Sunday Start-A-Fight Post: Codes Of Ethics

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.


10 thoughts on “Sunday Start-A-Fight Post: Codes Of Ethics

  1. “We don’t need a blogger ethics code because the people who are being threatening assholes will not be deterred by one.”
    As I read it, the ethics code seemed to somehow give bloggers *permission* to delete or ban abusive commenters.
    I wasn’t really sure why a code was necessary for that…

  2. You’re not full of crap, but Kos sure is. Like Imus, he has a history of really negative things he has said about women. This latest example came as no surprise. What is a surprise, however, is that people still see him as some sort of good person & as someone who is good for progressives.

  3. Eli, wow, then I guess we’re already signatories to that code, then. I take it all back. Codes of conduct are AWESOME. We’re the most ethicalest bloggers ever!

  4. When I first talked to some “real life” friends about my Spocko work (they had no idea what this was about) they were very excited and thought that I should get an agent and write a book and I could lecture on Ethic in Blogging. It would have taken too long to explain the “Blogger ethics panel” joke, but I tried.
    I pointed out that the ethics (or lack of) in the “real world” were being ignored and just because it’s on the internet it’s “news”.
    I have a post I wrote but didn’t put up about death threats.
    I’m old enough and savvy enough to know what’s what in the world of email. And there is no place for that kind of talk, and I’m not being prissy when I say that.
    And as Atrios said, do YOU know anyone who would really send a death threat? Melanie Morgan talks about the hate mail she gets. And if she gets death threats I say, track the people who sent them down. See if they are in fact legit. I have found that she tends to make some stuff up. She called my blog filled with hate (me? Mr. Mild Mannered Vulcan? Shirley you Jest! “Don’t call me Shirley!”)
    The only violent rhetoric on my blog was when I quoted her, Rodgers, Sussman and Benner.
    And death threats in only one KIND of threat.
    Look who DID actually get threatened. Me.
    I was given a financial death threat by a multi-billion dollar cooperation. They told me I was going to be “Sued for everything I’ve got.” Why? What did I do? I let the advertisers hear what the hosts were saying on the air!
    What a concept. I guess they aren’t proud of their work. For that I was targeted with a lawsuit that would destroy me. And then they went after my reputation, calling me a thief, a liar and a coward. And I have no doubt that they would have gone after me in “the real world”(they still might) Why? Because they can.
    Because the politics of personal assassination is their stock and trade. They don’t care if you are a public figure or a group of unknown basketball players. You are all grist for their poisonous mill. It’s the “rough and tumble world of politics.” Sure it is, because they make it that way. And it’s not good enough for them to just go after politicians. They go after people like Cindy Sheehan and anyone who disagrees with them. They whine about how the left is trying to shut them up, but they have been attacking the left for decades calling for our death in order to shut US up. They don’t want us to LIVE let alone talk.
    How do I know they think this way? They say it out loud.
    And they are the people who are doing the division. That is good fun for them. X vs. Y
    We don’t need this kind of crap any more. These kind of attacks have been going on for a long time, but at some point (Newt? Attwatter? Rove?) the deal was, ‘Everyone is fair game, the gloves are always off.’
    We have an entire radio band that preaches “Attack the other”. And they profit from this name calling. That’s just sick.
    It is no surprise that Rush attacks people who aren’t in the room. He is a person with a missing empathy gene. It is no surprise that calls are monitored to meet his need to make a point. he couldn’t handle real interaction (he tried it on the TV show and failed). If he had to confront the people he attacked he would have a much more difficult time of it.
    Who else talks to humans the way that Rush, Hannity and Savage talk to people?

