity. In the past, those 71m bloggers would have had to wait for a publisher to deem their work worthy of distribution. Now everyone has a platform. Those who want to challenge tyrannies, or even corporate misbehaviour, can do so directly. Whether it's the Baghdad Blogger or the public service workers highlighted in today's Society section, free expression is now just a click away.

But this freedom has a downside. Check out the Guardian's Comment is Free site and you'll see it for yourself. Yes, the place is humming with debate, borne out by its nomination for a prestigious Webby award yesterday. But it won't take you long to run into some serious vitriol. Even a brief, light piece can trigger a torrent of abuse, usually directed at the author and rapidly diverted by the commenters to each other. If the topic touches, even indirectly, on race or religion, then you'd better brace yourself. If it's Israel-Palestine, you might need to take the afternoon off.

That's the beauty of it, say its defenders; an environment of truly free speech. If your ideas cannot withstand the fierce gale of harsh debate, then they're probably just too flimsy. In one respect, they're right. Journalists like me have had to raise our game, knowing that a factual lapse will be pointed out within minutes.

But that advantage is surely out- weighed by the risk that the blogo-sphere, which could be a new, revolutionary public space, instead becomes a stale, claustrophobic environment, appealing chiefly to a certain kind of aggressive, point-scoring male - and utterly off-putting to everyone else. This is not just bad news for media outlets like the Guardian, keen to build an audience; it means that this great democratic opportunity is lost.

Ah, but this free-for-all is democratic, say the devotees. Any change would be censorship. But imagine that public meeting. Would that constitute a democratic debate, or a shouting match in which the loudest, most intimidating voice wins? Surely the more democratic encounter is the meeting properly chaired, allowing everyone their say and ensuring no descent into bar-room brawl. That's certainly how we operate in the real world, so why should the virtual realm be any different?

This is something, as regular readers will know, that the Guardian has grappled with, working hard to ensure racist or offensive remarks don't linger on the Comment is Free website. The aim is not so far from Wales and O'Reilly's: to devise a method of moderation which doesn't undermine the essential freedom of the medium. But how?

My immediate hunch is that the anonymity of the web is the problem. People do not tend to call each other Nazis in public meetings, or on radio phone-ins, because other people would know who they were. But if you're called DaffyDuck you can insult whoever you like. If democracy means anything it means accountability - and that should include accountability for our own words.

Yet suggest a ban on anonymity and watch the cybersky fall on your head. Web users regard it as an almost sacred right. They cite the Iranian students or Chinese dissidents, hungry for outside debate, only able to take part by hiding their true identities. The truth may in fact be more prosaic: plenty of commenters post their rants while at work and don't want the boss to know what they're up to. (Traffic on Comment is Free is heaviest on Friday afternoons and drops like a stone at 5pm).

Still, there are technical problems. Force users to give a real email address and they'll just create a fake one. Ask for a credit card and you'd deny free speech to the young and those deemed credit-unworthy. Instead, this democratic problem may need a democratic solution. Rather than some top-down system, it may have to be web users themselves who crack it, by coming to regard their online reputation as seriously as their offline one.

At present, you can be an irascible, misogynistic anti-semite online with little or no consequence. But what if that began to affect the rest of your online life? Note how careful people are to be well-regarded on eBay, where money is at stake. Might it not be possible to have a single online identity, one that you cared about, even if it had little connection to your identity in the real world?

Neil Levine, formerly of Clara.net, wonders about a system of comment credits, earned by the ratings of other users. High credit would give you an enhanced standing online, perhaps pushing your comments to the top of any thread. If other users deemed you out of line, your status would fall.

It's a smart idea and doubtless there will be others. But this is a nut worth cracking. Right now, the internet is too often like a stuffy meeting room on a bad night. It needs to change if it's to live up to its democratic potential. There, I've said my piece. Now you can bombard me.

