On Sunday April 8, Tim O’Reilly, the CEO of O’Reilly Media, proposed a Blogging Code of Conduct that he hopes to have posted on bloggingcode.org. The purpose of the code of conduct is to repress personal attacks on blogs. Why am I posting about this here? The news portion of this site is technically a blog. While we are not a traditional blog, we limit ourselves to posting about David Bowie and related subjects with the occasional opinion piece, this will directly affect us. I also want to get the word out to the readers of this site who run their own blogs and may not have heard about this yet.  It may affect you all as well.  I learned about this through my good friend Saudade and her blog. She wrote an excellent opinion piece on the subject which I thought would be appropriate for this issue and the Cracked Actor news blog. Frequently she and I are of the same opinion and with her entry, she touched upon all the issues that I myself would. Plus she stated it more eloquently than I ever could. After reading this if you have an opinion that you wish to express, visit Tim O’Reilly’s blog. So without further ado, today’s guest column:

As usual, I’m a little late in the game, but this proposed code of conduct for bloggers and “netizens” (groan…) that has everyone in a tiz has to get a requisite (gigantic) blurb on my page.

As a regular contributor on a few message boards and blogs, a lurker on others, and of course as a blogger, I understand the general panties in a knot about personal attacks, and sympathize with the scary of stalking. When I first got into this stuff, which was a very short time ago (but, haha, eons in MySpace time), I was completely freaked out by what people would say anonymously. I really dislike jerks who hurt people publicly, and then hide their obvious need for validation behind ragged veils of free speech or being free-thinking or contrary. People saying awful things I just know they wouldn’t say (or ever have to own up to) to someone’s face would grate on me. Dammit, even trolls sometimes still make me batshit. In the past, and quite recently, I have become very angry. I’ve had altercations, I’ve helped to ban people and chosen to leave spaces on my own accord as well, and I’ve chosen to ignore potential fights too.

Those were my choices. That’s the thing. For me, message boards or blogs where the vibe doesn’t fit or I think there’s too many fightin’ words and not enough real discourse, or I don’t agree with the subject matter or moderator policies, I drop. It’ just like real life, folks. Sometimes respect garners respect, sometimes the opposite. It’s not a level-paying field. But most of the time there are choices. And if you’re able to access the internet, that is one infinite and messy field of choice you got there.

Any place worth having a solid, sane conversation attracts a solid, sane core of people. That self-policing thing? It really can work. Those civility tenets in the article? Natural occurrences on some spaces. Officially labeling some places as fit for consumption, or warning people that they may be subject to flaming – it is paternalistic, creates victims, and opens the door for censorship. Let people get mad and hurt and sad and find solace, or not. Let them live and make their own choices and create and police and build and destroy their own online communities. Don’t hold their freaking hands at every turn.

I don’t want to invalidate the victims of cyber-stalking with my little rant. It is very very real, and frightening — especially for women, who seem to be the majority of bloggers and message board participants. But stalkers are completely different than your general run of the mill assholes and cowards, or people who just need Prozac or a place to project or blow off steam. The distinction has to be made clear. While I like the idea of general civility guidelines, they can only be a reminder to be human and think of others. Slapping subjective ideas down uniformly as law on the vast internet community and its written word, with honor badges for the “civil” sites and warning signs for the ones who refuse to get into line is not the way to do this. Assholes will just continue to be assholes, but instead of really localizing and eliminating the detritus, everyone is a potential, creating a culture of fear and victimization. Outright threats are one thing; telling someone they’re ugly, fat, stupid, slutty, not as cool as them – whatever – is cruel and childish, but another thing entirely. Let’s not lose perspective. And it is sad that a lot of online community has a monumental amount of childishness, passive-aggressiveness, and posturing punctuated by a few level-headed people. But let’s face it, that is the way real life is too.

So, yeah, I think public interaction online should be handled like real life. You got a problem, you speak up. If you get flamed or the discussion is not your thing, move on. And it may just not be your community. Racists, misogynists, misandrysts, assholes, weasels, attention-whores, posers, gayathiestCatholicpuppybunnywhatever-bashers, and all-around big talkers but small walkers are part of life. But life, and the internet, is vast.

And another thing — if you delete comments you don’t like from your blog, it is not censorship. That’s your little slice of the internet pie. Who cares? Some people won’t like it, or you. And they’ll talk about you or not come around anymore. That’s called consequences. As long as they don’t threaten or otherwise try to hurt you physically, or post naked pictures of you on MySpace, get over it.

I know not everyone can do this. But do kid-gloves make it better for those who can’t, or worse for them and everyone else?

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