Firestorm Rages Over Issue of Civility in the Blogosphere

Escalating hostility has led prominent bloggers to consider voluntary codes of civility. When unrestrained vitriol and personal attacks poison debates, how free is speech? The New York Times considers the issues in “A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs”:

Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.

A recent outbreak of antagonism among several prominent bloggers “gives us an opportunity to change the level of expectations that people have about what’s acceptable online,” said Mr. O’Reilly, who posted the preliminary recommendations last week on his company blog ( Mr. Wales then put the proposed guidelines on his company’s site (, and is now soliciting comments in the hope of creating consensus around what constitutes civil behavior online…

Mr. Wales and Mr. O’Reilly were inspired to act after a firestorm erupted late last month in the insular community of dedicated technology bloggers. In an online shouting match that was widely reported, Kathy Sierra, a high-tech book author from Boulder County, Colo., and a friend of Mr. O’Reilly, reported getting death threats that stemmed in part from a dispute over whether it was acceptable to delete the impolitic comments left by visitors to someone’s personal Web site.

Distraught over the threats and manipulated photos of her that were posted on other critical sites — including one that depicted her head next to a noose — Ms. Sierra canceled a speaking appearance at a trade show and asked the local police for help in finding the source of the threats. She also said that she was considering giving up blogging altogether.

In an interview, she dismissed the argument that cyberbullying is so common that she should overlook it. “I can’t believe how many people are saying to me, ‘Get a life, this is the Internet,’ ” she said. “If that’s the case, how will we ever recognize a real threat?”

…Menacing behavior is certainly not unique to the Internet. But since the Web offers the option of anonymity with no accountability, online conversations are often more prone to decay into ugliness than those in other media…

Women are not the only targets of nastiness. For the last four years, Richard Silverstein has advocated for Israeli-Palestinian peace on a blog ( that he maintains from Seattle.

People who disagree with his politics frequently leave harassing comments on his site. But the situation reached a new low last month, when an anonymous opponent started a blog in Mr. Silverstein’s name that included photos of Mr. Silverstein in a pornographic context.

“I’ve been assaulted and harassed online for four years,” he said. “Most of it I can take in stride. But you just never get used to that level of hatred…”

A subtext of both sets of [the civility] rules is that bloggers are responsible for everything that appears on their own pages, including comments left by visitors. They say that bloggers should also have the right to delete such comments if they find them profane or abusive.

That may sound obvious, but many Internet veterans believe that blogs are part of a larger public sphere, and that deleting a visitor’s comment amounts to an assault on their right to free speech…

Mr. O’Reilly said the guidelines were not about censorship. “That is one of the mistakes a lot of people make — believing that uncensored speech is the most free, when in fact, managed civil dialogue is actually the freer speech,” he said. “Free speech is enhanced by civility.”

See also:

“Sex-Positive” Debate-Killing Tactics Stretch into Their Fifth Decade

Our opponents profess extreme devotion to free speech, yet in reality many of them freely employ debate-killing tactics such as disrespect, ridicule, misrepresentation and intimidation.
Tactics like these have a history in this debate that stretches back
for nearly half a century. They have been effective at skewing the
public dialogue over issues of love, sex, relationships and the rights
of communities, even as the evidence of the harm of porn and adult enterprises piles up into a mountain.

George Will: “Anger Is All The Rage”

Back in March we discussed the bile and vitriol
on offer at MoPornNorthampton, and the consequences for the quality of
public debate. Peter Brooks of TalkBackNorthampton considered the
matter, then issued a defense of “trash talk”. George Will discusses this phenomenon in “Anger Is All The Rage”, published March 25 by The Washington Post…

King and Queen of MoPornNorthampton Savagery Do Freelance Work for Republican, MassLive (explicit language)

“I can’t believe these two assholes are at it again! They have filed a complaint that the permits for the adult video store are not in compliance with the regulations of our town. When will these cretins understand that very few really care for them or their views of what should be allowed in Northampton… When will you realize that most people don’t really care for your antics and that if you truly cared about Northampton you would sell your house now for what you can get and move out of town? Please do the world a favor too and neuter and spay yourselves so that you will not bring up children with your perverse attitude that sex between two consenting adults, whether it be for money or for fun, is wrong. You, Adam and Jendi, are a pox upon Northampton. Please do the local community a favor, sell your house and leave the area…”

The Virtue of Civility: Bringing depth, respectfulness and integrity back to our national discourse

Patricia Schroeder: Having participated in the political arena for a very long time, I find the meanness is way over the top. One of things we track is the number of women going into politics, and in the last four years the number has been going down instead of up. When you ask women who are more than qualified why they won’t get into politics, they look at you as if to say, “What, do you think I’m nuts?”

…I think a lot of it came out of talk radio, where people felt
entitled to use the meanest possible language, and it got to be funny,
you know. But I don’t think it’s funny anymore. It’s curbing people
from saying what they really think, because they don’t want all that
unleashed against them.

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