Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Reactions to the Kathy Sierra Story

BBC NEWS has fielded an interesting set of comments to follow up on yesterday's report of the death threats against Kathy Sierra. Ironically, Greg Sandoval's Blogma post at CNET on this same topic seems to have fielded only six comments, which may say more about prevailing attitudes across the blogosphere than any "expert" tapped by the BBC. Before reviewing these more elevated comments, however, I would like to reproduce one sentence from my own contribution to the Blogma TalkBack:

I think it is amazing (and depressing) how many people embrace a single clause from a single amendment to the Constitution while remaining woefully ignorant of the whole framework to which that amendment applies.

My reaction in reading the BBC NEWS account this morning was a bit more refined but still on the same theme: Those who would dismiss the value of governance are often those who understand the concept the least.

My primary target in this regard is probably Tim O'Reilly; but, in all fairness, his remarks seem to have come from a live interview on BBC Radio Five. None of us are at our best in a live interview. The format affords little (if any) opportunity for reflection, which is probably the best politicians control such interviews through the fine art of saying nothing at all of any substance. Here is how the BBC translated the interview onto their Web page:

He told BBC Radio Five Live that it could be time to formalise blogging behaviour.

"I do think we need some code of conduct around what is acceptable behaviour, I would hope that it doesn't come through any kind of [legal/government] regulation it would come through self-regulation."

While condemning the bloggers who issued the threats, Mr O'Reilly was keen that the whole blogosphere should not be tarred with the same brush.

"The fact that there's all these really messed-up people on the internet is not a statement about the internet. It is a statement about those people and what they do and we need to basically say that you guys are doing something unacceptable and not generalise it into a comment about this is what's happening to the blogosphere."

That last paragraph carries a faint whiff of the standard mantra hauled out in opposition to gun control: Guns don't kill people; people kill people. Contrary to Mr. O'Reilly's assertion, the presence of "really messed-up people on the internet [sic BBC]" does make a statement about the Internet; it makes the statement that the Internet is not the safe place that its cheerleaders wish it would be. Furthermore, safety is not achieved through the declaration of a code of conduct. In fact, to draw upon yesterday's line of reasoning, that last sentence may be read as an analogy to the proposition that an independent country is not achieve through a "declaration of independence;" one needs only a cursory review of the history of our Constitutional Convention to appreciate how complicated the process turned out to be (hence my harping on woeful ignorance). Like it or not, self-regulation is still regulation; and, if that regulation is not propped up with an adequate architecture of governance, it is a harmfully deceptive fiction.

Kathy Sierra's own reaction, on the other hand, reinforces one of the key points I tried to make yesterday:

She believes it is time the technology blogging community sat up and took notice.

"I think there is a culture of looking the other way. When other prominent people look the other way it is creating an environment that allows this type of behaviour," she said.

This is basically what I had in mind yesterday when, after invoking Voltaire, I wrote:

I would therefore question the wisdom of suspending blogging "in a show of support" when more substantive support can come from confronting the nature of the situation and discussing how it can be addressed.

Any AIDS support advocate knows the motto, "Silence is death;" and we have to recognize that this may be just as true in the blogosphere as it is for AIDS.

One of the reasons why Internet advocates may be circling the wagons in opposition to governance it that they tacitly assume that governance must involve some level of government in this country. Since Denise Howell is a lawyer, I am reluctant to lay my "woeful ignorance" charge on her; but she, too, waved the self-regulation flag in her BBC interview. Nevertheless, I would accuse her of well-intentioned naïveté:

The Kathy Sierra situation is, she said, "forcing bloggers to examine their moral compasses on a number of fronts".

I would put up the low level of response on Blogma as a counter-argument here and would even be so cynical as to wonder just how many bloggers out there have moral compasses, let alone take the time to examine them!

Finally, Sam Sethi revealed himself as the only one ready to rough out a plan that would lead to (self-)regulation supported with a viable level of substance. The BBC quoted him as follows::

It is up to the community to agree the rules and then it would simply be a line at the top of the blog to say only show me sites that adhere to this conduct.

Aside from the fact that, once one has to confront the devil in the details, things are not going to be that simple, I think that Mr. Sethi is on the right track; and, if he is in a position to turn his theory into practice, I wish him all the best.

No comments: