Sunday, April 08, 2007

Blog behavior and censorship

Given the recent fun we've had around here with a certain troll and my very angry blog post about the troll, which involved quite colorful language.... I found this to be a very relevant article from the NY Times.

What are your thoughts on the points raised in the article? Is it really possible to regulate the behavior we witness upon blogs and message boards? I'm all for banning anonymous comments, as evidenced with LIT SOUP itself, but I'm not sure that the other proposed restrictions amount to anything other than censorship. Then again, we have standards of behavior for how we conduct ourselves in oral discourses with people, so why shouldn't we have similar standards of behavior for online discourse?

I think the larger question, at least where this is concerned, is where do we draw the boundaries between free speech and "harm to the public good". You know, how you're not supposed to yell "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater, unless there is actually a real fire. But with blogs, it's a much more amorphous thing, and as a result, you get cyber-stalkers, trolls, and copycat web sites, which are all technically permitted under free speech laws in most countries (and should be--I'm all for free speech). Where does the line go though, when you have a troll like mine, who's posting such outrageous personal attacks about me that I could conceivably take legal action against them for tarnishing my name and reputation, if the attacks weren't anonymous and didn't take place online?


ETA: Apparently, one of the reasons that comments have dropped off lately is because Blogger is being a pain in the ass about the word verification. I'm going to turn that off and implement comment moderation, on a trial basis for today...


BernardL said...

It all sounds wonderful, Jenny, until you get to this line: 'The whole system would be voluntary, relying on the community to police itself'. You can dress it up in different clothes; but without enforcement, it's still up to the blog manager to prohibit bad behavior. Without an alliance of some kind, it will still be just good intentions. It is in some cases a dangerous situation, but it still has no viable solution.

Jordan Summers said...

My comment doesn't address where the line should be drawn, but I'm all for civility. I think you should contact Blogger/Google and see if there's anyway they can track the anonymous poster.

When someone starts threatening your livelihood, then there's a serious problem. Slander laws vary, depending on the medium, but you should have few options. Also, stalker laws might apply in this situation.

Ben S. D. said...

I've been posting on various message boards for years, and it just comes down to the rules and who's in charge. Some places don't allow for much of anything, and have strict rules against flaming/insulting other users, profanity, sexual innuendo, anything that could be construed as a racial slur, etc. Some are so Nazi-esque about it that the system will automatically censor words that even LOOK like something offensive. For example, you can't write "Essex" or "prickle"...guess why.

Other places have more lenient rules, in that they may not worry at all about language or some insults here and there, but they don't want out-and-out fights and pornography on the site. It just depends on the rules set forth by the moderators and administrators.

Then there's a series of steps they take when violations occur. So if it's a minor infraction (say, calling someone a name), they suspend the user for 1-3 days, or maybe a week. If it keeps happening, they suspend them for a month. If they come back and still act out, OR if their initial offense was grievous enough (posting a link to porn sites or trying to recruit for the KKK, or something), the admin/moderator could just ban the user entirely. This is usually done by the classic and permanent IP ban, when you ban the IP address of the user's computer. That way, they can't ever make another account or log in again from their computer...of course, they could get a new computer or change their IP, but that usually doesn't happen. An IP ban is generally the fastest and quickest way of dealing with serious offenders.

I'm not as familiar with how blogs work, but I know you can enforce as many rules as you want with a message board. Hell, you could make one where it's a violation to post anything with the word "orange." It's entirely up to you. In the end, nobody will ever be able to institute a universal Internet behavior censor of some kind, and I think it will always be this way.

Gina Black said...

I didn't read the whole article because I'm up past my bedtime ;) but after some very nasty and hurtful stuff appeared on my blog last November I started moderating comments. One of the benefits to commenters is that they no longer have to type in the word verifications, and I get to delete spam and anything else I want.

