Mindsets Beat Codes of Conduct

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

So, Code of Conduct, hmm? Setting boundaries on our online debates? Interesting idea. And one I’m late to, I know. I’ve been letting my thoughts on the matter stew slowly in my brain over the last week. And I keep coming back to a few basic point.

Hasn’t it already be done? Libel laws cover online publication just as much as they do print titles. There are laws about threatening behaviour and harrassment, although they probably need a wee tweak to match the digital age. And certainly, I’d love to see more civility in the blogging world. But the more I look at this Code of Conduct, the more narrow it looks to me; a myopic solution to a widespread problem.

Surely, the solution to a problem that we’ve seen in recent weeks is not to form blog mobs to burn the heretics, nor to bind ourselves in code of conduct, but to do what you would in an offline conversation: refuse to let those people who abuse the conversation perticipate in. I don’t chat or debate with those who insult me or my friends in the real world. I ignore them. I avoid them. If people are abusive in the blogging world, ignore them. Shun their blogs. Don’t publish abusive comments from them. Don’t link to them at all. Turn your attention away from them, because your attention is precious and it shouldn’t be squandered on those who don’t have enough repect for debate to conduct it in a civilized way.

At its best, the blogosphere is a sophisticated, distributed system for deciding who has something interesting to say, and who doesn’t. Let those mechanisms work, and a code of conduct becomes unecessary.

And they do work. Tim O’Reilly has moved a distance from his original proposal based on the widespread feedback from bloggers. A mindset of civilized, intelligent discussion is worth cultivating. I remain to be convinced that rules help develop anything – they merely mark borders to seperate transgressors from the obedient.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.