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Jonathan Freedland discussed this issue in today's Guardian. It created quite a debate on the Guardian Blog.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...2054180,00.html

So you're at a public meeting on, say, the war in Iraq and the main speaker has just sat down. Someone in the audience rises to declare the speaker is talking crap, but that's typical of him because he knows nothing and it's a scandal that he's paid for the rubbish he turns out. A second man agrees that the speech was trash, but tells the first man he should crawl back under his stone because he never says anything worth listening to. A third man wonders why the speaker didn't mention Israel, especially given his Zionist-sounding last name.

The first man is now shouting at the second man, insulting him for insulting him first. A woman gets up to make a point about the war in Iraq, but she is rapidly drowned out by a fourth and fifth man now debating Israel and the Palestinians. A sixth man compares the speaker to Hitler and proceeds to read out a 1,500-word article he read somewhere six years ago. If that has an oddly familiar ring, it may be because you're spending a lot of time online, specifically in the new and still lawless world known as the blogosphere.

This month two titans of the web have launched an attempt at bringing "civility" to this ever-expanding realm, which now stretches to a staggering 71m weblogs. Jimmy Wales, creator of Wikipedia, and Tim O'Reilly, the man credited with coining the phrase Web 2.0, have proposed a code of conduct for online debate, even suggesting kite-mark style badges for sites that comply. Their move followed blogger Kathy Sierra's disclosure that she had been the victim of a violent and threatening campaign of cyber-hate: one manipulated photo showed her head alongside a noose; elsewhere she was called a "slut" who deserved to have her throat cut.

Predictably, Wales and O'Reilly have now felt the wrath of the blogosphere themselves, their idea torched by net users who detected an assault on their free speech. Indeed, in a neat proof of Godwin's Law - the pearl of internet wisdom that holds that the longer an online discussion continues, the likelier someone is to make a comparison with Hitler or the Nazis - it didn't take too long for one critic to post: "First they came for the commenters, and I said nothing because I did not comment."

Yet it would be a mistake to dismiss Wales and O'Reilly too quickly. Their specific remedy might not be sound, but they are right to see a problem. Nor is this some techie issue, of interest only to a few hardcore web nerds.

For the blogosphere represents an enormous democratic opportunity. In the past, those 71m bloggers would have had to wait for a publisher to deem their work worthy of distribution. Now everyone has a platform. Those who want to challenge tyrannies, or even corporate misbehaviour, can do so directly. Whether it's the Baghdad Blogger or the public service workers highlighted in today's Society section, free expression is now just a click away.

But this freedom has a downside. Check out the Guardian's Comment is Free site and you'll see it for yourself. Yes, the place is humming with debate, borne out by its nomination for a prestigious Webby award yesterday. But it won't take you long to run into some serious vitriol. Even a brief, light piece can trigger a torrent of abuse, usually directed at the author and rapidly diverted by the commenters to each other. If the topic touches, even indirectly, on race or religion, then you'd better brace yourself. If it's Israel-Palestine, you might need to take the afternoon off.

That's the beauty of it, say its defenders; an environment of truly free speech. If your ideas cannot withstand the fierce gale of harsh debate, then they're probably just too flimsy. In one respect, they're right. Journalists like me have had to raise our game, knowing that a factual lapse will be pointed out within minutes.

But that advantage is surely out- weighed by the risk that the blogo-sphere, which could be a new, revolutionary public space, instead becomes a stale, claustrophobic environment, appealing chiefly to a certain kind of aggressive, point-scoring male - and utterly off-putting to everyone else. This is not just bad news for media outlets like the Guardian, keen to build an audience; it means that this great democratic opportunity is lost.

Ah, but this free-for-all is democratic, say the devotees. Any change would be censorship. But imagine that public meeting. Would that constitute a democratic debate, or a shouting match in which the loudest, most intimidating voice wins? Surely the more democratic encounter is the meeting properly chaired, allowing everyone their say and ensuring no descent into bar-room brawl. That's certainly how we operate in the real world, so why should the virtual realm be any different?