Since the November ugliness, there hasn't been anything to delete. But I reserve the right. It's not that I mind conflict. I'm just not willing to allow people who are only out to hurt me or others to post. I don't have to and I won't. My blog is my cyberhome. I don't allow ugliness in my real home either. At least that's my philosophy on it.

I don't mind anonymous comments per se because I know enough people who have trouble with blogger and can't figure out how to post any other way.

If we all take care of our own small bits of real estate, the entire web will be a better place. :)

Cab Sav said...

As someone who has followed both Jenny's trolling and the Kathy Sierra incident I think it's time we started to accept that the web is part of life and accept responsibilities for our actions there the same way we do in other parts of life.

I don't see why people believe they have a right to behave badly on some-one else's blog. They are visitors, and should behave as such.

Anonymity is a little more difficult. Some blogs make it hard not be anonymous.

I like "Tim O'Reilly's guidelines" and thought they were reasonable.

As a blog owner, I strongly believe it is your responsibiity to moderate your blog and ensure that the content is acceptable to you. Obviously, there will be times when the occasional junk falls through, but you clean it up when you can. It's a little like bringing up children. You set the standards you want them to grow to.

Not only that, you must remember that the blog reflects you. No matter that most people understand it's not you posting bad comments, some of the bad stuff still sticks.

Southern Writer said...

I had trolls last December. I forget how it came to be, but I got wind that someone had accused me on her blog of plagiarism, and I publicly called her on the carpet, much as you did the other day, and let her know I knew her identity. Then I read in the Bookends blog a day or two later how doing that sort of thing looks to the professionals like yourself, and I thought, Yikes! and deleted it all immediately. It was sheer ugliness, and I didn't really like it being on my blog anyway (what if Miss Snark saw it?!?). I made my point with the troll, and so far, so good. Some friend of hers came and stuck up for her and wrote BITCH!, but I left it in the comments and laughed while I watched to see how many times she'd return to see if I'd noticed and deleted it yet. It's still there.

Blogs are so much like high school with various people vying for popularity, and joining cliques, and ganging up on each other. I didn't like it then, and I still don't. I believe young women are the worst offenders. Men (and mature women), for the most part, get mad, flip each other off, and move on. Young women keep that crap going like the Energizer bunny. I think some of them, dear author, I mean agent, do it just to stir the pot.

I turn comment moderation on once in a while when I see trouble brewing. I have a couple stalkers. In some cases, I know what they're there to see, so I edit those posts to "draft," and they can't be seen any more, but for the most part, I let people say whatever they want, as long as it isn't threatening to someone else. I won't allow anyone to use the "N" word, which IMHO is so much worse than the F-bomb, and I won't allow Nazis or Klansmen to use my blog to spread hate. That I'd have to stop immediately. Othewise, I'm all for lively debate between people who disagree. There are always going to be idjits who think they can be ugly behind a cloak of anonymity. We have the tools to identify, prevent and delete them.

Word ver: charm
Imagine that.

The Home Office said...

I never understood why the web should be immune from the societal standards. I have banned anonymous comments from my blog because I kept getting an anonymous poster who was an idiot. I like the freedom of expression and relaxed censoring standards that allow a person to say shit if he has a mouthful. Personal attacks and unsubstantiated rumors are no more forgivable here than in the world.

As for editing/censoring comments to your blog, why not? All publication media have the right to decide what gets put out in association with their names. Anyone offended by having their spurious and harassing comments deleted from a blog is free to start their own. It's not the high startup costs are locking anyone out of the marketplace.

Patrick McNamara said...

There's a difference between free speech and slander. I get tired of hearing people abuse that freedom. Free speech mostly applies to politics but it doesn't give one the right to be offensive.

Furthermore, the Internet isn't just an American thing. Free speech laws are mostly an American institution but not all countries have those protections. When free speech laws are implemented, they can only extend as far as American based websites, if that.

