Codes of Conduct and Other Irrelevancies

As a Second Life blogger, I also fall into the wider category of “blogger.” That means, when people like Tim O’Reilly and Jimmy Wales start spouting off inanities about a “code of conduct” for bloggers, they’re talking to me, too.

To which I echo the words of Campbell-Award-winning science fiction author John Scalzi: “Who elected Tim O’Reilly and Jimmy Wales the hall monitors of the Internet?”

Look, I have nothing but respect for what O’Reilly and Wales have accomplished; I own an awful lot of O’Reilly computer books, and I use Wikipedia quite frequently. But does that give them the right to tell me how to run my blog? Or anyone else’s?

Scalzi doesn’t think so. Neither does Misha, nor Kim du Toit. And that goes for me, too.

Now, if they want to establish little Pleasantville-esque “codes of conduct” and little Boy Scout merit badges to show that their sites conform to some utopian notion of How Blogging Ought To Be, far be it for me to stop them. Those are their sites, they can do with them as they please. Same goes for any other blog site out there; it’s their bat, their ball, and their backyard, so, when you post a comment on their site, you play by their rules.

But I don’t have to do the same. Try to tell me how to run my site, and you’re more likely to inspire me to tell you what to go do with your little “suggestions,” and “codes of conduct,” and little logos. After you’ve folded them till they’re all sharp corners.

The impetus for this whole little fracas, it seems, was a series of attacks against blogger and computer book author Kathy Sierra, which left her afraid to leave her house or continue posting on her blog. This is obviously not a Good Thing, but it happens; some of the insults that blogger Michelle Malkin gets on a regular basis, for instance, are just as bad, if not worse. But here’s what gets me (quoted from the Times article linked above):

In an online shouting match that was widely reported, Kathy Sierra, a high-tech book author from Boulder County, Colo., and a friend of Mr. O’Reilly, reported getting death threats that stemmed in part from a dispute over whether it was acceptable to delete the impolitic comments left by visitors to someone’s personal Web site. [emphasis mine]

What?!?!? I don’t even see how this could be a question in anyone’s mind. Someone should have reminded Ms. Sierra that the First Amendment applies to the government, not private citizens or organizations. She has and always had every right to delete any comment she didn’t want to keep on her blog, for any reason or none. And, if someone wants to cry “censorship!” as a result, she can always say what I say: “There may be free speech, but there is no free lunch. You want to make a speech, go get your own blog; I run this one and I don’t have to carry your crap here if I don’t want it.”

As for death threats, there’s a little thing you can always look into in that case: it’s called law enforcement. Many blogging software systems record the IP addresses that comments are posted from, which can often provide a way for the police or the FBI to track down people making death threats. Quite frankly, however, I doubt that a lot of the morons who post death threats on the Internet have the stones to actually act on those threats…though I can understand where you might not want to take that chance.

I could go on about this whole rigamarole, but I’d rather just hold it here and point out that this site now has a nice little page linked above, called “Rules of the Road,” that lists the applicable disclaimers and comment rules for this site. I don’t really expect to have to resort to quoting from them, but this way, my ass is covered. And I didn’t even need some anal-retentive “code of conduct” to refer to. Just some good old-fashioned common sense…which appears to be all too UN-common these days.

“With the first link, a chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard, “The Drumhead,” Star Trek: The Next Generation

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