Warning: may contain nuts

First, a pre­amble. My apo­lo­gies that the fol­low­ing is going to be one of those entries that undoubtedly ends up as noth­ing more than a bit­ter, vitu­per­at­ive, slap my hand to my brow in exas­per­a­tion attack on all things blog and web-related. Some tar­gets, how­ever, are too obvi­ous to res­ist. Indeed, some tar­gets pos­it­ively beg and shout for atten­tion. “Pick me! Pick me! Ful­min­ate wildly about ME!” they squeal, whil­st jump­ing up and down and wav­ing their arms in the air. And I give in and haul them out of the team line-up for a sound tick­ing-off, because I am only human, after all.

Fur­ther­more, to those silent but ded­ic­ated few who only come here to read the obfus­cat­ory verb­os­ity that is usu­ally bet­ter under­stood after down­ing an over­dose of kid­dies’ cough mix­ture, I say: come back soon. There will be more Kafkaesque non­sense along shortly. But in the mean­time, let us turn our weary gaze back to the self-obsessed world of web­logs. And laugh.

Except when I say ‘laugh’ I do, of course, mean ‘offer a well-roun­ded crit­ic­al ana­lys­is’. Oh yes, that’s me. New Media com­ment­at­or par excel­lence. Web two point oh. And stuff. Do stop your guf­faw­ing at the back, please.

In the latest con­tro­ver­sy to hit the ‘blo­go­sphere’ (fear not, for I shall wash my mouth out later with a bottle of lem­on zest Toi­let Duck as pun­ish­ment for hav­ing used that dreaded word), some bloke — sorry, some ‘hugely influ­en­tial web pion­eer’ — called Tim O’Reilly has pub­lished his draft ver­sion of a Blogger’s Code of Con­duct. This is in respon­se to a recent scan­dal involving all kinds of unpleas­ant death threats made again­st an appar­ently very well-known blog­ger — so well-known, in fact, that pre­dict­ably I had nev­er heard of her before her name was emblazoned across the head­lines. But that’s beside the point, and is just another example of me being need­lessly catty. Kathy who, exactly?

In truth, I could prob­ably stop this post right here. Just the phrase ‘Blogger’s Code of Con­duct’ tells you all you really need to know. Which is the fol­low­ing:

(a) Tim O’Reilly is Amer­ic­an. I don’t wish to be unfair to my transat­lantic cous­ins, but this is the sad truth of the mat­ter. He is. It’s very unlikely that someone from the United King­dom would have writ­ten this heap of old tosh ask­ing blog­gers to be nice to each oth­er. We would be too busy shak­ing our heads dis­missively, cast­ing dis­ap­prov­ing glances in vari­ous dir­ec­tions, and tut­ting under our col­lect­ive breath.

(b) Tim O’Reilly takes blog­ging far too ser­i­ously. It would be too easy to merely tell him to step away from the com­puter for a little while, because pre­sum­ably his life would crumble into noth­ing­ness without the inter­net. May­be, how­ever, he could be per­suaded to try and recall what it was like when blog­ging and the web were all shiny, new and excit­ing to him. Oh, and fun. Yes. Remem­ber fun, Tim?

© Tim O’Reilly sulks when people are nasty to him and his friends. He prob­ably cries and pouts and stamps his feet as well. Instead of ignor­ing the trouble­makers or pul­ver­ising them with remarks of with­er­ing, bit­ing sar­casm, he sits up until the early hours of the morn­ing put­ting his aggrieved soul into the point­less task of mak­ing sure that people behave in the way he expects them to behave; the way they would behave if the web was bland and uni­form and, most import­antly, run by Tim O’Reilly.

(d) Tim O’Reilly clearly believes that he owns the inter­net. And he is def­in­itely suf­fer­ing from a delu­sion that blog­ging is his per­son­al fief­dom. My humble corner of the web is, in fact, owned by Tim O’Reilly. An Unre­li­able Wit­ness, as writ­ten and mod­er­ated by Tim O’Reilly. Thanks Tim, much appre­ci­ated. Saves me from hav­ing to have a single ori­gin­al thought of my own.

