Civility Theater

I read Tim O’Reilly’s newest volley in the blog code of conduct debate. He is remaining calm and pushing forward, but honestly I don’t think there is much improvement in this round. O’Reilly seems to come from the premise that there is a group of people who need to be protected from the incivility of blogs. These people are apparently so dense that they don’t recognize incivility when they see it written out, but they will from seeing some sort of graphical overview. I don’t believe there is really any demographic that needs this protection.

To crib a concept from Bruce Schneier, I think what this all is about is “civility theater.” He gives it away when he says that we need civility and essentially that anything is better than nothing. That’s the language of theater. It doesn’t really change any fundamental of blogosphere interaction but it gives people a way to give the impression a big problem is really under control. What that misses is that the problem isn’t real and the solution is a placebo. That people can occasionally say unkind things to each other did not begin with the blogosphere and is not unique to it. Many people like J. Wynia have pointed out that “Don’t be a jackass” works a lot better than the code of conduct, and it works across all media and modes of communication you can think of.

I have one rule for myself when things get flamish. When I’m responding electronically — email or blog comment or forum or whatever — to a hot topic I force myself to use a 24 waiting period between reading something that angers me and responding. It works remarkably well. If I’m still mad 24 hours later, I let it rip but I find that most issues burn themselves out before then, and even if my response escalates things, both I and others have had a whole extra day for things to percolate and/or cool off. This works for me. It would prickish of me to suggest that this should be codified for all the blogosphere to use. Do what works for you. Don’t settle for the golden rule, do it even more so. Be kinder to others than they are to you. It drives them crazy!

We don’t need Tim explaining to us how to comport ourselves. Thanks, overlord, but we don’t need your imperial missives. We all know what it takes, and we generally do it. I think this blog stays civil even though I frequently disagree with comments. Sometimes drive-bys are dicks and they are dealt with on a case by case basis. In fact, the only person I really have had a big problem with is himself a well known A-list blogger who probably would sign on to such a code and think he was in the clear while behaving in a way that made me want to slap him. So, let’s let it drop and continue with our work and move forward.

Update: One more point I forgot to make that doesn’t warrant a whole new post. In his response, Tim O’Reilly loses huge points with me by including this :

Why I think civility matters, despite all the nay-sayers.

I read a boatload of comments on his blog posts and a whole boatload of other posts responding to him. I don’t believe I saw a single person state that “civility doesn’t matter.” Much like my position, most people think it does matter and that we do already desire it and encourage it. What we don’t need is O’Reilly branded Civility(tm). That Tim sets up a silly strawman and then wraps himself in American flags and puppy dogs to slay it is to his great discredit.

3 Replies to “Civility Theater”

  1. concur dave – definitely feels overlord-ish and elitist of tim and his band of merry men to assume that the globally open forum that is the blogosphere, podville and vlogdom needs a sheriff ala deadwood…

    simply put “be smart” is still the best advice…

    i also like – if you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online – but that’s just me 😉

  2. Mike, I don’t even think that one is a good rule. As one of the commentors to Tim’s original post said “That’s a great rule … for extroverts.” What about people who are too painfully shy to say these things in person? Are they not allowed to have a say in controversial issues online?

  3. sure, good point – i personally tend more towards extrovert rather than introvert (though i’m no eric rice) so its never been an issue for me when it comes to standing up and making a sensitive point in person (or online)…

    so yes, those who aren’t comfortable saying things in person should of course be able to contribute online – again, the rule works for me – doesn’t have to for others – i do mostly try to follow the “be smart” one, its the easiest…

    as for tim (and his bandwagon) – i’ve never met him so my opinions of him are purely formed from his online persona and not from ever having to react to him in person – that being said he doesn’t seem to be the sort i’d want to hang out w/ anyway, the self-importance comes out to much…

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