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 <a href="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.