Why a ‘Bloggers Code of Conduct’ is a bad idea


Paul Walch of Segala, asks ‘Do we want a code for blogs?’

This question has arisen due to the Kathy Sierra controversy, the case of the online harassment of an O’Reily writer by an anonymous group of commenters, at a blog created specifically for uncensored criticism. Very quickly the ‘blogosphere’ divided into two camps, those who repudiated the hate speech directed at Sierra, but considered it a cost of the freedom of speech that blogging affords. And those, like tech writer and Web2.0 pioneer Tim O’Reilly, who believed a response was needed (beyond the specific legal retaliation sought against the perpetrators). O’Reilly’s proposal was a code of conduct for bloggers. Here’s the wiki for the code under development.

What follows is my response to Paul’s question, both in terms of the idea of a bloggers code of conduct, and the specific code O’Reilly proposes.

In short

Absolutely not, as Glen Farrelly points out, ‘good’ bloggers will follow their own individual codes regarding what they perceive as responsible behavior, ‘bad’ or ‘irresponsible’ bloggers will not follow any informal codes.

In detail

Apologies in advance for my inevitable mistakes in attempting to characterise Irish Law, a complex area in which I am not qualified to comment.

The blogosphere already has the means to deal with antisocial behavior, whether it be the denial of links to hate sites, or taking legal action against defamation. It could spell disaster if additional forms of policing emerge from within blogging, at a time when freedom of speech is being implicitly reduced through the dumbing down of media and the normalisation of embedded reporting; and explicitly prevented by anti scientific and religious extremist movements, by totalitarian governments (witness the insidious sousveillence built into the Chinese version of MySpace), and by the misuse of legislation regulating speech online.

Generally speaking, the blogosphere is a broad church with respectful members. A vanishingly small number of individuals abuse the anonymity blogging makes possible to besmirch others, beyond the acceptable realms of satire or parody. Their actions are to be repudiated, but should not be used as an excuse to sacrifice the freedoms enjoyed by all. Luckily, the centralised, intercommunicative nature of the blogosphere, means indubitably antisocial behavior is rapidly identified and denied an audience.


Adding copyright to the debate, as O’Reilly has done, appears an example of abusing a controversy for personal ends. Copyright and patent law are in a state of flux right now, and in a sense a culture war has developed. On one side neoliberals like the WTO and corporate lobbyists, are seeking to maximise copyright duration, and criminalize copyright infringement through legislation like IPRED2 in Europe and in the DMCA in the US. On the other, NGO’s like the Free Software Foundation, Creative Commons, the Open Science Project, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are developing methodologies for the open exchange and development of ideas; and seeking to defend fair use and ensure a viable digital commons.

This debate is far from over, and to seek to propose a set of guidelines for blogs, enforcing laws which in many cases have been imposed in complete contradiction with how the web has evolved, and the means by which humans most effectively proliferate knowledge and opinion, is both absurd and dangerous. Let me provide an example. In Ireland, where this blog is written (though not hosted), the legally allowable extent of ‘fair dealing‘ (equivalent to the concept of fair use), is more restrictive than in the United States. Under Irish statute, it may be literally illegal not merely to host copyrighted music (as the highly influential, promotional music blogs regularly do), or images (as most bloggers do to illustrate their articles), but also to quote small sections from newspapers, books, blogs or other material under copyright, as is almost universally done by blogs to illustrate a conversation. To quote Daithi MacSithigh (who I’m almost certain won’t sue), “Copyright violations are either legal or illegal – we don’t need a Bloggers’ Scout’s Honour Code to deal with things that people post.”


Defamation and liable laws are also much stricter in this country, with both the hosting company, and the owner of a blog liable, not merely for a blogs content, but for the defamatory content of its comments. This host liability is regularly misused by aggrieved companies, who have for example received a negative review of their products, to have entire websites preemptively removed with a solicitors letter. A practice described by TJ McIntyre, in the Sunday Business Post, as ‘a form of privatised and cheap censorship that’s quicker than going to court’. A ‘liable’ can consist of merely repeating published allegations. Just as I, in this very article, am repeating the allegations regarding the alleged threats to Kathy Sierra.