And even in America the claim of "free speech" is often abused to support illegal and immoral behaviors such as child porn. Free speech is a matter of being free to voice one's opinion, but it doesn't mean one can just say whatever they like without regard for others. The one reality that many don't want to face is that the only way to control illegal material on the Internet is to restrict access and limit what many are allowed to post. And it appears that few governments really want to take the reponsibility for regulating even their own Internet because it means dealing with free speech issues. That's why countries like China can do it.

But to stop an individual from posting something you don't like in your blog or forum isn't a violation of free speech; they can still post something on thier site. It's like being the editor of a magazine; you control the content and you can include whatever content you like. If someone mimics you on their site you can use slander and copyright laws against them.

Sherri said...

My blog, my rules. I try very hard to make my content lighthearted and family-friendly, or at least not vulgar. Nobody has the right to subject my readers to language I deem inappropriate. If the troll doesn't like it, he can find another person to abuse under the guise of free speech.

Andrea said...

Blog and message board trolls aren't a problem that need to be solved by some higher power. Site owners cane just ban them or moderate them. End of story. Only the government can "censor" you; blog owners are just moderating something they own.

I'm not sure, though, Jenny, about legal action against the troll if it were not anonymous. (And it doesn't matter if it's online or not - libel and defamation can happen online just fine.) It's not actionable to post extremely rude comments about someone's appearance or life. You'd have to show that the comments were actually likely to hurt your career...and because so many people discount stupid insults, it probably wouldn't be enough.

Ryan Field said...

I think a blog page is a personal page...for many like a personal journal, and it's for fun. Some bloggers even prefer to remain anonymous, which is their choice. And anything you'd like to edit should be edited if it's your own blog page. This is your world. Period. A blog page, like this, is a personal choice and it's your world, Jenny. Do what you want with it.

On that note, these trolls make life difficult because now I have to go through this whole process of resetting my password with goggle anytime I want to comment here. And half the time I don't even get the word verication; only the visual verification sign as a blank (I've done all the cache clearing and it doesn't work).

I haven't read any of the negatives that have happened on this blog...or anywhere else. But, Jenny, I can tell you this: I wouldn't have taken any of them seriously. You write good posts; you've got a good reputation and that's all that matters. The trolls will crawl back under their rocks where they belong eventually.

DementedM said...

I wonder why it is that we're allowed to be anonymous on the internet. That's not how it works in other areas of our lives so why the ability to hide online?

Most of the nastiness would disappear if people's real names ran next to their comments.

I've had a few trolls now and again. Their comments are deleted and they are banned. I'll report them to their ISP too, particularly if physical threats are involved. All this is outlined in my 'about' section on my blog, which I think has helped deter trolling.

I may also occasionally make fun of the trolls, but they're comments are usually so uninspired that they're rarely worth my time.


Jenny Rappaport said...

Andrea, oh I know legal action wouldn't be worth it at all. From a purely practical point of view, it's not worth the time or the money, and as you pointed out, I don't have a "leg to stand on" in terms of anything like a solid case.

But I think the point remains that if this person was taking out ads in the print version of the NY Times, as opposed to doing it through blogs, there would be a much different way to make them go about and stop.

BuffySquirrel said...

Codes of conduct can be useful in guiding those who are well intentioned but clueless. They won't have any effect on those who set out to be malicious. Yes, eliminating anonymity online (supposing that could be done, which I doubt) might remove some of the nastier stuff, but it would probably also deprive us of a lot of the useful stuff, too. Like the Snark.

Comment moderation, deletion and DNFTT remain good options. It's like finding shit on your shoe. Scrape it off and move on.

Yasamin said...

a code of ethics is all good and well but what if I feel that the policing I do on my blog is sufficient enough? I don't appreciate someone telling me what i should/have to do to make my blog Politically Correct for everyone to read. My blog is the gateway to my mind and my soul. I express so much on there whether its happy thoughts or angry ones. And my readers don't hesitate to call me on my faux paux's. I think that if others choose to use the code, then sure, rock on. But do not knock my blog if I choose not to. simple as that.

