Blogger Code of Conduct, Don Imus, and Anticipating Internet Regulation

Rob Enderle

One of the first topics I discussed in this blog is the need to move away from anonymity so that people can be held accountable for what they say, and the Internet can become safer place for all. Recently Kathy Sierra was viscously attacked and the result has prompted a huge outcry from professional bloggers, who often are the target of similar attacks, for a uniform code of conduct. This code, at least as initially proposed by Tim O'Reilly, would include restrictions like the outlawing of anonymous accounts.

Coincidently, Don Imus, a "shock jock" radio show host who has been broadcast nationally for 35 years, was put on suspension for two weeks and huge numbers of people are suggesting he be fired for an racially charged remark he made on air. This remark falls well short, at least in terms of criminality, of any of the threats Kathy Sierra received over another network we call the "Internet," which has a global reach but is not regulated, at least in this country. Some are using the Sierra incident to suggest a larger, and very real, similar problem needs to be solved.

On top of all of this we have the emergence of a new class of PR firms, ones that go into blogs and either promote your agenda or discredit your competitor's agenda by concealing their motivation. This is rightfully called "propaganda," and could be as easily done by a government as it could be done by a private entity.

It is my belief that, given the increased focus on all of this, and the potential for, and evidence of, misuse of blogs, the argument for regulation will increasingly be impossible to counter and, at least here in the U.S., the FCC would be the most likely to step up with rules we then would all have to follow. (The FCC has been looking at regulating some aspects of the Internet for quite a while.)

Self-Regulation First

The only way I know of to delay this, as I doubt we will ever be able to stop it, is to put in place a set of voluntary rules and adhere to them. A good start is the Blogger's Code of Conduct. In its current draft form it is compelling, but lacks the teeth needed to prevent government regulation.

The code says bloggers take responsibility for what they say and will police their blogs to make sure others follow a clear set of rules, preventing the offending behavior in third parties who post comments on the site. It follows with a set of practices which require personal, offline contact before escalating in public.

One of the most intriguing parts is the one that says bloggers will stand up for our peers and protect them from attack, and cooperate with law enforcement to bring the attackers to justice.

Another intriguing part is a pledge to ignore trolls. Both of these last two are an attempt to directly address the offending behavior with a response appropriate to it.

Finally, the code suggests that hosting companies review their terms of service to ensure impersonating sites or sites simply set up to harass bloggers be appropriately dealt with.

Regulation Would be Worse

These rules are voluntary and self-enforced, and probably not that much different than how many of us would like to operate now. But for many this reeks of censorship and goes against the freedom of the Web that we have all enjoyed.

However, like anything else, if you abuse a freedom to harm others, eventually the government will take it away. That is the path we are on, and government regulation would take these "suggestions," expand them, and make them enforceable rules with civil and criminal penalties.

The National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters tried a much stiffer set of rules, which has held formal regulation at by for a number of decades. There are even rules, that many think cross over into censorship, about what you can broadcast given the time of day. (Cable gets around some of this because it's considered "private."

You can see a clear difference in the scope and power behind the TV/Radio Rules and those that have been proposed for bloggers. This is probably due to the fact that individuals, and not companies, are driving the rules, and the fact that many of us have relatively progressive governments. But, with the increased misuse of the Web, regulations are coming as is increased accountability for our actions, even after the fact. This last suggests that adopting this code of conduct for yourself and for any sites you or your company control would be a good idea.

Personal Advice

Given that things can live on the Internet forever, I think it wise that we as bloggers or readers take these blogger guidelines to heart. This isn't just to prevent more aggressive regulation, which will likely come regardless of what we do, but to make sure we can be proud of what we do and those that come after us can be equally proud.

There is one guideline in particular that resonated with me and that is to not say anything on-line we wouldn't say in person. There is a follow-on statement at the wiki that suggests this is OK if you are trying to avoid physical intimidation. Anyone who knows anything about tracking IP addresses would tell you that you should not trust the Internet to hide you from someone crazy enough to actually cause you physical harm.

