April 08, 2007

Thoughts on Blogging Wars and Blogger's Code of Conduct

Greetings. I've been getting a bunch of requests for opinions on the "Blogger's Code of Conduct" being discussed over on Tim O'Reilly's blog.

I don't consider myself to be a high-power blogger. I started my blog back in late 2003 at the urging of Joi Ito, and I post to it sporadically -- only when I feel that I have something hopefully useful to say. I've never allowed comments on my blog, and I disabled trackbacks as soon as they began to be abused. My discussion mailing lists and forums have always been moderated, since day one.

Old-timers who have long known me may recall my predictions decades ago regarding unmoderated communications media, originally in the context of the Usenet network. In a nutshell (no pun intended, Tim!) I've long expected that as access to unmoderated "broadcasting" technologies became available to the public at large, we'd see that the fraction of a percent of "bad actors" would wield asymmetric power to damage and disrupt the good intentions of everyone else.

That's not rocket science -- it's just human nature and the power of these technologies at work.

Actually, it's a twin-pronged issue, that also relates to (inevitably doomed) attempts to censor Internet content. This is the case whether we're talking about U.S. laws ostensibly to protect children against "objectionable" material, or countries like China, Turkey, and Thailand (the latter two especially in the news right now in this context) who believe -- in error -- that they can control what their populations will access on the Net.

But as far as blogs and other public Internet forums are concerned, as long as unmoderated submissions are permitted -- even with promises of pulling down objectionable submissions as rapidly as possible -- the asymmetric power to damage those forums and related persons/organizations will remain.

Of course, if folks want to run totally unmoderated environments I believe that's their choice, but I do feel that they should be held esponsible for the results, and the operators of such systems should usually not be able to hide beyond a cloak of anonymity in most cases of abuse. I say "usually" and "most" because there will always be exceptional cases, especially in critical human rights arenas. But in general, if you create the forum, my view is that simply saying it's unmoderated doesn't buy you some sort of exception from responsibility.

It's not clear to me that requiring submitters of blog comments to include even "valid" e-mail addresses would accomplish much, given the ease of creating and disposing of throwaway addresses. In many contexts, an anonymous comment (if approved by a moderator) could be just as valuable as a "fully attributed" one -- though this will vary with the type of material under discussion.

Likewise, I'm not enthusiastic about "badge" systems to identify sites (feel free to insert obligatory line from "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" in this space). Most such badges are too easy to abuse or misuse, and in some cases are an invitation to ultimately failed (but still a hassle) imposed content filtering.

My bottom line on all this is actually pretty much what it was way back in Usenix days. In the long run, human moderation systems represent the best approach I know to help avoid the sorts of problems under discussion. To the extent that they can be successfully scaled, such moderation systems are also likely to be among the key solutions to a range of intellectual property abuse dilemmas on the Internet as well.

If human nature were different, we might not be facing such choices. But human nature ain't about to change anytime soon, that's for sure.


Posted by Lauren at April 8, 2007 10:08 PM | Permalink
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