And lest you think that such legislation is a quirk of a wee country’s decrepit legal system, the same removal procedures frequently occur in the United States. When a hosting company receives a complaint under the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA, it can protect itself from liability if it ‘responds expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity’ (DMCA SEC. 202, Amendment Sec. 512, C, 1). Irrespective of whether the material in question is actually infringing. This provision is often used to deny access to (or delete outright) entire business or personal websites on the basis of unsubstantiated ‘takedown’ letters.

Chilling Effects:

Now Paul Walch is not proposing Tim O’Reily’s guidelines specifically, and Tim O’Reilly’s evolving guideline do no currently seek to extend copyright, or the reach of defamation law. However, the examples quoted above are just some of the chilling effects which emerge when codes, guidelines and ultimately laws evolve – with the reasonable goals of protecting individuals from harassment, and businesses from copyright infringement; and ultimately act to dilute sometimes necessary anonymity, erase criticism, and create artificial fences around the communication of ideas.

It is sheer naiveté to assume that if a bloggers code does emerge, complete with microformat tags and shiny PNG badges, it will not be used within censoring applications, such as those which are manditory in US schools and libraries, to restrict access to information. Or by autocratic governments to censor their own citizenry. Moreover, it is insidious to conflate such codes of conduct with labels declaring compliance to web standards and accessibility, or opt in licensing agreements like Creative Commons; as Content Label appear to be attempting. While creative commons licenses facilitate the controlled sharing of information by it’s creators, and accessibility guideline facilitate the widest possible access to information, a bloggers code of conduct can only ever reduce the freedom of expression which blogs facilitate, and if successful could act to ghettoise speech outside its defined framework.

What’s the use?

While O’Reilly’s code and similar initiatives will most likely fail to win enough popular support to become enforceable, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they will succeed enough (for example by becoming default options on blogger and typepad, or in wordpress installs) to endanger debate. Without an enforcing body they are effectively powerless (unless separately enforced by governments or third party filters), with the backing an enforcing group they have the potential to become the internet equivalent of the much criticised MMPA rating system.

Paul Walch says ‘I’m not trying to police the Internet‘, and I believe him. But when codes like the one currently proposed emerge, they fill a vacuum in the control of internet speech, and are eagerly supported by individuals and governments who seek such control.

One interesting question to ask is, would such a code of conduct have prevented the Kathy Sierra incident? Markos Moulitsas Zúniga thinks not, “1) There are assholes that will 2) email stupid shit to any public figure (which includes bloggers, but 3) that won’t be stopped by any blogger code of conduct”.

Interestingly, under Irish law, my quoting Zúniga technically infringes copyright, thus violating O’Reilly’s proposed code – ‘We define unacceptable content as anything included or linked to that.. infringes upon a copyright or trademark’.

Creative Commons photo by Marie Richie. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0

Barcamp Dublin


Just back from Barcamp Ireland 3. What a day, so packed I couldn’t possibly get to half the talks (which ran concurrently), but I managed three lectures and the panel discussion. The event was held in the beautiful Digital Hub, off Thomas St in Dublin. The building is fantastic, with bare brick walls and natural lighting throughout, and would make a fantastic billionaires studio apartment.

I’ve posted some wikified notes. I grabbed several mini interviews, on TFM‘s sweet but pricey Roland wav recorder (check out the uber cheesy website), not enough material for a full blown podcast, but I’ve thrown them up, below. Also attempted to moblog throughout the day, with mixed results.

Mini Interviews

Sean O Sullivan of Rococo.
Robin Blandford creator of Comment Casting.
Darren Barefoot of Capulet Communications.

Update: Fixed the wiki link!

Webcamp – Social Networks


Many thanks to John Breslin for organising Irelands first Webcamp, last Wednesday 7th March. The afternoon was an enlightening look into the development, search, analysis and productive uses of social networks.

I’ve wiki’d some notes on event (Ed – 2013, notes below).

Particularly interesting was the response of designated Bebo’s spokesperson, Mark Tarbatt of webvertising firm Generator, to my questions about potential Bebo censorship. The impression Mark (whose firm seem solely responsible for selling branding on Bebo, at least in Ireland) gave was that, in the event of a conflict between a user video or community (the example I provided was a hypothetical ‘killer coke’ video on Votetube’s bebo profile) and a Bebo advertiser, such a user or community could be removed. This seems credible given that Mark stated Bebo’s recent adoption of comment moderation occurred not in response to problems of user abuse or sexually explicit spam, but to satisfy the desire of Coca Cola (a bebo advertiser) to prevent ‘harassment’ on it’s branded bebo site.

