I’m sure most everyone has heard the story of how Kathy Sierra had her life threatened. This was a nasty incident and everyone who’s outraged has a right to be. However, I’m not sure that code of conduct, as suggested by Tim O’Reilly, is the answer.
The piece of it that stuck out the most for me was number two, “We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.” This seems like a very analog solution to a digital problem. Digital communication is different than the face-to-face variety. Part of what makes the internet wonderful is that you can say things you wouldn’t say in person. Just ask the millions of people who are able to get beyond their shyness with the help of the web. I in no way condone hate speech or anything that happened to Kathy, but I don’t think pretending the web has the same properties as the physical world is the answer.
The response many seem to have is that we should require more transparency of people. I don’t think this is the answer. As I wrote in response to a very interesting post by Mark Lewis:
Would demanding transparency ruin the system, though? I know for myself I trust those who chose to be transparent more than those who don’t. If it was required, that separation [between those who are transparent and those who aren’t] would go away and I imagine many would find ways to game the system.
This is one of those questions for which an answer won’t soon come. Every time the KKK marches around people wonder why no one can make it stop. The problem is that it’s really hard to have it both ways. Ultimately digital laws and codes of conduct are unlikely to be the answer, just as there’s no good answer for what to do about the KKK or hecklers.
In the end I don’t have an answer. What I do know is that we need to accept that the medium carries with it a very different set of rules and protocols and try to build something from there. I am not a big fan of just shooting something down without trying to build on it, but at the moment my head’s a little too clogged to think this through all the way. Would love to hear your feedback.
Update (4/9/07): Jeff Jarvis says much of what I’m saying better than I said it.