Datum the First: On April 8, 2007 Tim O’Reilly wrote a Draft Blogger’s Code Of Conduct after issuing a call for such a code a few days earlier, (in response to the notorious harassment of Kathy Sierra for having opinions about interface usability).
Datum the Second: I wrote About That Blogging Code Of Conduct on April 12, 2007 in response.
Datum the Third: A few days later Lauredhel wrote Draft Blog Reader’s Code of Conduct: Don’t threaten to rape and kill her as a separate response to the proposed code.
Datum the Fourth: A few days ago Daniel Fincke wrote The Camels With Hammers Civility Pledge (Camels with Hammers is the name of Fincke’s blog).
Datum the Fifth: Chris Clarke wrote The Desert Tortoises With Boltcutters Civility Pledge yesterday in response to Dan’s big novel idea (Desert Tortoises With Boltcutters is not the name of Clarke’s blog) .
I pledge not to fetishize civility over justice. I recognize that the very notion of “civility” is defined in large part by those in whose benefit the status quo is maintained. I further recognize that the structure of “civility” at least in part has been created with the express purpose of bolstering chronic injustices.
That’s only the first of Chris’ five-point pledge. There’s a few mentions of the false equivalence of treating those who are defending themselves from attacks aimed at silencing them as if they are just as aggressive as the attackers, too.
In the nearly seven years between datapoints the
second and third and fourth, many similar initiatives have been proposed. O’Reilly’s was far from the first, either. Because there is a fundamentally uneven playing field involving who is listened to and which communication styles are valued over others, a disparity which such codes/pledges do nothing to redress, shortly after Finke’s suggestion fails and is forgotten there will be somebody else attempting to save the internet from itself by just being more civil to each other, as if nobody ever thought of that before (and as if well-documented cultures within which people savagely shame/shun each other with the pointed barbs of icily polite faux-civility simply do not exist).
Datum the Sixth: in October 2011, s.e. smith wrote On Blogging, Threats and Silence at Tiger Beatdown, about these silencing tactics and how “traditional” advice for coping with the relentless attacks simply plays into the harassers’ hands, which is why such advice needs to be rejected:
It’s concerted, focused, and deliberate, the effort to silence people, especially women, but not always, as I can attest, and particularly feminists, though again, not always, as I can attest, online. The readers, the consumers, the fans, may not always notice it because people are silent about it. Because this is the strategy that has been adopted, to not feed the trolls, to grin and bear it, to shut up, to put your best foot forward and rise above it. To open your email, take note of the morning’s contents, and then quickly shuttle them to the appropriate files for future reference or forwarding to the authorities. To check on the server, fix what needs fixing, and move on with your day. To skim the comments to see what needs to be deleted, to know that when you write a post like this one, you will have to delete a lot of heinous and ugly comments, because you want to protect your readers from the sheer, naked, hate that people carry for you. To weigh, carefully, the decision to approve a comment not because there’s a problem with the content, but because you worry that the reader may be stalked by someone who will tell her that she should die for having an opinion. And when it happens to people for the first time, they think they are alone, because they don’t realise how widespread and insidious it is.
All of the bloggers at Tiger Beatdown have received threats, not just in email but in comments, on Twitter, and in other media, and the site itself has been subject to hacking attempts as well. It’s grinding and relentless and we’re told collectively, as a community, to stay silent about it, but I’m not sure that’s the right answer, to remain silent in the face of silencing campaigns designed and calculated to drive us from not just the Internet, but public spaces in general. To compress us into small boxes somewhere and leave us there, to underscore that our kind are not wanted here, there, or anywhere.
The whole series of posts linked below for more datapoints than any critical thinker should need to demonstrate why attempts such as O’Reilly’s and Fincke’s are doomed to fail, no matter how well-intentioned they mean to be: when others want to frame your very dignity as a human as either a matter up for debate or else a matter too inconsequential to be considered as relevant to a debate, then the vocabulary they use to do so doesn’t matter – their viewpoint/stance is intrinsically uncivil at its core, and vigorous expression of contemptuously uncivil scorn for such arguments is logically valid, a strategically sound protective response, and an activist act of defiance against their silencing tactics. They lie when they claim to want a debate, because it’s crystal clear that what they really want is our silence.
Always remember that what is so visible with respect to silencing tactics on the internet doesn’t only happen there. All sorts of social conventions in every shared space regarding what is and what is not considered “rude” serve to maintain the status quo and silence dissenting voices. Of course, if we entirely rejected conventions regarding socially acceptable behaviour the world would be an indecipherable cacophony where no mutually advantageous cooperation would be possible at all, so don’t think I’m proposing any such absurd solution. Everybody, whether individually or in groups, has a right to set boundaries on their interactions with others: it’s just that by which boundaries they set, and especially whose boundaries they prioritise, by these signs shall you know them.