I come down somewhere between Kos and Echidne on this. IMHO, Kos was right but for the wrong reasons. We don’t need a blogger ethics code, but that’s not because Kathy Sierra wasn’t really threatened or because she was asking for it or because she should have just sucked it up and realized people on the Internet are dicks. That’s insane. If you’re being threatened, you deserve the support of your fellow bloggers and you deserve the protection of the law. Period. No matter what you said or did. You are only responsible for you, not for somebody else’s response to you. “You should have expected this” is not a defense, criminal or otherwise.
(And yes, trolls, this applies to Malkin, too, and if you’ve read here before, you know I think that. There’s plenty of ways to talk about her that don’t involve making violent cracks. Use your words, especially the adjectives.)
We don’t need a blogger ethics code because the people who are being threatening assholes will not be deterred by one. It just won’t work to solve the problem that needs solving here. Law enforcement has regulations to deal with cyber harrassment and stalking, as well as meatspace threats, and those regulations should be strengthened and vigorously applied. A visit from the FBI is the best way to shut a violent loudmouth up.
I felt the same way about journalistic ethics codes when I was reporting. There are half a dozen journalism codes of conduct floating around out there, they’re all different, and people either sign on to them or they don’t, and it’s not like there’s a card you flash or a patch you wear, Official Ethical Journalist. Your byline is your calling card. People know you by your work, they know your organization by its work and reputation, and believe me, such things are currency in the journalism world. Judy Miller’s name was mud long before the Iraq war came crashing down on her head. I see the blogosphere working much the same way. You know to trust something you read on Josh Marshall’s site and to take Capitol Hill Blue with a grain of salt. You know Drudge is full of shit and LGF is run by crazy people and that Glenn Greenwald knows whereof he speaks. How do you know? Because you read them and you see how it all shakes out.
And frankly, there’s a lot more things I think we should be talking about before we even get to the point where we’re making rules about playing nicely. What’s more important to me than a code of ethics? How about serious examination of funding and underwriting in the progressive blogosphere, and how there’s not enough of it in proportion to the amount of money that’s out there to support liberal causes? How about we start and maintain some more grant programs to encourage female bloggers and writers of color, and fundraise for the same, and make THAT the result that comes out of Sierra’s horrible experience? If we must have standards, how about some that focus on making ourselves stronger, instead of making ourselves feel better about how ethical we are?
But no, those things are hard. Let’s hold a meeting! Let’s write a manifesto! Let’s pretend that accomplishes something! I’m not saying words don’t have power. I’m a writer, for God’s sake, of course it matters what you call something. But I just think we have a whole host of problems and making up a code of conduct is not a solution to any of them. You can’t shoehorn people into standards they don’t want to adhere to, and creating some stratified system of who’s on The List and who isn’t freaks me out tremendously. We forget, a lot of the time, that this medium is extremely young. We’re all of a sudden being confronted with the desire to paint the Sistine Chapel and we should try, first of all, to paint the fucking garage.
Now, feel free to tell me I’m full of crap.