(e) In his pho­to, Tim O’Reilly has a pecu­li­ar ‘not quite there’ beard. It can’t seem to decide on wheth­er it would prefer to be beardy or clean-shaven. I will con­cede that this point is entirely my dubi­ous opin­ion and not strictly rel­ev­ant to any­thing what­so­ever, but it would have kept me awake tonight if I hadn’t included it.

So, yes, I could stop there. But, if Tim will let me, and if I have his express per­mis­sion as the great exal­ted lead­er of all things web-based, I’d like to con­tin­ue into fur­ther sar­casm, end­ing even­tu­ally at com­plete irrel­ev­ance. Like most of the blog entries I write which I fool­ishly attempt to call ‘fac­tu­al’, regret­tably.

The Code of Con­duct (in excru­ci­at­ing detail)

Turn­ing to Uber­grup­pen­fuhr­er O’Reilly’s Code of Con­duct and its six tab­lets of stone, com­mand­ment num­ber one reads: “Thou Shalt Not Say Nasty Things About Very Import­ant Blog­gers Who Know Much More About The Inter­net Than The Rest Of You Mere Mor­tals”. Except it doesn’t, of course. It actu­ally says:

“1. We take respons­ib­il­ity for our own words and for the com­ments we allow on our blog.”

Once again, that should really be the end of it. The end of the list. Tim has gra­ciously given you, me, all of us the per­mis­sion to run our own corner of the inter­net in the way we choose. I may not have any con­trol over my life or the world at large, but I can at least run my site in exactly the way I want to. Thanks, Tim, that’s really jolly decent of you, old bean.

Except. Oh dear. Tim wants a stand­ard. A kite mark, if you will.

“We are com­mit­ted to the ‘Civil­ity Enforced’ stand­ard: we will not post unac­cept­able con­tent, and we’ll delete com­ments that con­tain it.”

So who decides what is “unac­cept­able con­tent”? As plenty of people will know through late-night con­ver­sa­tions in dark, shrouded corners of the inter­net, I think there is plenty of con­tent on vari­ous web­logs that is down­right unac­cept­able. But I stand by the author’s abso­lute right to say it. I stand by anyone’s right to arrive at this web­site and spew forth vit­ri­ol in the com­ments, too. If I then cry into my shirt sleeve and delete it, that is my choice (and my emo­tion­al fail­ing). But am I really sup­posed to sit here and judge every com­ment as to wheth­er it could pos­sibly cause offence to someone, some­where, at some time or oth­er? Well, sorry Tim, but no. I have things to do, people to see, and the same amount of vit­ri­ol to spew forth in oth­er people’s com­ments boxes. If I want.

Oh, and Tim has help­fully pos­ted a little graph­ic, a badge, that any blog­ger who is observing this stand­ard could use on their site. I would copy it here, of course, but I might face charges of high treas­on because I am clearly not observing those same saintly, God-fear­ing stand­ards. So I will describe it to you. It’s a sil­ver six-poin­ted star emblazoned with the words ‘CIVILITY ENFORCED’. It looks uncom­fort­ably sim­il­ar to a sheriff’s badge. An Amer­ic­an sheriff’s badge. I expect that will go down really well with cit­izens blog­ging from with­in the dilap­id­ated ruins of war-torn Iraq, Tim. I have no doubt that those Ira­ni­ans cur­rently risk­ing life and limb by post­ing blogs crit­ic­al of their government’s regime will be simply over­joyed at the pro­spect of adding the neces­sary code to their sites to dis­play a sym­bol that is so syn­onym­ous with the USA.

Can any­one else smell the ran­cid whiff of US imper­i­al­ism, or is it just me?

The wor­st thing is, Tim, that you’ve got it all wrong. You’ve got it all so very wrong. Blog­ging is, fam­ously, a Brit­ish inven­tion. Brit­ish through and through. Or at least it is under my rewrit­ten his­tory of the form. I shall shortly be request­ing — no, demand­ing — that web­logs from every corner of the globe should proudly boast the image of Her Majesty Queen Eliza­beth II in all her regal finery. Ideally, it will be accom­pan­ied by a flut­ter­ing anim­ated gif of the Uni­on Jack too. This will be a mark of trust, a sign of qual­ity to any aim­less web surfer who lands upon the site that it is thor­oughly decent, prop­er and upstand­ing because it is adher­ing to the Brit­ish way of life and the Brit­ish way of doing things. God bless the Queen! Long live the Brit­ish Empire!

