Bloggers say proposed code invites censorship

Bloggers say proposed code invites censorship
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First Published: Wed, Apr 11 2007. 12 32 AM IST
Updated: Wed, Apr 11 2007. 12 32 AM IST
San Francisco: A proposed code of conduct for bloggers, aimed at discouraging personal attacks, has met with intense criticism from many of the Internet denizens it would supposedly affect.
Tim O'Reilly, chief of O'Reilly Media Inc., a book publisher and conference promoter who is a central figure in the web 2.0 world, on Sunday posted recommendations that he hoped would ensure civility online.
The guidelines, which call for banning anonymous comments and deleting abusive posts, were almost immediately denounced by many in the blogosphere, a cacophony of online journals filled with opinion, thoughtful essays and rants. They described O'Reilly's guidelines as excessive, unworkable and an open door to censorship.
"I'm rather resentful of someone who has the temerity to tell me how they think I should behave," said Jeff Jarvis, a professor and director of the interactive journalism programme at the City University of New York, and author of the blog, BuzzMachine. "The miscreants who need their meds aren't going to sign the code, let alone adhere to it."
O'Reilly's proposals come on the heels of a high-profile incident in which blogger Kathy Sierra, a web developer who writes about technology from Colorado, received death threats and was scared into cancelling an appearance at O'Reilly's ETech conference in San Diego, recently. The case prompted a global debate on online discourse, free speech and whether the blogosphere's free-wheeling climate has got out of hand.
Although bloggers are usually benign, some engage in vitriolic attacks, protected by a cloak of online anonymity. The more provocative the comments, the more attention they get.
In his proposals, O'Reilly, who was unavailable for an interview, called on bloggers to not post material that harasses others, is libelous or is knowingly false. If such material appears in the comments area of a blog, the owner should be able to delete them without fear of being accused of censorship, he said.
O'Reilly also recommended banning anonymous comments. Rather, individuals must provide a valid email address to post, although they can still identify themselves online with an alias rather than a real name.
Blogs that ascribe to O'Reilly's code of conduct could post a "civility enforced" badge on their sites. Unedited blogs, in contrast, would use a badge that says "anything goes".
O'Reilly called his ideas a draft code of conduct, intended only to start the conversation. Whether websites ultimately adopt the rules would be voluntary, and any diversion from the guidelines would be unenforceable.
In response to O'Reilly's guidelines, Internet users flooded his blogs with commentary, a mix of support, suggestions and ridicule. Yes, there were even some personal attacks, one of which accused him of trying to create "a safe place where PR flacks can propagate their lies and VCs get a good return on their foolish investments."
O'Reilly replied that he would normally delete the attacks, but in this case would leave them because he was trying to "suss out sentiment on what is a controversial issue."
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First Published: Wed, Apr 11 2007. 12 32 AM IST
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