Terra Sigillata

Leave it to the British to suggest bringing civility to blogging, specifically in blog comment threads, with a call for a suggested code of conduct. This follows blogger Kathy Sierra receiving vulgar and graphic death threats on her and others’ blogs. (Kathy writes the techie blog, Creating Passionate Users.). As a result, Sierra canceled her appearances this week at a San Diego tech conference.

Citing a post from Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media, Inc. about this disturbing episode, Jack Schofield of the UK Guardian’s Technology Blog notes that The Guardian has adopted a new comments policy:

By posting on this website you are agreeing to abide by our talk policy. We will remove posts that contain racist, sexist or offensive/threatening language, personal attacks on the writer or other posters, posts that exceed the maximum length, and posts that are off topic. Any poster who repeatedly contravenes the talk policy will be banned from posting on the website.


I’m pretty lucky here in that readers feel free to disagree with me and commenters rarely get into ad hominem flame wars. (Of course, I am aware that some folks who dislike me usually take their comments to other sites instead as evidenced by this gem from “ignacius.”). Elsewhere on ScienceBlogs, particularly on the higher traffic blogs, you’ll see long comment threads degenerate from spirited intellectual arguments to heated diatribes that do a lot for traffic but little to advance discussion.

O’Reilly’s complete post is very much worth reading but here are the bullets that came out of his discussions with Sierra and with others at his ETech conference in San Diego this past week:

1. Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.

2. Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.

3. Consider eliminating anonymous comments.

4. Ignore the trolls.

5. Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so.

6. If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so.

7. Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person.

Most bloggers feel that deleting comments is censorship – I only delete what is clearly promotional spam that makes it through the filters of our bloghost and authoring software. I gladly accept anonymous comments, particularly since I blog under a pseudonym. But then again, no one gets overly abusive here, especially to the point of making death threats.

The main area where I take responsibility for my content is with regard to addressing medical issues since I am a PhD lab scientist and not a physician. If you ever click on the “About” button on the masthead, you’ll see why I write with a pseudonym as well as this disclaimer:

Disclaimer: Some statements on this blog will include educational information on US FDA-regulated medicines and botanical or dietary supplements. However, please note that the author is a PhD basic scientist and university educator who is not licensed to practice medicine in any jurisdiction. Information on this weblog is not intended to provide medical advice and is offered only with the understanding that the author and blog host are not liable for the misconception or misuse of information provided. The author and blog host shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss, damage, or injury caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by the information contained in this blog or the use of any products mentioned. Readers should note that the best source of information for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease is their physician and other appropriately-trained and legally-credentialled members of their healthcare team.

But, wow, death threats? That’s a whole ‘nother league for me.

If I ever get to the point of drawing the kind of traffic that brings such heated comments, I’ll certainly keep O’Reilly’s suggestions in mind.

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    March 31, 2007

    Well, Amanda and Shakes got death threats after Donohue sicced his minions on them when they were hired by the Edwards campaign. I even heard that things went offline, i.e., into the Real World for a while, i.e., people coming to ‘pay a visit’ to their homes! Dave Neiwert has spent a few years documenting the way the Right encourages physical violence against the liberals, then, if something happens, they say it “was a joke”. The Right Wing blogs are chockful of threads full of suggestions for physical violence bout various other individuals and groups that reside outside those blogs.

  2. #2 decrepitoldfool
    March 31, 2007

    Very good ideas. It is not censorship to kick a bad actor off your own blog any more than out of your living room. Let them make their case in a civil fashion or get their own blog. Your blog, your rules.

  3. #3 Mouth of the Yellow River
    April 1, 2007

    Ni Hao! Kannichi Wa!

    This issue would become moot and free speech and discussion generally better served if all, both authors and commenters, not only online, but in traditional media including books, magazine articles, journal articles, in essence all PUBLICations, were anonymous.

    This would allow separation and judgement of the issues from the author/messenger and the associated sociopolitical diversions from the issue that identity of the author/messenger causes.

    It is when anonymity versus disclosure is selectively enforced that problems arise. [Example: The so called peer review system where reviewers are anonymous and authors are not]

    MOTYR

  4. #4 John J. Coupal
    April 2, 2007

    My experience with blogs is that anonymous posters are generally the most flaming in their remarks.

    I don’t know if knowing that [most] people are unaware of who they are, gives them courage to flame.

    If we have to identify ourselves, we know that we can be held responsible for what we write. And we build up a blog history that can identify us as destructive trolls or other people gaming the system.

  5. #5 guthrie
    April 5, 2007

    I disagree with mouth of the yellow river, for the same reasons that John gives.
    Besides, arguments usually spread over into the identity and back story of the people arguing when one side or the other feels they have lost on the actual issues in hand. So by that stage the main argument is already done with, and anyone with half brain can see that. On the other hand, consideration of a persons history and baggage allows more interesting arguments, because you wil have a better comprehension of their point of view from previous engagements.

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