I could ladle on the sar­casm even more — you know I could — but I fear that if I did I would nev­er get round to deal­ing with the oth­er five points in the Blogger’s Code of Con­duct.

“2. We won’t say any­thing online that we wouldn’t say in per­son.”

No, Tim. On the con­trary, we will say plenty of things online that we wouldn’t dare to say in per­son. This is one of the most fun­da­ment­al gifts of the inter­net, and the unique selling point of blog­ging. Meet me in real life — as a liv­ing, breath­ing per­son — and I won’t dare to say half the things I write on this site or in the com­ments of oth­er web­logs I read. I’m quite shy and self-effa­cing, Tim. The reas­on I enjoy blog­ging, and have enjoyed it for nearly sev­en years, is that it allows me to say those things that I simply don’t have the capa­city to put into speech, face to face with oth­er people. Some­times that involves being frank, crit­ic­al, even a little nasty. May God have mer­cy on my soul. I’m going to hell any­way, so what do I care?

“3. We con­nect privately before we respond pub­licly.”

Let’s say, just as an example, that a pop­ular blog­ger writes an entry more or less express­ing the view­point that “An Unre­li­able Wit­ness is an utter twat”. This is pos­ted on their freely avail­able web­site, prob­ably with a link to the twat’s blog — er, I mean, to my blog — so that read­ers can dis­cov­er my innate twat­tish­ness for them­selves.

Being a decent type of fel­low, proudly wear­ing my ‘Civil­ity Enforced’ sheriff’s badge on my lapel, I will dis­creetly write to the blog­ger in ques­tion politely ask­ing them to cease and desist from say­ing rot­ten things about me, because oth­er­wise I will hug my com­fort­ing pil­low and cry myself to sleep at night.

Of course I won’t. I will respond in the same pub­lic man­ner in which they have chosen to cri­ti­cise me, either in their com­ments or on my site. This is real life, Tim. It’s kind of bru­tal like that.

“4. When we believe someone is unfairly attack­ing another, we take action.”

Now here is one point on which I don’t neces­sar­ily dis­agree. Yes, in such a situ­ation we do take action — though, for some reas­on, events in recent years have taught me to be wary of the phrase “take action”, as we have all too fre­quently heard it said by seni­or US or Brit­ish politi­cians in the form of a veiled threat to any rogue nation that might poten­tially be wield­ing one of those axes of evil (sic). So may­be I don’t mean that sort of action. May­be I don’t mean going as far as O’Reilly sug­gests and get­ting the law enforce­ment agen­cies involved. Not quite yet, Tim; it’s only blog­ging, for pity’s sake. Besides which, I can quite eas­ily envis­age any com­plaint that I made at the aver­age sub­urb­an police sta­tion being greeted with a mostly bewildered respon­se, pos­sibly involving an impa­tient desk ser­geant tap­ping his pen on the coun­ter and look­ing me up and down in a sus­pi­cious man­ner, before ask­ing: “What exactly is a ‘blog’, sir? And why do you want one of its com­menters arres­ted, eh?”

So in the case of blog­ging, tak­ing action is surely doing much the same as you would in real life if a friend was being verbally attacked, isn’t it? Namely, you leap to their defence either by shout­ing back at the per­pet­rat­ors, fix­ing them with your gim­let eye, or point­ing at them, whis­per­ing, then cack­ling cruelly. That’s usu­ally all the ‘action’ that’s required.

“5. We do not allow anonym­ous com­ments.”

Tim, Tim, Tim, me old mucker. Now you’re just being a spoilsport. As I sug­ges­ted earli­er, some people not only wel­come but act­ively seek out the rel­at­ive anonym­ity of the inter­net — me among­st them. I have fre­quently left anonym­ous com­ments scattered round the inter­net and received many anonym­ous com­ments in return. A num­ber of those have been crit­ic­al, unpleas­ant or, in some cases, plain scary, but oth­ers were no doubt left by shy souls who would rather not divul­ge their true iden­tity. Moreover, hav­ing pre­vi­ously been a named and shamed blog­ger, I even choose to write anonym­ously now. Though since almost every­one knows who I am, I will agree that this puts a rather massive dent in my desired aim of being aloof, mys­ter­i­ous and oth­er­worldy. Damn.