This is something, as regular readers will know, that the Guardian has grappled with, working hard to ensure racist or offensive remarks don't linger on the Comment is Free website. The aim is not so far from Wales and O'Reilly's: to devise a method of moderation which doesn't undermine the essential freedom of the medium. But how?

My immediate hunch is that the anonymity of the web is the problem. People do not tend to call each other Nazis in public meetings, or on radio phone-ins, because other people would know who they were. But if you're called DaffyDuck you can insult whoever you like. If democracy means anything it means accountability - and that should include accountability for our own words.

Yet suggest a ban on anonymity and watch the cybersky fall on your head. Web users regard it as an almost sacred right. They cite the Iranian students or Chinese dissidents, hungry for outside debate, only able to take part by hiding their true identities. The truth may in fact be more prosaic: plenty of commenters post their rants while at work and don't want the boss to know what they're up to. (Traffic on Comment is Free is heaviest on Friday afternoons and drops like a stone at 5pm).

Still, there are technical problems. Force users to give a real email address and they'll just create a fake one. Ask for a credit card and you'd deny free speech to the young and those deemed credit-unworthy. Instead, this democratic problem may need a democratic solution. Rather than some top-down system, it may have to be web users themselves who crack it, by coming to regard their online reputation as seriously as their offline one.

At present, you can be an irascible, misogynistic anti-semite online with little or no consequence. But what if that began to affect the rest of your online life? Note how careful people are to be well-regarded on eBay, where money is at stake. Might it not be possible to have a single online identity, one that you cared about, even if it had little connection to your identity in the real world?

Neil Levine, formerly of Clara.net, wonders about a system of comment credits, earned by the ratings of other users. High credit would give you an enhanced standing online, perhaps pushing your comments to the top of any thread. If other users deemed you out of line, your status would fall.

It's a smart idea and doubtless there will be others. But this is a nut worth cracking. Right now, the internet is too often like a stuffy meeting room on a bad night. It needs to change if it's to live up to its democratic potential. There, I've said my piece. Now you can bombard me.

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Guest Gary Loughran

Until I get the time to post an appropriate pic. I have refrained from posting, until now.

Web logs are/were intended as a persons own little soapbox/platform; somewhere a person could share views on and about anything, typically in diaryesque format originally and most popularly. Like minded people then chose to enjoy reading, participate, comment or otherwise. To censor or regulate this is outrageous. I, I'm not ashamed to admit, didn't and don't act on 'the street corner', with close friends and down the pub in the same way that I act in the house or workplace. This doesn't make me bad, dishonest or in any way disingenuous in my interactions at each location and per audience.

In the overly PC world we live, where divergence of opinion and comment on race, religion, politics, weight ad nauseum, is frowned upon to the point of stifling debate, I believe web logs can be one of the few true sources of thinking, radical AND otherwise. Who am I or anyone for that matter to determine on the suitability or substance of comment, whether I agree with or offended by, is entirely moot, there are 69, 999, 999 logs I can check to find something more suited to my constitution.

Mark my words if this is green lighted it is the first step to the web log nanny state, where, ultimately only carefully controlled logs are popularised and visited. The rest destined for the room 101 of obscurity. Only the first step mind, think what the next steps will be. How far gone will we be, before we realise it is too far and we can't go back.

Yes I dislike the juvenile vitriol and rants, the racism and the 3 letter acronyms masquerading as language and emotion ( I even have a friend who plays on line games and actually says 'LOL' - out loud - as one word (sounds like 'lull' when he says it), and devoid of emotion, the irony is lost on him). Luckily I have the freedom of choice, as David says.

Forums are a different kettle of fish altogether. They are, now using the appropriate analogy Mr Guardian, the public meeting, the office meeting, the golf course, the place where a certain etiquette is required and observed.

Might finish this later, out to watch the Liverpool game at the pub where I hope no-one asks my table to observe conversational niceties or otherwise direct the content!!!!

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