A quick search of Bebo indicates the existence of just such a conflict.


Topics, tags and trends in the blogosphere

Conner Hayes Slides

Looked at (inter)relationship between blogs, and their topics

sought topic related interlink structure
7k blog data set
Muhammad cartoon controversy tracked

Blogosphere user centric vs topic centric Usenet

Clutters of topic sharing blogs are short lived

Strong clusters hold users
but users drift from topics over time

Extreme topic drift increases user falloff

Tags poor method of tracking blog post content

Concept clustering better

A list blogs more similar to one another

more topic focused, consistent – authorities
tags chosen for comprehensibility
tight networks of clusters

C list blogs have higher user entropy

little or no inward linking


How were A list bloggers defined?

What about Maven Bloggers / influential but narrow popularity – Malcolm Gladwell’s Idea articulated in ‘The Tipping Point

Does user topic drift account for primacy of link aggregator blogs / communities

Collecting community wisdom: integrating social search and social navigation

Jill Freyne Slides

2 Aspects – social browsing and social search, combined to augment search of Association for Computing Machinery Digital Library (popular computer science pub database – with browsing and search navigation)

KnowledgeSea – social browsing

Collates anonymized browsing history
Provides the capacity for digg like ratings and annotation

iSpy – social search

Reranks results based on previous keyword searches by user group
Icon based visual cues on rating etc

Combined and integrated both systems – increased search efficacy

where’s the hook for students to build this system – are legal restrictions keeping the content closed ?

would it not be better to use off the shelf digg / del.icio.us like solutions ? alternately light weight sem web client on top of existing networks of databases ?

Quirky mystery meat interface – why do academic database sits have to be so unusable

Annotations could be used to increase utility of abstract

No information provided on stat significance of results

Control group browsing history is artificially useful seed for social group
How to compare trained systems fairly?

The demand for search in a social network

Andrew Page Slides

Founders of Bigulu – Bebo search, 2 Phd students

May expand to other networks

Crawls Bebo to allow superior profile search based on keyword, age, gender, location

Estimate Bebo at 7m users not 25m as claimed !

Slow linear growth of Bigalu

Sem web API would aid search and data migration

New features – inc user popularity (like Facebook radar)

Inbound links as social distance cue to search

limitations on social scraping due to private profiles etc


What is user persistence like?

Could they be underestimating Bebo network due to islands (isolated nodes or clusters – social darknets) ?

Is ‘low attention span’ really a function of high efficacy expectation

Are assumptions about viral growth of Bebo correct? Implied signup active network discrepancy

Where is the knowledge: reflections on social networking in corporate environments

Gabriela Avram Slides

(Virtual) ethnographic study of collaborative work practices

IBM Dublin software lab

Technology as tool inseparable from culture

technofetishism (sysadmin) vs fluffy-bunnies (people persons)
tools should be tailored to users
human guides to knowledge repositories vital
social networks facilitate knowledge aquisition

Lotus Messenger tool

IM – integrates: blog, wiki, org chart, social bookmarks, presence, contact details
Used to request ad-hoc meeting attendance
Used to reduce steps to data acquisition
Documents can link to individuals
Real time back channel in meetings

Data Retention

Legal and practical requirements to archive data
creates and enforces etiquette
no interdiction on personal contact – social honor enforces

Successful campaigns on the Bebo social network

Mark Tarbatt Slides

Small list of clients – A list Irish sites

Daft, Eircom, RTE, Bebo etc

Sell to ad agencies and brands

Internet only 1% Irish advertising market
UK internet ad budget = 2X Irish ALL media budget
Ireland € 24 per user, UK € 80 per user

Main income to Bebo (other than VC) = ads

All major Irish net spending brands advertise
Brand budget (overall) – 140k – 600k (top ten)
Some brands shy away from user content areas – use frontpage etc

Bebo top site for under 17 in Ireland (comscore)

Average visit 75mins ! (of 3 hour session)
95% reach
drops off list of top sites in older categories
Use by corps like Mcdonalds under pressure not to kidvertise on TV

Relevance, customer interaction / relationship to brand


Sidebar ads
Branded profiles (eg: Disney Cars)
Branded Bebo mail window
Clickable in video advertisement tickers

Texter widget – Moco – € 2 a week

Anti sponsor brand comments / groups (eg: killer coke) would probably be removed


Ethics of Bebo spread? Via address book spam?

