That blogging “code of conduct”

While I applaud the sentiment of those advocating a formal bloggers’ code of conduct, I think their approach is ultimately doomed to failure. Some bloggers will like the idea of the “Civility Enforced” badge prominently displayed on their blogs, others very much will not, even if they agree with most of what the Code of Conduct contains.

The inevitable arrival of self-appointed Civility Code police, pointing and hissing whenever a comment crosses their standards of civility and is not immediately removed, will be tiresome and will generate a backlash.

I say inevitable self-appointed enforcers, because anyone who ever hung around USENet has seen it all before. Some forum standards/guidelines are agreed to in order to hamstring the obnoxious, the experienced forum members undertake to remind others what the standards are in order to keep flamewars to a minimum, and everyone enjoys a halcyon honeymoon. Then overzealous newbies to the forum get way too strict and literal about the standards, and start stifling discussion and turning every thread into not just a metathread but a metaflamewar about the standards, and obnoxiousness rules once more. Then the overzealous enforcers are calmed down, and a shorter period of peace endures until some more overzealous newbies join the regulars. Lather, rinse and repeat the cycle, until the periods between yet more tedious metathreads and flamewars become insignificant.

I see a prominently posted comments policy, which the blog moderator adheres to and adjusts as required, as far more effective than some externally derived Code of Conduct. Such tailored comments policies allow for more individualist expression for a start, and for differing standards of civility to be encouraged. At Hoyden About Town and at Larvatus Prodeo, for example, profanities and obscenities are not held to be necessarily uncivil, but on other blogs profanities and obscenities are the sine qua non of incivility, and comments can be egregiously snide and insinuating yet still be considered “civil” because no “crude language” is used.

I’m not sure exactly where the proposed Blogger’s Code of Conduct comes on the great “crude language” divide (the proposed badge for the “Anything Goes” crew explicitly includes a “crudge language” warning) but I can foresee multiple flamewars derailing discussion threads right there. That blog-badge doesn’t come with a magic wand – the blog-moderator is still going to be the one who has to enforce the civility standard, and using a one-fits-all standard, no matter how well drafted, is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea: there’s quite a continuum of options between “civility means no crude language” and “anything goes”.

That’s why I much prefer bloggers writing their own civility standards, incorporating as much or as little from others’ guidelines as they wish. Over at Twisty Faster’s, she prefers to encourage her commentors to avoid the lowbrow in a playfully imperious fashion (below is a selection from her commenting guidelines):

“¢ Kindly employ decent grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling, both when commenting, and during the course of your daily life.

“¢ Emoticons: is anything sadder?

“¢ Do not use an ellipsis unless you possess the chops of an advanced punctuator. Failure to comply can result in comment deletion purely on the grounds of aesthetic decency.

“¢ While you’re at it, you might as well avoid clichés, too.

“¢ Do not begin a comment with the phrase “I haven’t read the post you’re all talking about, but ““”.

“¢ Resist the compulsion, in your haste to convey sarcasm, to commence with the word “um” or “er.” You are not an edgy young character in a sitcom.

This is entertaining in its own right, quite useful as a flavour of Twisty’s blog, and probably saves much energy and angst as those intimidated by it head elsewhere. Those who want to try their luck trolling/abusing despite these guidelines are rapidly moderated and their comments disappear.

Most blogging platforms allow a range of moderation options, although a few are still stuck in either “moderate everything” or “moderate nothing” modes. I’ve found that one moderation option I enabled to combat spam at Hoyden has had added troll-control benefits: WordPress’ option to automatically hold first-time commenters in moderation until they’ve had at least one comment approved. Add in the WP moderation filter, so that any comment by certain users or containing words judged troublesome is automoderated, and half the work of enforcing civility is done without the trouble of manually pulling unacceptable comments out of threads.

Some bloggers prefer to disemvowel rather than delete offensive comments so that there is still a record of offensive comments made even though they have been rendered difficult to read. I quite like this method of countering abuse myself, but have rarely had to resort to it.

The other key to ensuring a dearth of tedious metathreads on commenting guidelines is that moderation decisions regarding specific comments and commenters are simply not discussed on the blog or any other public forum, especially the commentor’s own blog. If commenters feel they are being unjustly moderated they should discuss it with the blog-owner/moderator via email, and try to sort out differences there.

That’s about it, really.

ADDIT: See BlogHer for a fine example of a simple commenting policy: 2 basic standards (1. disagree civilly as strongly as you like 2. so long as you don’t post unacceptable content) and then some fleshing out of the basic guidelines of what is unacceptable, ending with a reminder that other comments may be deemed unacceptable on a case by case basis and deleted as BlogHer sees fit.

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1 reply

  1. Bitch Ph.D. doesn’t think much of the Blogging Code of Conduct either. Even less than I do.

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