Thursday, May 04, 2006

Online Integrity Makes Me Wish I Had a Cigarette

Over at Done With Mirrors, several of us have been having a discussion about the new Online Integrity campaign for a civil online community.

Online Integrity bills itself as "A nonpartisan, nonideological commitment to basic decency." They include a preliminary Statement of Principles:

  • Private persons are entitled to respect for their privacy regardless of their activities online. This includes respect for the non-public nature of their personal contact information, the inviolability of their homes, and the safety of their families. No information which might lead others to invade these spaces should be posted. The separateness of private persons’ professional lives should also be respected as much as is reasonable.
  • Public figures are entitled to respect for the non-public nature of their personal, non-professional contact information, and their privacy with regard to their homes and families. No information which might lead others to invade these spaces should be posted.
  • Persons seeking anonymity or pseudonymity online should have their wishes in this regard respected as much as is reasonable. Exceptions include cases of criminal, misleading, or intentionally disruptive behavior.
  • Violations of these principles should be met with a lack of positive publicity and traffic.

Okay, that seem reasonable enough. But as Callimachus points out (second link above):

But the real problem is, people who would do the kind of cruel and twisted things this statement is meant to protect against have no integrity to lose in the first place, so they'd lose none by signing a pledge and then breaking it.

I have another problem with the intial OI post, which I make in a comment over at DWM:

[I]t is essential that we seize upon the best aspects of the internet — its self-policing, democratic nature — and use them to set an example of reasoned restraint and considered civility.

Whoa, there! Whoa, I say! That sounds similar to some of the old Soviet propoganda I used to read. I'm not liking that at all.

(Italicized portion from OI's post, the rest is me.)

The problem is this: how are they going to police this effort? Especially since in the first post they've already started down the path of mission creep. Are they about privacy rights, or "reasoned restraint and considered civility"? On another post at OI, one of the founders brings up the need to add a common definition of racism to their list of principles. (Which makes me wonder how long the iconoclasts of GNXP will keep their name on the petition.) Not even a week into this and they are already expanding their list of abiding "principles " at a pretty fast clip.

I predict that enforcement will prove to be impossible. Even when attempting to clearly define some basic privacy rights, they get bogged down with nebulous concepts such as "misleading, or intentionally disruptive behavior." So much for vigorous debate, then! And now they want to add a definition of racism as well.

I predict that inside of two weeks the whole thing will collapse as any kind of real blog "movement". Bickering about definitional and policing issues has already broken out in the comment threads, as well as a discussion of whether or not civility makes any tactical sense for the left side of the blogosphere. It's going to be really difficult to maintain any civility when the likes of Quxxo and Thersites are lurking about. And if OI can't control their own comment sections, how are they going to clean up the rest of the blogoshpere?

Ultimately, this whole pledge business reminds me of the "Truth" ads. Those ads were designed to make people not smoke tobacco. But they were just so earnestly self-rightous that every time I saw one, it made me want to go smoke a carton of Marlboros just to piss them off.

...

The following is a personal digression. I originally meant for it to be in the body of the post, but realized it had no real point and cut it out. However, having typed the thing I'm loath to delete it. I'd just skip it if I were you....

The more I read over at the OI site, the more it reminds me of a discussion board I once belonged to. It had originally been devoted to one topic, but more and more people kept discussing off-topic issues. Finally, the board was split, one for the original topic ONLY (posting rules strictly enforced), and the other a catch-all for everything else. This was happening in the months after 9/11, so you can imagine what the "everything else" consisted of.

After a few weeks (or was it days? or months? the memory fades....), it became clear that we needed moderators for the new catch-all board. Somehow, in a fit of mass insanity, I was nominated to be a moderator, I accepted the nomination, and was elected to one of the three spots. The other moderators and I had offline discussions about how exactly we would moderate the board. One of the clear rules we came up with was that short of someone posting something downright threatening (one poster had threatned to do commit acts of violence against another member in the past) we would need to have at least two of the three of us agree to deleting any posts. (It was acknowledged that this would be somewhat difficult, as the board was global in scope.)

This agreement lasted about two days before one of the moderators decided to start deleting posts that he disagreed with for whatever reason. Once other posters started complaining, I looked into it and found nothing policy-wise that I would object to in most of the deleted posts. I complained to the private moderators mailing list, and got no response. I posted to the discussion board and the other moderator started deleting all of my posts. After about a week as moderator I quit the position, and the board. I don't go back, and I'm happier for it. Perhaps that's the way to deal with "uncivil" members of the blogosphere.

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