A few weeks ago I read about a blogger who had been receiving death threats and having to endure manipulated photos of herself (including one with her head in a noose) on various sites on the Internet. As a result, she cancelled her speaking engagements and has been scared to leave her house.
While some people would say "It's the Internet! It's not Real Life, so it doesn't mean anything", for people who spend an inordinate amount of their time (working or socialising) online, the distinction can become very blurry indeed. I, for one, do a lot of work online and have met a few really cool people online who have become my friends in RL (real life). It is also often the case that I am more in touch with friends who live across the world than with people who reside in the same city as me (courtesy of the wonders of instant messaging or VOIP tools like Skype). Does this speak poorly of my social skills? Maybe. Maybe not. But, I feel that technology-facilitated relationships are the emerging reality for a small but growing group of people.
Anyway, a group of bloggers are pushing for a code of conduct for bloggers. There would be different categories that bloggers can belong to e.g. one for anonymous bloggers, another for bloggers who make their identity public. The third category would stipulate that bloggers cite second sources for any gossip or breaking news they publish. This code of conduct is based on a set of guidelines already being implemented by BlogHer, the online community of women bloggers.
Although many write about the blogosphere like it is one monolithic block of like-minded people, it obviously is so far from that and, as to be expected, debates have been raging on various websites: some lending cautious support; to those in full agreement of some guiding principles; and to those balking at the sheer idiocy of attempting to impose rules on what to many represents their last bastion of free speech.
I think as the Internet becomes a more prominent part of our lives, it is important to be mindful of good ettiquete in your interactions with others - just as you would be in RL. I can sort of see why the idea of rules is offensive to many people and I am not in favour of anything that would restrict my right to say what I want to, but I also think it's important to realise that we tend to abide to an unwritten set of rules/guidelines both online and off, so what's the big deal in acknowledging that?
Some would say that, "Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but names will never hurt me." That's not true. Words can often cause the biggest pain of all. Some would also say that, "If you can't deal with negative comments, then you shouldn't blog." I don't agree with that either. That's like saying you should not speak or share an opinion - ever - if you aren't prepared for the possibility of someone slamming your opinions into the ground. Dealing with negative remarks is a two-way street. They can be extremely hard to deal with (though people have varying degrees of sensitivity), but everyone is going to get some particularly nasty or hurtful piece of criticism, and outright insults as some point in their lives, whether you blog or not, and so need to develop some strategies of dealing with it. However, people also also need to be mindful of how they disagree and learn to dispense critism in a manner that can help to open up the channels for more open dialogue, rather than focus on scoring points.
BBC News: The Editors' Blog
BBC News: Weblogs 'need content warnings'