Oh, but Tim wants com­menters — if they must be anonym­ous or use an ali­as — to sup­ply a val­id email address before they respond. Well, that’s fine, because for­tu­nately there are abso­lutely no free email ser­vices avail­able on the net to which one can sign up in a mat­ter of seconds, are there? No. None at all. Fur­ther­more, I am obvi­ously aware that any blog­ger who is espe­cially con­cerned about the com­ments they receive makes a par­tic­u­lar point of scru­pu­lously check­ing the email addresses of each and every vis­it­or who presses that little ‘Sub­mit’ but­ton. Which is why I have nev­er been suc­cess­ful at leav­ing com­ments with con­tact details such as god@heaven.com, beelzebub@hell.com or kafka@metamorphosis.com. Not me, no. I always give my real address. Hon­est, guv.

Call me stu­pid, Tim, but I spot a poten­tially massive flaw in your Code of Con­duct.

“6. We ignore the trolls.”

Again, I don’t neces­sar­ily dis­agree with this final point in Tim’s Six Com­mand­ments. Trolls die without the oxy­gen of call and (increas­ingly embittered) respon­se. Then again, troll-bait­ing can be an immensely enjoy­able pas­time, mostly because the per­pet­rat­ors soon prove them­selves to be par­tic­u­larly dim-wit­ted and can be verbally but soundly beaten to a gib­ber­ing pulp with a well-placed, barbed riposte. Plus there’s no deny­ing that some trolls are really quite cuddly and cute, as the accom­pa­ny­ing pic­ture demon­strates. What harm could there pos­sibly be in let­ting such a pecu­li­ar little creature dig its bur­row in a dank corner of your blog? Lighten up, Tim. Lighten up.

Blog­ging — a word, incid­ent­ally, that I still can­not abide, des­pite the num­ber of times I have been forced to use it in the pre­ced­ing para­graphs — is all about freedom of speech. Web­logs, like the inter­net itself, can also be nasty and unpleas­ant places. But that is the price we pay for hav­ing such freedom. I would much rather be part of a blo­go­sphere (oh, that awful word again) with a dark, dank and dis­taste­ful under­belly than be forced to inhab­it some clean, white, pure but bland, bland, bland envir­on­ment where people are sick­en­ingly polite and nice to each oth­er all the time. Espe­cially if we’re only act­ing that way because someone is telling us we must.

We can’t pro­tect every­one from everything, though of course it would be a won­der­ful vis­ion of Uto­pia if we could. So if you can’t stand the heat, get your self-obsessed prose (which is what blog­ging ulti­mately is, if we’re hon­est with ourselves) out of the kit­chen. Nobody, thank heav­ens, is for­cing you onto the inter­net to write about your thoughts or doc­u­ment your daily life. You choose to do that. I choose to do that. Wheth­er we’ve got two read­ers, two thou­sand read­ers or wheth­er we’re Doo­ce (no link, because you surely must know how to find her if you want to), we’re all dis­play­ing the essen­tial exhib­i­tion­ist streak that makes us want to blog. And with blog­ging comes feed­back and com­ments, not all of which will be com­pli­ment­ary or even remotely pleas­ant.

For­tu­nately, there is an altern­at­ive. You could always go back to writ­ing a diary. In private. On paper. Off­line. Without an audi­ence.

An Unre­li­able Wit­ness: that Code of Con­duct in full

If we must dis­cuss such tedi­ous sub­jects as codes of con­duct then, with blogs being as indi­vidu­al as people, the obvi­ous route is for each blog­ger to provide their own per­son­al list for users of their site. An Unre­li­able Wit­ness is, there­fore, proud to unveil its six rules for mak­ing your vis­it to this humble vir­tu­al abode pass as pain­lessly — and also, for your sake, as quickly — as pos­sible. As ever, my thanks go to Tim O’Reilly for provid­ing such a beacon of tre­mend­ous inspir­a­tion.