Growth of Facebook a threat?

Lack of direct access in school has not limited popularity

Corruption of utility of social media in ‘brand interaction’

Interesting to note bebo added comment moderation not in response to cyber bullying but concerns of Coke – insistence on stifling branded profile criticism

Texter widget is misleading

initially video states that service is free
only mentions charges towards end of video

Keynote: Social network analysis: 1987-2007

Valdis Krebs Slides

Any kind of network can be mathematically mapped

from social networks to computer networks
social / organisational network analysis
Inflow software

‘Highly between person’ connects networks

analogous to Gladwells superconnector

David Krackhardt – organisational structure related to power

Hierarchy, network position, and network knowledge – knowing the map

Six Degrees of Separation = Golden myth

original study flawed (response bias)
Noah Friedkin – UC Santa Barba – Social networks have a horizon
2 step clarity – blind after 4 connections max
outer reaches of network are invisible

Mark Granovetter – one or at most 2 intermediaries useful

in context of information (job) seeking
direct ties most useful of all

IBM and Valdis Krebs – adaptive organisations have higher average reach

data acquired through survey and interview, document sharing etc

Pharmaceutical firms market to opinion leaders

use social network analysis to target doctors who influence drug prescription of contemporaries

Formalising of common interest networks

Bounded vs unbounded (not task / job delimited) networks

Network weaving = analyzing networks to build communities
9/11 hijacker network – built on media published data

conclusion – project teams are similar
task focused group structures do not vary based on task

False positives can emerge from social network analysis

limited inferences can be reasonably drawn

Infrastructures are built on effectiveness not resilience

useful for network attacks


Evolution of social networks over time? – differ based on organisation evolution? – loose voluntary network migration

Richness of less visible ties?

Does similarity of group structure apply cross culturally?

Group Discussion – Future of social networks

Existing Networks

tribe, livejournal -> myspace -> bebo -> facebook

Do super connectors lead network migration / adoption?

Do teens socialise on social networks, or just mirror existing real world acquaintance?

do users actively resist socialising
are there different socialisation patterns culturally, network determined
Book – republic.com – reinforcement of preexisting connections
social networks not scale free

Social networks as dating substitute – exhibitionism

display, personality branding
rating and identity definition
utility of maintenance of connections over time
forking elitist / domain specific networks

Social networks -> open id -> light sem web clients -> device based ad hoc attentional aggrigators

carrying groups between networks
open attentional data
open identity data
balance of privacy, security, reputation and freedom

Hardware versions of my blog log / twitter

mobile ubiquitous anonymised positional aggregation
variety of possible consequences
loss of privacy vs great utility
branded flash mobs – ala Dublin’s black parade
social network manipulation and politicisation
SNA used to infer guilt by association / track dissidents
pattern matching by employers

Comparative safety of blogging – distance from ‘online friends’

Exaggerated fears of predation

Reputation as currency

On the Road – updated


Francis McGillicuddy and I are planning a trip to the US on the 6th of September – We’ve set up a Wiki for our trip, as well as a yahoo maps route plan (updated).

It’s a pretty ambitious trip, taking in LA, San Francisco, Yosemite and Death Valley National Parks, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and ultimately New York. Any advice from anyone whose taken a similar trip would be appreciated! We’ll be in the states from 6th of September till the 1st of October, if you’re on our route, let us know and maybe we’ll hang out.

I’ll be producing a podcast of our trip – but as it shall be recorded on Sony’s customer hating DRM’d to death NetMD minidisc device, there probably won’t be any actual posts till our return. There will however be blog updates, both on this site and Francis’s Bogger Thoughts blog.

Also I’ve set up a moblog of sorts of photo’s taken with my snazzy new Razr V3, complete with RSS.



CoComment, the new service which provides a unified place to collect a feed of your blog comments through a bookmarklet which ‘co-comments’ your conversations, have finally added retrospective commenting. This is perfect for users like me who don’t have a home terminal, and frequently can’t install bookmarklets. The feature allows users to go back and retrospectively tag comments they could catch at the time of posting, and will hopefully make it a lot easier, and more worthwhile, to comment on blog postings from now on.