  5. Bluff and counter-bluff, threat and counter-threat. Lots of chest-thumping in both examples you cited, A (which is no reflection on what you said. You, I agree with). Kos dares anybody to scare him, Echidne ends up equating nasty e-mails with rape.
    Feh, on both of them.
    One reason I don’t post an e-mail address on my otherwise ignored blog: I get enough crap e-mail already, without adding to it by giving every yahoo in the world access to me. There is a difference in the level of violence, though; or can be. I know a church where dead chickens and bloody tampons were used to protest consideration of a female pastoral candidate, because she was both female, and lesbian. Nothing like that had ever happened before, even though one pastor there had been (and they knew it) homosexual. So yea, there’s a perception that violence (of some kind) is acceptable against women, when you wouldn’t think of using it against men.
    But that’s a power issue. You want to change that? One way is to fight power with power, get your nose bloodied, and take it on the chin again and again without screaming how “unfair” is is. Examples? Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer…need I go on?
    There are better alternatives to fighting power, of course, but that’s where I get resignedly religious, so I won’t go there. Is Kos trying to show us how big his equipment is, on the other hand? Yup. Swinging serious pipe there, and telling everybody to come see how big he is! He’s a man! He gets death threats and still eats red meat in public!
    Let’s clear away the debris here. “Ethics,” as Aristotle taught us to use the term, refers to accepted behavior. Aristotle examined the behavior of Athenians to determine what made people happy, so others could learn from their example. But, of course, what made them happy was what Athenians accepted. Challenging the institution of slavery in Greece, for example, was not “ethical,” though today we’d consider such a challenge “moral.” So “blogger ethics” would not be “Do the right thing,” but: “Do what is most likely to increase your happiness.” Which, for blogs, seems to equate to: “do whatever increases your audience/notoreity/attention from other bloggers which leads to those first two.”
    Now, you want to establish a blogger moral code? I think that would really provoke a blog-fight.
    Good post, A. I especially like your last sentence. I’m still trying to figure out why anyone beyond ninth-grade ever listened to Imus. Sadly, it’s true: life really is like hight school, and none of us seem to be sitting at the cool table in the cafeteria.

  6. Sorry, that post was written pre-caffeine and too early in the a.m. I was looking at Spocko’s last sentence and calling it yours. So what I actually said makes no kinda sense.
    Where’s the edit feature on these things? Preview is my friend, and all…
    Still, good post. Let must just say I didn’t say what you thought I said a second ago. You are most definitely not full of crap.
    But I am old and gray and full of sleep. At least at this hour.

  7. Athenae– A couple of quick journalism questions, if you have the time. I think they’re important.
    I’m a scientist who publishes a lot, and here’s the thing about print journalism that I don’t understand. When I publish, an editor can suggest changes that I can accept or reject. (Of course the editor can reject the whole article.)
    My understanding with print media is that the writer submits copy and then the editor can then unilaterally make changes before publication (burying ledes, omitting inconvenient facts, writing misleading titles). Furthermore, the editor is ananymous (as far as the reader is concerned), so we have no easy way of evaluating what biases may have been introduced.
    Questions– (1) Is this correct? (2) Would not the quality of journalism be improved if editors were identified in the byline? Maybe this has been beaten to death in J-school, but is seems like a real issue to me. Thanks in advance.

  8. Hi Athenae,
    A little counterpoint.
    In daily discourse, we’ve built up a set of generally accepted rules of behavior. These guide me in not going too far.
    On the other hand, in the blogosphere the rules aren’t there. So you have anarchy. Likewise, you don’t know the content of a page until you read it. So in some ways, I’d compare it to being dropped off in a random culture without knowing the rules of interaction. As such, the message can get lost in unintentional offense. So I have to ask if this anarchy is necessarily productive (in a pragmatic sense).
    OTOH – I would be the first to agree (don’t know if you would, but I assume so) that a slavish devotion to the rules can be subverted and counterproductive. 1) Because sometimes the rules deter communication and 2) it is possible to follow the rules in structure while bypassing them in content (for example, I’ve seen many examples where racism is practiced in function while following a format that doesn’t voice racism and superficially following a format that is supposed to discourage racism. Or Bush says he is a “uniter” and gathers people of different opinions.).

  9. Gromit, the answer is, not always. It depends on the editor. I’ve had people change things without talking to me and insert errors. I’ve had people call me before altering a comma. These two instances were AT THE SAME NEWSPAPER. Everybody’s got their own style, everybody’s doing their own thing.
    And more and more papers now are listing the names of the editors, but again, not all of them, and not consistently. Plus, some of them respond to reader feedback and some don’t. There are no hard and fast rules in the J-world, either.

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