Q&A: Model for O'Reilly blogging code criticizes broad scope of plan

BlogHer co-founder Lisa Stone calls for devising individual community policies

When technology publisher Tim O'Reilly released a draft code of blogging conduct earlier this week, he said it was modeled after the community guidelines of BlogHer, a blogging site for women that was launched in January 2006. O'Reilly's draft code, which calls for conforming sites to use a symbol akin to a sheriff's badge stating "civility enforced," urges bloggers to avoid posting content intended to threaten or harass others and to delete comments that contain such content. The code also suggests that bloggers ban anonymous comments and connect privately with commenters when conflicts occur rather than publicly playing out those issues on the blog.

The code of conduct was prompted by the posting of disparaging remarks and threats of violence and death against prominent blogger Kathy Sierra last month. However, Lisa Stone, the co-founder of BlogHer, told Computerworld yesterday that the BlogHer guidelines should not be applied to the entire blogosphere. Instead, Stone advocates leaving policies about content up to individual bloggers.

Excerpts from the conversation follow.

What was the philosophy behind your organization creating the community guidelines? We wanted to create a place where women who blog could mix it up, discuss, debate and argue without having to deal with hate mail and hate speech. We don't just ban speech that is abusive, threatening or harassing. We also ban plagiarism and libel. We reserve the right to delete plagiarism, and if anyone uses our site to violate some third party's privacy, that would not be acceptable. We reserve the right to remove unacceptable content. We embrace an environment of civil disagreement. We disagree like crazy all the time. Anyone who has an e-mail address can come to the site, register and post.  They can be anonymous. They are absolutely welcome to exercise their first amendment right, but if they post unacceptable content ... we reserve the right to delete it.

Do you agree with the need for a code of conduct for blogging throughout the blogosphere? I do not believe that a one-size-fits-all blogging code of conduct is possible or even appropriate. Every blogger and every site should have the ability to self-regulate, and only that community can come up with the guidelines that are appropriate. Those guidelines cannot be determined by an outside force. I appreciate the leadership that some prominent bloggers are trying to provide by suggesting that hate speech like the horrible messages posted about Kathy [Sierra] not be allowed and be deleted. BlogHer's guidelines are very specifically targeted at the kind of harassing, abusive speech that there are laws against in 45 different states. Hate speech directed at women … is not limited to the Internet. This is a microcosm of our society. Free speech is a wonderful thing ... free speech is not a right to vandalize a blog with hate speech. That is the distinction we draw.

Do you think that women are more susceptible to the type of disparagement and threats Kathy Sierra has been dealing with, and if so, how can this be addressed? I have received I don't know how may e-mails and phone calls from different female bloggers about the horrible messages they have received in their comments. If there is a silver lining to this, many women now know they are not the only ones receiving this kind of abuse. Every single blogger and every single social community has to come up with guidelines that work best for them, but they can't be proscribed by some kind of umbrella authority. Take for example a site where people were blogging about the war in Iraq. Guidelines for that site may be very different than for a site devoted to parenting. Think about the limitations for graphic images alone.

Have you ever received the types of harassment or threats that Kathy Sierra has described? I have never received a death threat, but I have definitely received nasty comments that I delete. Kathy is one of the most prominent women who blog. In my experience, the more prominent the blogger -- male and female -- the more likely they are to receive abuse. The more nonwhite they are, the worse it gets. This is a microcosm of society. With the advent of technologies that allow us to delete hate speech ... we can avoid being muzzled.

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