The New York Times is concerned about civility in the blog world, with a feature story about community guidelines at one site and a call for more civility on blogs. It's an interesting read about an issue that is both intellectually and emotionally charged. Here in the small world of the Montana blogosphere we've seen the results of a totally unmoderated site (rage, rage, vitriol, impersonation, site death) efforts to moderate hate speech with real success, and a site with a few,dogged anonymous commenters who don't seem to do much harm. It's hard to draw many conclusions from such a small set of data, but it seems that some level of moderation is necessary to keep a site from imploding, but that too much cleansing will strip the life out of a site.
Personally, I'm torn on the issue. In an ideal world, the comments to a blog would enhance the level of discourse and provide a space for dialogue and even change. Unfortunately, that's not a terribly likely reality. A quick glance at newspaper sites like the Gazette that offer unfettered comments quickly shows that even larger, more ideologically diverse sites quickly end up in spot where the insightful comments are drowned in a sea of dreck.
The nature of my discomfort about the idea of conduct codes is pretty well articulated by a quotation from the NYT editorial, from Tim O'Reilly, one of the advocates of blog civility as well as a real web leader:
“That is one of the mistakes a lot of people make — believing that uncensored speech is the most free, when in fact, managed civil dialogue is actually the freer speech,” he said. “Free speech is enhanced by civility.”
O'Reilly offers a comforting, but disturbing phrase. Managed civil dialogue? That certainly has an Orwellian ring to it, doesn't it? Blogs are, of course, private, and free speech rights don't attach here, but can a site survive if it manages the opinions of its readers and visitors?
I'm curious what others think about the issue. Are blogs uncivil? Are codes of conduct the answer? Banning anonymous accounts?
Update: Jay argued that codes of conduct imposed/created by others are a bad idea.