In my view, the worst time to discuss new ways of regulation or control is in the wake of a dramatic event. And yet, as night follows day, the fuss over Kathy Sierra and death threats rolls on with discussion of codes for bloggers/blogging.
Some views, in no particular order.
1. State regulation of speech is normally a bad thing.
That’s the background fact here. However, why are we then so willing to encourage regulation of speech by the celebrities of blogging and their corporate vehicles?
Take Tim O’Reilly (not literally). He is promoting the code of conduct idea. For very good reasons, I’m sure. (They came up with the first draft at the ETech conference, $1500 registration fee. Cigars, anyone?) However, let’s not forget Web 2.0 (as if we could). O’Reilly writes a lot about the idea and how important it is. And then his company chases poor Tom Raftery for daring to mention it! And in a remarkable coincidence, there is an ad on the side of the page where he calls for the code, advertising a 100-page book (Principles and Best Practices, no less) on how to work with Web 2.0 (for a mere $375!). If you want to share it with your co-workers, you can use all Web 2.0 technologies to collaborate in the sharing of information. Whoops, I mean, you can buy a Site License to put the PDF on ‘up to 5’ computers. Silly me.
So how can I trust that O’Reilly won’t be selling restricted, grossly overpriced PDFs on ‘how to comply with the Code’ in a year’s time? Perhaps ‘principles and best practices for blogging’?
Short answer: I don’t, and I won’t.
And don’t get me started on process issues – you can have all your Wikis in the world but if you write the first draft over coffee at a commercial convention of rich techies, we’re going nowhere.
2. Threats to free speech are important and should be discussed.
I do believe that we should discuss the protection of journalists and writers.
So let’s see.
- “Cyber-dissident” Ibrahim Zoro is in a Syrian jail for a week so far (via RSF). Virtually no coverage.
- Mexican journalist Amada Ramirez Dillanes assassinated (via Article 19). 174 Technorati results, many in Spanish.
- Josh Wolf released after 224 days in jail over confidentiality of sources – he’s American, so we’re up at 2,241 mentions in Technorati and a good sprinkling of newspaper and broadcast coverage. But he’s one of them weird Indymedia types so best not shout too loud.
- Kathy Sierra. 10,000 posts in Technorati alone.
So a Mexican radio reporter gets shot coming out of the studio, while a rich, well-connected white, technologically literate American PR writer has some nasty pictures posted about her on websites.
(This is not to condone any of the threats against Sierra, who I don’t know or have any grudge against. My criticism is not of her, but of the others who are giving disproportionate time and effort to talking about her)
4. This is nothing new.
Ooh, look, it’s Abuse 2.0. We must deal with these new issues. Abusive responses have been with us from pre-written culture. (What else is heckling?)
So let’s take a look at this groundbreaking news item that was so important it’s been reported on countless news sites.
1. Somebody writes a blog.
2. Somebody reads this blog.
3. The person who reads the blog sends the person who writes the blog a message informing them they would be killed.
Am I missing something here? Nobody was murdered. No crimes were committed*. The same thing that’s been happening on the internet for two decades has happened yet again. The faceless masses make baseless asses of themselves; it’s the nature of the internet.
(source) (* this is not necessarily true, for the record, but the rest of the point still stands)
5. This is not about blogs.
If anything, this is a debate about offensive speech. Making it into some sort of constitutional moment for the bloody blogosphere or talking about ‘threats to bloggers’ is silly. And as it happens I do believe that some of the debate on gender and blogging are overdue, and interesting, but we would all be better served by reading Judy Wajcman again rather than trying to construct a hyperbolic narrative from certain unpleasant incidents involving a high-profile speaker/consultant.
6. The code sucks.
Seriously, it does.
To give but one example. Copyright violations are either legal or illegal – we don’t need a Bloggers’ Scout’s Honour Code to deal with things that people post. It’s bad enough having one set of copyright police. I don’t even like the first lot, so why would I want a second lot, without the possibility of voting them out of office?
7. Badges? We no need no steenking baa-dges.
I’ll come back to this topic, because it’s related to the debate that Lawrence Lessig is engaged in regarding ‘harmful to minors’ tags and the ideas around content labels. I think that embedding the views of one cultural/legal system can be fine within that system, but you have to be aware of the wider impact. I.e. a badge or (especially) a HTML tag indicating ‘safety’ may be self-regulatory or child-targeted in one jurisdiction, but used by authorities in another as a clear black line between permissible and impermissible. So while the Americans can say that the Nice-Blog-Badge is just a marker for the discerning reader, the existence of the badge and the system makes it easier for (e.g) a European government to require all schools to block blogs without the Nice-Badge. So we need to have that conversation.