1. All the words, thoughts and ideas on this pathet­ic excuse for a web­log are mine.. And that means right down to the last ridicu­lously over­cooked poet­ic syn­onym that I’ve man­aged to dig out of the depths of my favour­ite thesaur­us. I am allowed to have my own opin­ions on my own site, since I have pre­cious little power over any­one or any­thing else that inhab­its this God-for­saken hell­hole of a plan­et. I am allowed to be as wil­fully pre­ten­tious, obfus­cat­ory, odd or simply down­right rude as I like on these pages. Deal with it.

2. You can say whatever you wish and behave how­ever you see fit in the com­ments. Dur­ing almost sev­en years of blog­ging, I have deleted very few responses from vis­it­ors to my site(s), but some­times I’m just an awk­ward and moody old sod, and I might not like the way you’ve used a semi-colon or a com­ma. This could res­ult in the sud­den, impetu­ous removal of your pro­found thought or hil­ari­ous wit­ti­cism, even if your spelling is exem­plary. Deal with it.

3. If you are unne­ces­sar­ily rude about me, my site, or people I like, I won’t threaten you with sense­less acts of viol­ence. I’m quite a peace-lov­ing soul really, as well as an invet­er­ate cow­ard. How­ever, I will reserve the right to point and laugh at you, make offens­ive hand ges­tures in your gen­er­al dir­ec­tion, or dis­cuss you behind your back. Deal with it.

4. Obscure in-jokes about vari­ous areas of Lon­don, cer­tain authors, cream cakes, vari­et­ies of cheese or uniden­ti­fied per­sons known only to myself and a few oth­er exclus­ive com­menters are not only wel­come, but pos­it­ively encour­aged. The same goes — even more so, in fact — for filthy innu­en­dos. If you don’t under­stand the ref­er­ences, it’s only because you’re jeal­ous and want to be in my gang. Ask nicely, and I might let you into the secret of how to join. Fail­ing that, I sug­gest that you leave your own bizar­re com­ment, fol­lowed by a know­ing wink, and in no time at all people will be intrigued as to what you’re going on about. Nev­er for­get that blog­ging is a jeal­ously, almost obsess­ively guarded clique — and not only because no one in the real world couldn’t care less about this sup­posedly revolu­tion­ary medi­um. Deal with it.

5. The despic­able act of blog-stalk­ing is obvi­ously a Bad Thing. There shall be no gra­tu­it­ous issu­ing of death threats or indul­ging in oth­er acts of hor­rendous unpleas­ant­ness here. How­ever, stalk­ing of a mild vari­ety — involving activ­it­ies such as vis­it­ing my site at least two hun­dred times a day, telling me I’m won­der­ful in every single com­ment you leave, read­ing every single archived entry (twice), wear­ing a t-shirt dis­play­ing the URL, quot­ing pas­sages of my elo­quent prose at social engage­ments, or spray-paint­ing the name of An Unre­li­able Wit­ness on vari­ous prom­in­ent build­ings and land­marks — is wel­comed. Des­per­ately wel­comed. Please. Please, please, please. There is even the remotest chance that I’ll be so grate­ful to you for vastly increas­ing my tra­gic­ally low self-esteem that you’ll receive a Christ­mas card from me each year. Then again, I hate Christ­mas, so you may not. Deal with it.

6. Er, that’s it. There is no sixth rule. I have come to the moment­ous con­clu­sion that there are no more than five things that can be said about blog­ging. And even that’s push­ing it. Deal with it.

Comments: 12

    I haven’t actu­ally read all of this yet because I acci­dent­ally sprayed my com­puter with ginger short­bread crumbs and had to wipe it down. But I pause mid­way through this post to say that I am rather dis­ap­poin­ted that Mr Wit­ness has not provided the html code which will enable me to dis­play Her Majesty’s Civil­ity Enforced badge on my blog, which is indeed a place where there is no unpleas­ant­ness, except when I am post­ing about large spiders, in which case I would need the html code for the badge with a big red line through it.

    Katy Newton | 04.13.07, 19:54

    Not mean­ing to be picky but… um… the pho­to… um… isn’t that a gonk?