I say things that I believe whole heartedly and I have a rule that I've only broken once. Never delete a post. NEVER. If I have the guts to post it in the first place, then I have to live with the consequences.

But I believe in deleting comments. My blog isn't some public forum where people can log in and post whatever they feel. Their comments should be regarding that specific post and/or me in some way. As the administrator of my blog, I won't hesitate to delete comments that are just plain derogotory to others.

Jenny, when that fool came to my site and posted that crap about you, I didn't hesitate to delete it, not because you're my best friend and I was completely hurt and broken (no offense because you're not) but because I will never allow someone else to use my soap box for stupid things such as libel against anyone else but me.

I don't care if people come to my blog and say mean crap about me, just don't say it about people who aren't there to defend themselves. I will not suffer cowards on my website. simple as that. and if you need to say something, take 30 seconds and create a user name. don't do it anonymous. thats just lazy.

*steps off soap box*

okay I'm done. :p

The Anti-Wife said...

I don't allow people to smoke in my house. My house. My rules.

It's the same thing with my blog. Anyone can post there, even anonymously, but I retain the right to accept or reject the comment before it's posted. My blog. My rules.

Censorship in any form is repugnant to me because it takes away an individual's right to choose what they want to say and read and see. However ratings systems, like those in the film industry, provide people with information that allows them to make their own decisions. Of course, this presents the problem of who would be doing the ratings and how would they be enforced?

Personally, I don't think it's possible to police the entire blogging world and believe that each individual blogger needs to do what's right for them. Trolls and stalkers, etc. are an unfortunate part of life, but we have the ability to not allow them to infiltrate our personal blogs. Our blogs. Our rules.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Yay for losing captchas, Jenny! I'm ever-so-slightly dyslexic and The Tour Manager can always tell when I'm fighting with my brain and fingers to get it all in synch. (needless to say, he thinks it's funny to hear his wife doing her best sailor-mouth imitation.)

As for the topic at hand...

The thing I find most interesting about your post is that it follows on the heels of Agent Kristin's talk about writers being professional in how they talk online about agents and editors.

In other words, I sense a storm brewing. Or else a revolution where we all remember that even though we're not face-to-face, we're still speaking to each other and expecting to be heard.

As for the Troll, you can ban his ISP from returning to your blog. If he's visiting others, I'd turn him in to his own ISP company; most don't take that sort of thing lightly and will let him have it. No legal action necessary on your end, but a lot of cheers from the people s/he's bothered.

Ryan Field said...

"But I think the point remains that if this person was taking out ads in the print version of the NY Times, as opposed to doing it through blogs, there would be a much different way to make them go about and stop."

Oh, yes, without a doubt there would be a different way. And I think the only reason why there's a difference is because there are no "official" rules or ethics when it comes to blogging like there are in traditional publishing or in advertising or any other established profession. I've been interviewing and reviewing about seven blogs a week for for the past three years. And I will admit that even when I don't like a particular blog I always review it well simply because there are no rules and I don't think it's fair to make comparisons. I also contact the bloggers, before and after the review or interview, to let them know who is writing it and where it will be published. But I don't HAVE to do that; I could just write whatever I want because there are no rules or ethics or standards right now.

So. While there aren't established rules or ethics for blogging, they will no doubt start popping up in the near future simply for the reasons that are being discussed right here on this comment page.

Jenny, whether you realize it or not, you are making a difference just by addressing the issue.

Yasmine Galenorn said...

This is the same reason I have strict anti-flaming rules and required registration in my reader forums.

For one thing, I pay for that space and if I pay for it, people are on my turf.

With blogger, the space used is free--yes--but if you stake out a space, much like homesteading, that space should be yours.

People can blow up all they want in their own spaces, but I have no use for the energy drain that cyberfights cause. Especially when most of the trolls are just looking for continual attention.

