Between Censorship and Threats

The so called blogger code of conduct is creating some interesting discussions over at DailyKos, Pandagon, and Feministe:

Shorter Kos: She was asking for death threats, which she probably made up.

Via Jessica.

Amanda (Panda) is right on in her closing:

Not to say that the criticism about the blogger code of conduct is wrong, of course. I think that it’s naive to think that’s going to work, but again, the tech blogging crowd may be old hat at this. But you can engage in a criticism of that without trotting out the tired stereotype that women are hysterical and paranoid.

The crux of her critique falls on these lines from Kos’s post (emphasis mine):

Most of the time, said “death threats” don’t even exist — evidenced by the fact that the crying bloggers and journalists always fail to produce said “death threats”.

If they can’t handle a little heat in their email inbox, then really, they should try another line of work.

Talk about blaming the victim. The bloggers and journalists complaining are framed as whiny boys who cried wolf, who simply aren’t up to the task of being a public figure. While in some rare cases there may be some truth to this argument (viz mainstream journalists who create blogs, get legitimate criticism, then cry foul and “hate speech!”), there are enough cases where it doesn’t to make the argument ineffective. Of course, I cannot say for certain how rare or common the validity of death threats are. Neither can Kos (where does he get his “most of the time” from?). However we can say that some kinds of threats are by nature deadly (from Pandagon, emphasis mine):

When I first started blogging here, I had a hell of a time running around deleting my home address out of the comments of the blog here. That is a death/rape threat. Very rarely do people threaten to kill you outright, but they simply imply it. Your address in your comments=”I know where you live.

This is not just a death threat (a la “I’m gonna kill you!”), it is a “I’ve been stalking you and here is proof”. Worse, knowing that other readers may be harboring a desire to issue threats, carry through on threats, or “put them in their place”, doing so is an active invitation to real violence.

All of this being said, there are two legitimate criticisms of the code of conduct.  One is, as Kos notes, its efficacy.  The other is the one I think Kos actually meant to tackle by painting these threats as unsubstantial.  Some bloggers and journalists might use the notion of civility and a “code of conduct” to justify naked censorship.  This is something to be opposed to absolutely.  While censoring comments that actually threaten and espouse raw hatred makes sense, censoring based on disagreeable content does not.  It is right to be wary of the “code of conduct” being used for just that.

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8 Responses

  1. Here’s another article on the Code of Conduct controversy.

    http://www.newscientisttech.com/article/dn11581

    I’m not sure how I feel about a standardized set of rules.
    I’ve struggled with the ban/don’t thing. But after observing the recent swarm of foul ‘trolls’ on small blogs, particularly female owned blogs, and dealing with one who threw my threads into chaos, I made the decision for the good of the majority at Liberally Mirth to ban mine and I also banned another, immediately, after s/he lighted on my threads following being banned at another blog I frequent. I didn’t like doing it and I have argued against banning anyone, but y’know what? I’m liking the results. Why should blogs, particularly small blogs, provide a forum for hate-filled and nasty speech?

  2. I think sometimes hate-filled and nasty speech is very useful to have. It discredits the side making the argument. (Although one could justifiably worry about such comments falsely representing a given side in an argument).

    The problem isn’t really trolls, but people who make threats.
    (Wampum has a good list of blogs to read on this.)

    I also don’t think the rules given are going to be fully helpful, and I think Marcus’s comment cited in the New Scientist article is right on. This is going to be used as a shield for old fashioned censorship.

    But one can make that argument without tacking on an attack on the victims of threats! The language used bothers me even more, as I really like dailykos, and think of their community as one with energizes people and moves them to political action. Comments like Kos’s post act directly in opposition to that, and reinforce the silencing influence of threats.

    In the end though, you are right, in that each person’s blog is their own. Why should one be a forum for hate filled speech? (As long as you are clear about what the rules are, and stick to them.)

  3. Your posts and comments are always insightful and I learn something from each one.
    Of course if regular readers would simply ignore distasteful and even threatening comments, there would be no problem. It seems to me that on smaller blogs with a more intimate atmosphere, this is nearly impossible.
    In the case of the first commenter I banned, I also suggested he start his own blog and offered to help him set it up. In the end, I don’t necessarily want his voice silenced, I just don’t the chaos on my threads that it causes and instead want a welcoming attitude for expressions that mirror my own and recognize that there is a subject we’re talking about.
    Good give and take among commenters is beneficial for all. In the cases of my banned two, there was no discussion even remotely related to the post subject and no responses from the two other than foul and degrading words.
    I may not be right in banning them, it definitely doesn’t feel good, but I owe these disruptive people nothing and my blog is a much more pleasant place without them.

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  8. Hello
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