    Alan | 04.13.07, 23:31

    I think this is the best thing you have ever writ­ten [and to be quite frank — the first post I’ve under­stood]

    andre | 04.14.07, 13:35

    Dearest Andre — I was moment­ar­ily temp­ted to be obtuse in respon­se to your kind com­ment and say some­thing like:

    My eye­lids are shal­low bays of light in a cinema show­ing silent movies on the flick­er­ing walls of the inside of my mind. 

    But I decided that would be too much even for me. So I shall merely say thank you, and that you are too kind.

    An Unreliable Witness | 04.14.07, 17:49

    I liked your post. I liked it a lot bet­ter than Tim O’Reilly’s post, because that page crashed my Inter­net Explorer. Four times. And I even restar­ted the com­puter.

    So I guess some deli­cious under­belly troll has attached some nas­ties to the nice man’s page. Poet­ic, if you think about it. Karma is what you sow, but Dharma is the Law.

    Peter | 04.18.07, 18:17

    I admit it, I cry under pres­sure. I don’t like trolls — they give me night­mares. I am enfor­cing civil­ity on my blog because it is my inter­net home. And because it made me really depressed when someone sent me a com­ment telling me I was a liar and a whore. Why? What did I do? 

    Yes, per­haps this demon­strates once and for all that I’m insec­ure. But, ~sigh, what else is new?

    Maryam in Marrakesh | 04.20.07, 14:20

    I don’t think a code of con­duct works unless you have enforce­ment.

    We are humans, our pri­orty is to ourselves first and we are only deterred to do things which we want to do if there is unfa­vor­able retri­bu­tion.

    I think our entire motiv­a­tion for the way we act can be reduced from the day we are born to reward / pun­ish­ment.

    Sea Urchin | 05.22.07, 20:18

    This was such a fant­ast­ic piece of writ­ing.

    I won­der if Tim has read it? Will he be “con­nect­ing privately” before he “responds pub­licly”?

    Thanks for your immense insight and quirky wit, a pleas­ure.

    Camille | 05.30.07, 10:46

    You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful You’re won­der­ful — is that enough to get you come over to my place?! 

    Erm, what’s a social engage­ment?

    A man that doesn’t like beards — I’m gush­ing. May I ask where you stand on foot­ball?

    Stephanie Boon | 11.16.07, 17:58

    Gosh, what a lot of ‘won­der­fuls’.

    I loathe and des­pise foot­ball with a pas­sion.

    And a social engage­ment is what nor­mal people do. I, how­ever, have no idea about such things.

    Thanks for the com­ment, Stephanie.

    An Unreliable Witness | 11.16.07, 19:57

    Wow. A man of remark­able words that doesn’t like beards, loathes foot­ball and isn’t nor­mal. I’m weak at the knees. I might even come rush­ing back to the old home town and marry you, if I believed in mar­riage, which I don’t. It’s tempt­ing to leave a little x here for your words, but I won’t for fear of such an effus­ive little char­ac­ter giv­ing the wrong impres­sion. I shall go and have por­ridge and some strong cof­fee instead!

    Stephanie Boon | 11.17.07, 07:29

    There was this guy see.
    He wasn’t very bright and he reached his adult life without ever hav­ing learned “the facts”.
    Some­how, it gets to be his wed­ding day.
    While he is walk­ing down the isle, his father tugs his sleeve and says,

    “Son, when you get to the hotel room…Call me”

    Hours later he gets to the hotel room with his beau­ti­ful blush­ing bride and he calls his father,

    “Dad, we are the hotel, what do I do?”

    “O.K. Son, listen up, take off your clothes and get in the bed, then she should take off her clothes and get in the bed, if not help her. Then either way, ah, call me”

    A few moments later…

    “Dad we took off our clothes and we are in the bed, what do I do?”

    O.K. Son, listen up. Move real close to her and she should move real close to you, and then… Ah, call me.”

    A few moments later…

    DAD! WE TOOK OFF OUR CLOTHES, GOT IN THE BED AND MOVED REAL CLOSE, WHAT DODO???”

    “O.K. Son, Listen up, this is the most import­ant part. Stick the long part of your body into the place where she goes to the bath­room.”

    A few moments later…

    “Dad, I’ve got my foot in the toi­let, what do I do?”

    RorBroromew | 10.24.08, 01:57

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