Thing about the article is, rules can't be actual 'rules' without having the ability to enforce them--which requires the individual blog owners to make that decision, so there can't be an across the board movement like this unless every blog owner goes for it.

It would be nice if people would take a long hard look at their actions on the net, and how creepy or repulsive they can be.


Chris Redding said...

I wonder when civility went out the window.
I think those who do things anonymously are cowards. I judge writing contests and I put my name on the score sheet. It makes me accountable for what I write. It makes me stop and think of the best way to say what I need to say.
I'd want everyone to do that for me.
Maybe I'm just a pollyanna.
Oh wait, I have over 100 rejections, my skin must be thicker than that! (Grin)

Julie Wright said...

no more code verification! HOORAY! I am just dittoing everyone else here. Your blog--your rules all the time. It's your space and you have the right to edit or delete as you see fit. And people who hide behind anon. remarks are absolute cowards.

On my blog I keep moderation on until I feel comfortable with certain posters. Then I release their names to post whenever they want. I write for YA and I don't want my website blocked by internet filters. If people use words that might make it difficult for teens and kids to find my site, I take the liberty of editing them out. My blog--my rules, all the time. I hope you find moderating a useful tool. :) Good Luck!

kiwi said...

It’s a no-brainer that you have a right to establish and police the rules of behavior of visitors to your blog. As others have noted, and accurately so in my view, your blog is your cyber home. While it is not strictly speak ‘private property’ your blog certainly isn’t unmitigated public space either, and thus escapes the important right of freedom of speech that exists under law in such spaces (assuming you live in a liberal democracy).

The idea that anons are cowards by definition however, needs to be challenged. The problematic with this claim is two fold as I see it. First, whether you use your real name/identity to comment or not, there is always the difficulty of validation posed by the very nature of cyber space. You may comment under your given name, but to someone who has not met you except online, you might as well be posting as Mickey Mouse for all it matters. The second point of challenge is that this catch-all claim ignores to its own dialectical power the reasons why people might comment as anon, and thus, obscures Derrida-style the validity of posting as such. Case in point, say you are an author with a considerable public profile, and prefer to avoid the b***S*** of fame and celebrity status that comes with it. Posting as an anon, in such circumstances enables you to avoid all the preconceived (and frequently inaccurate)notions that your name creates in others, and thus, affording you the blessed right to rub shoulders as equals.

Fiona said...

I second (or third) the notion of "your blog, your rules." Delete the trash, or make fun if it,or whatever you want. You are the "boss" of your blog. If someone doesn't like it, they can get their own blog!

Anonymous said...

I just did a blog about being insulted. I find that there ate two types of insulters, those who are trying to fight/be dicks and those who are voicing their minds, their personal opinion and happen to hit someone's sensitive spot. I absolute believe in civility. But I believe in people being able to voice their opinions as well. The internet's a big place. If someone is gushing about their kids and you don't like kids, don't read it. People who live their life demanding that their every little sensitivity be tip toed around by everyone else are just as bad as the people who poke around on the net looking for a fight.
I think a lot of people out there need to be honest with themselves about when someone is trying to insult them, and when someone has no intention of being rude or insulting and has no clue that they are talking to a person who has over sensitivities.
People who demand that I censor myself when I'm not being obscene or mean bother me more than trolls do. you're just not going to please all the people all the time. I see no point in bothering and I am absolutely capable of caring about and being friends with people who have completely different views that me.

None of this is what the link was talking about, BUT those who don't just delete and ignore trolls (or take criminal action against trolls, in the case of stalking, virtual vandalism or threats) often lead the way for people who demand that their every emotion and whim be pandered to, completely ignoring that when it comes to civility and getting along, each party needs to give.

Anonymous said...

As I saw on Scalzi's blog... Free Speech=public places. My blog is an extention of my house. I run it, censoring what I choose, like I do at my home.