In the end, we are seeing a change in the Internet, and perhaps this is a good thing. But I wonder if, as a result of a few poorly behaved individuals, we aren't throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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Apr 10, 2007 11:52 AM Norm Jamieson Norm Jamieson  says:
I believe people like Imus with their self important image of themselves accompanied with an ego that is beyond comprehension think that they are free to say whatever they want regardless of how it affects others feelings.This guy sits there each morning with what he thinks is the answer to America's problems with absolutely no idea that he is one of them. Reply
Apr 11, 2007 9:51 AM Gaetano LaBruzzo Gaetano LaBruzzo  says:
I some times do not understand peoples thinking, how can it be that one white person in a joking manner stir up so much controversy about such a comment when if you listen to rap music and other media you can here far worst. How can you fixate on one person when hundreds do the same thing. Is it O.K. if a black does it to a black, or a Hispanic to a Hispanic but not O.K. if you are of different race. These kind of comment will never stop if we except this manor of thinking. To fire Imus in it self is a racist reaction based on the failure of people to show any kind of restrain or respect for other individuals. I think it is time for all people to think about what they say on the air and other forms of entertainment and how it can effect others. If it is O.K. for him, then why not me. Words have power to change lives, and not just for good. Reply
Apr 11, 2007 10:08 AM born born born born  says:
Don Imas is quite out spoken but, one must remember that this is all entertainment, (makes Money) for any one that takes this seriously is a fool, when growing up did your mother tell you all to only believe in half of what you read and nothing of what you hear. Because what you hear is hear say and mostly BS...Only sticks and stones will break your bones but words are only words, they really wont hurt you.(no matter how crewl the comment) have we become a thin skinned socioty that we are so up set or worried about being politacial correct that we will be scarred for life but some insenative comment.... give me a break. when I here comments as being called a cracker or honkie I dont see the news media making a big deal of it( I am in the miniorty its not a money maker) and advitersiers are not pulling their ads... how long are we going to stir the pot to try to get a blend of complancy... get a grip and get real.. there is a lot or reverse discrimination out there, but i dont see that on the news media jumping on the band wagon.(Again Not money maker).. by the way where can i get a copy of Ivory magazine. I need to read something to heal my scaring emotions from life problems... I am just a poor white boy trying to make a living in this Cruel cruel world and I dont have advertising backing, or some institution to voice my thoughts to help me heal from all the crap that out there and what people make a big deal of. We need to get over our selves, lets try not to point the fingues because we usually are the problem an have 3 pointing back at out self... try loving and forgiving, it heals.. rather that stiring the pot and making it a bigger problem... correction does much but encouragement does so much more. bring it to light but dont beat it to death... its time to move on Reply
Apr 11, 2007 12:39 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
Its hard to disagree though I wonder if that doesnt go with the turf, or if someone younger wouldnt have been better protected by the network. Imus was born in July of 1940 is coming up on 67 years old and he is actually still rather quick on his feet. After 35 years and at 67 years old I think it would be wise if he had help watching what he says, in fact given his history I wonder if it is negligent that he doesnt. The fact that the network waited until an outcry before issuing an apology suggests someone who should have had their eye on the ball didnt. Then again maybe they have already been quietly fired. If the show apparently is both popular and financially sound why wouldnt you protect it? It does kind of feel like he has been thrown to the wolves, and if you listened to the show he also is clearly not the only one who misspoke. I just wonder if this isnt the networks way of getting rid of an old war horse who has hung around past his time. If I listened to Imus Id accept some of the blame myself but I dont, but would suggest his audience helped make him who he is and apparently like him that way. That would suggest he isnt a problem but a symptom of one and I doubt shooting him will fix that. This is all off topic which was really about a bloggers code of conduct, but maybe Imus could lend his voice to putting in place a code of conduct that transcends both types of media and helps make everyone a little more sensitive, not only to other sexes and races, but their own. That might actually move the ball further than firing the guy would. Just a thought, thanks for posting! Reply
Apr 12, 2007 7:13 AM Louie Louie  says:
Sharpton and Jackson has set race relations back 50 years . There is nothing blacks can gain from haveing Mr. Imus kicked off the air . This will come back to bite Sharpton and Jackson Reply
Apr 12, 2007 7:31 AM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
I kind of wonder about this myself. This feels like a dual standard to me. It suggests one race has more freedom than the other and while role reversal may seem poetic, it probably won't sit well. I doubt we've seen the end of this, the backlash here could be rather ugly and Imus' audiance was thought to be rather powerful. I also wonder if this hasn't actually made things worse now. Reply
Apr 12, 2007 7:39 AM Terri Terri  says:
Isn't this America? Don't we have freedom of speech.....It was wrong to fire Imus. Reply
Apr 12, 2007 9:28 AM louis gonzales louis gonzales  says:
Here we go again...Snoop Dog can say "Black Bi**hes", "Ho this, ho that", as soon as "The Man" says it, it's not ok. This is a double-standard and it's high time all of us "white crackers" - "learn our place." "Our place" being, the one where we better still be aware of the slavery that is a part of this nations "HISTORY!!" It's 2007 brothers/sisters/crackers, there is no more slavery, just good old fashion accountability! Stop blaming the crackers of today for the soup of yesterday. There's no relationship.Truth of the matter is, I'm offended when people use the term "white-cracker", I'm equally offended when "nigga" is used as "a term of endearment" or in any other fashion. When are the hypocrites going to stop? Oh wait, they're not, because it's their way of flexing muscle on the "white-crackers" of today, who have done the "brothers/sisters" of today, no wrong.Give me a virtuous man/woman - of any race/color/food-type - and I'll show you a man/woman of integrity! Reply
Apr 12, 2007 11:20 AM Paul DeRusso Paul DeRusso  says:
I am in no way condoning Imus' reamrks, just the agressive campaign (which was successful) by both Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. I realize that it has been less than 24 hours, but I have not heard ONE COMMENT (if there was I missed it) by either of these two about the tragedy that occurred with the Duke lacrosse players. This would have been an ideal situation, involving an Afro-American women, if it had been the OTHER WAY AROUND (remember Tawana Brawley?). Where were these two? Reply

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