Call for blogging code of conduct
Kathy Sierra went public on her fears in her blog
The support for a blogger hounded by death threats has intensified
with some high profile web experts calling for a code of conduct in
The female blogger at the centre of the row has been shocked to
discover that hers is not an isolated incident.
It has led her and others to question some of the unwritten rules of
It could force a re-examination of the way the tight-knit blogging
Among those calling for a bloggers' code of conduct is Tim O'Reilly
- - one of the web's most influential thinkers. "The fact that there's
all these really messed-up people on the internet is not a statement
about the internet." 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
"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."
Ms Sierrra has personally witnessed the usually harmless feuding that
is part and parcel of blogging take on an altogether more sinister
tone, with threats of a violent and sexual nature gathering pace over
the last month.
She agonised over whether to publicise what had happened to her, she
told the BBC News website.
Since describing the campaign against her, she has been shocked to
discover that cyber-bullying is widespread.
"As well as around 900 comments on my blog and hundreds of comments on
other blogs, I have received around 300 personal e-mails and about 70%
of them say they have been through a similar thing," she told the BBC
Among the messages is one from a blogger Ms Sierra described as "far
more prominent than me" who has been avoiding industry conferences
because of persistent online threats.
Ms Sierra herself pulled out of a planned appearance at ETech in San
Diego this week.
She believes it is time the technology blogging community sat up and
"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.
She also thinks it could be time to re-examine whether the blogosphere
needs to be completely uncensored.
"There is an unwritten rule in the blogosphere that it is wrong to
delete nasty comments. It suggests that you can't take criticism but
now there is a sense that this is nonsense," she said.
Tough on women
Denise Howell, a US lawyer and blogger, believes that the blogosphere
is no place for legal requirements.
"The tools of the Live Web have made it easier than ever for
ordinary people to communicate and express views in their individual
capacities, and to provide platforms, e.g. on their blogs, for others
to do so," she said.
"I think anyone who enjoys any aspect of the Live Web would celebrate
this fact, and agree its vitality would be impaired if the law
expected or required these ordinary people to envelop themselves and
their sites in elaborate legal provisos and conditions if they hope to
be shielded from potential responsibility for the bad acts of others,"
The Kathy Sierra situation is, she said, "forcing bloggers to examine
their moral compasses on a number of fronts". But, ultimately
self-regulation is the only way forward, she believes.
Although, as a female blogger, she has not personally encountered
bullying or sexism, she does think it can be tough to be a woman
"Despite my fortunately good experiences, I do think it's harder in
some ways for women to blog. For women with families, it's constantly
in the back of your mind that you're putting not just yourself but to
some extent your family in the public eye," she said.
It has long been accepted that online behaviour differs from the
behaviour people would exhibit in the real world due, largely to the
anonymity it allows.
Technology blogger Sam Sethi agrees that blogging can bring out the
worst in people.
"These young geek guys they feel that that they can say what they
want and do it with anonymity. It can bring out the worst character
behaviour because they feel that they are hidden.
He agrees with Tim O'Reilly that the time is ripe for bloggers to
have a code of conduct and like fellow bloggers, has turned off the
facility on his blog that allows for anonymous posts.
"It could be that the time has come to professionalise what bloggers
do," he said.
"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," he said.
For Ms Sierra the reasons behind the campaign against her remain
elusive. Other than being a woman, she can see only one other reason
for the hatred she has experienced in the last four weeks.
"They thought I was just too damned optimistic," she told the BBC News
"These people are interested in rage and they think that if you aren't
enraged then you are part of the problem. It seems that they hate my
optimism. They think I am poisoning peoples' minds with my positive
outlook," she told the BBC News website.
Such nihilism and anger have led her to consider hanging up her
blogging software for good.