One of my favorite blogs is Creating Passionate Users, where Kathy Sierra's diagrams are as thought-provoking as her posts. Not long ago, some jackass posted threats in the comments on her website. She went public and the resulting uproar about cyber-bullying led Tim O'Reilly to call for a blogger code of conduct. Now Jimmy Wales has set up a wiki to develop that code.
This territory is at once dangerous and silly. Dangerous because claiming to adhere to a published code could place a blogger at legal risk that otherwise might not exist. Silly because it's not going to solve any problems.
No matter how many codes of conduct or ethical guidelines or terms-of-service documents we amass, some people are just going to be jackasses. The sort of person who threatened Kathy Sierra isn't going to be deterred by a code of conduct.
And some of the proposed solutions in the draft I see today would throw the baby out with the bathwater. I'm specifically talking about "We do not allow anonymous comments," a provision that would require verified email addresses before anyone could comment on a blog post, and "We encourage blog hosts to enforce more vigorously their terms of service," a provision that suggests that Internet service providers should perform some sort of police function.
Don't get me wrong. Codes, guidelines and contract language all have roles to play, as do aspirational/mission statements. I've used all of them, and I certainly support the development of "safe places" where civil conversation can flourish.
But we're not talking about private developments or gated communities here. This is being pitched as a universal ruleset for the blogosphere. We need to keep in mind that freedom and order often act as opposing forces, and sometimes solving one problem can create many new ones.
See also: Dan Gillmor, who warns "they're creating a bit of a monster," Jeff Jarvis, who snarls, "I don’t need anyone lecturing me and telling me not to be disagreeable," and Ryan Sholin, who growls, "Keep your code of conduct out of my communication medium, thank you kindly."