Updated below. Who’s out in front on this issue? The Ass, that’s who!
Before I start, let me just say this about the Kathy Sierra debacle: I’m squarely on Kathy’s side in this one. I think the loss of her voice in the blogosphere would be keenly felt, and I am disgusted by and angry at the kind of juvenile intimidation that drove her to consider not posting anymore. I also think that the proper way to address the bad behavior is more or less what’s happened so far: exposure of the issue, public outrage, and further discussion of the appropriate kinds of communication allowable in civil society. If there are legal issues, I’m sure that the authorities will take the appropriate measures.
Here’s where I think we start to go over the line: when Tim O’Reilly calls for a Blogger Code of Ethics.
Good Lord, man; pull yourself together! What in the hell is a code of ethics going to do?
Seriously, there’s no real debate about the appropriateness of the attacks on Sierra. The blogosphere leapt to her defense. The outcry was overwhelmingly in her favor. The offending blog was taken down. The wheels of justice are in motion to punish the perpetrators. Really, what more do you think you can accomplish at this point? What the hell is your code of ethics going to do? I feel that we in the blogosphere are already operating under an unwritten code of ethics. That code was violated, and the community reacted appropriately. Why do you feel the need to initiate this pointless exercise?
This sort of behavior didn’t happen because there was no code of ethics in place. It happened because we have this wonderful, unprecedented freedom to publish that enables glorious, smart, thought-provoking writers like Kathy Sierra to exist in the first place. The idea that you’re going to write a few paragraphs of noble words and protect any future repeat of this behavior is simply an empty gesture that will have no practical effect whatsoever.
Here’s the question: do we embrace free speech on the internet or don’t we? If you really believe in the promise of the new internet age, then you need to accept the consequences that come with the freedoms of this new medium. To do otherwise is to begin down a slippery slope that will lead to the diminishment of open communication.
Free speech enables the flowering of ideas and growth of communication. This dynamic is great for society as a whole, because it allows all of us to be exposed to ideas that would be missing in a closed, regulated environment. But any freedom comes with some risk. Embracing free speech means accepting the fact that sometimes people will say stupid things – even dangerous or illegal things. The appropriate response when that happens is exactly what happened in the Kathy Sierra case: public outrage, shame and humiliation heaped on the perpetrators. This is how a community takes care of its own, and it is the most effective method of ensuring that this sort of bad behavior remains rare. If that outcry hadn’t happened, then we might need to take a hard look at the kind of atmosphere we’re creating in cyberspace. But it did happen. The voices of civility have spoken. We are all agreed.
Look, it’s no big deal to me if someone wants to create and adhere to a code of ethics. I think that’s noble and good. What’s disturbing to me is the overreaction to the natural effects of living in a free society. We cannot allow ourselves to panic, to shrink and faint in the face of these assaults. We must remain staunch defenders of openness and chaos.
Pay attention, people. The Ass knows from whence he speaks.
Here are some of the bloggers pointing out just how dumb this stupid idea is:
- Dave Winer
- Robert Scoble
- Mike Arrington
- Jason Kottke
- Jeff Jarvis (very nicely done, sir)
- Fred Wilson
- Cory Doctorow (who says amen to:)
- Tristan Louis
- Hugh MacLeod
- Rex Hammock
Update 2: Best of all, there’s this righteous screed from one of my favorites: Digby, of Hullabaloo. Preach it, sister!