Do we need to have more rules in our lives?
Recent comments from a couple Internet heavy weights, Internet publisher Tim O'Reilly and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales who propose a "Blogging Code of Conduct" have angered a large number of bloggers.
A blog is an online editorial tool where the blogger expresses their opinions on different subject matter. The suggestion by the two gentlemen mentioned above comes in response to death threats being posted regarding a blog written by one of Tim O'Reilly's friends.
There are many aspects of the freedom of online commenting that are sinister. It allows people to freely express racist, bigoted or abusive thoughts on or off topic. It allows for random unproductive abuse of bloggers and commentators. But it also allows the discussion of these opinions.
That is the beauty of freedom. If you do not like what you are reading you do not have to read it. If someone has added insensitive or inflammatory opinions to your forum you can remove the comments and possibly block the user, but most importantly it allows for a 2 way discussion on these opinions. Instead of just removing or blocking the comments, as the new code of conduct would have be done, the comments are logged and the owner of the initial editorial or any other reader has the ability to instantly respond and discuss what has been said. In my opinion this is an example of the greatness of the World Wide Web. Through anonymity surfers are empowered to express their deepest darkest thoughts and be laid bare for criticism or support.
Consider a difficult topic such as abortion. If there was a code of conduct and the forum was moderated by a pro-life group then the comments would never see the light of day and a spirited and hopefully informative discussion on the pros and cons of this subject could never occur. It could possibly save an unborn life or help a person in a bad situation make an informed choice to terminate.
The basic theory behind the code is sound; treat others as you would like to be treated. It will help to eliminate trolling, this is the concept of users posting irrelevant inflammatory comments purely to hijack discussions, it would also eliminate abusive negative posting such as the death threats mentioned above and in general clean up the nonsense clutter that seems to pervade most discussions. However like any rule or law it is governed by people, who have their own moral code which may or may not match the one the others users live by.
The ability to remove overly nasty comments already exists in most if not all forums so the idea is not new and users have the ability to leave a discussion they feel is not productive. So the introduction of this code seems a bit pointless. For me the possibly sinister consequences of introducing online policing is that what can start out as a seemingly innocuous good idea can subtly evolve into a strict set of rules which must be adhered to by all forums or the forums be shut down, in essence Internet Laws.
This sounds like a worst case scenario, but the fact remains that it is a possible scenario, and while for the moment introduction of the code would have little to no impact other than allowing users to be aware of the type of forum they are engaging in, the possibility for it to get out of hand is real. You just have to look at what is happening in the world around us as civil liberties are slowly eroded under the guise of protection from harm or terrorism.
I am sure in the weeks, months and years to come you will see more on this topic as Pandora's Box has now been opened, just remember that control can be maintained when you have a sensible captain at the wheel making sure the ship steers straight enough to get to the destination, allowing for some diversions. The destination is what is important but the voyage is less exciting when some of the different colourful sights along the way can not be viewed.