Tim O’Reilly has had a lot of good ideas. A very smart guy. And what happened to Kathy Sierra (and lot of less famous people) is obscene. But this Blogger Code of Conduct business? Is an enormous waste of time. Does it move anyone to do anything they wouldn’t already? No. Is there anything stopping someone from throwing up one of those inane badges and then doing what he’d do already? No. But it’s not as if this is the first exercise in pointless wankery on web. So why does this particular project bother me?
It’s giving legitimacy to this idea that form is more important than substance. That so long as you say please and thank you, you ought not be held to account for anything you say between those two words. Oh, there’ve always been delicate flowers on the internet, ready to faint at the first “goddamn.” But more and more, I’ve seen people who spew the most hateful and ignorant things immediately retreat behind a claim that someone is being uncivil, if they’re called hateful or ignorant. And, astoundingly, a fair number of otherwise reasonable people appear ready to give them cover on that.
This was well-illustrated for me in the past year, as I discovered Virginia political blogs. Until I realized the impact that the Virginia Marriage Amendment would have on me, I’d generally treated Virginia politics as mostly irrelevant to my interests. But then we had an issue on the ballot where people from all over the state could decide that I ought not have control over my own life and family. So I got involved in the Virginia online (and off) conversation. And in many respects, I’m glad I did. I discovered good folks like Vivian, Waldo, and the Howling Latina. All great contributors to public life, I think. But I also discovered a whole lot of hate. A whole lot.
I discovered that a vast swath of Virginia political blogs are dedicated to promoting some of the most ignorant, hateful, and harmful lies out there. Islam is dedicated to killing you. Allowing equal rights for all will lead to the collapse of society. Black folks ought to be thankful for slavery. I’m not going to link them, as there’s nothing to be gained by it, but I’ve come across all of these sentiments and worse in the posts and comments sections of Virginia political blogs (and this is to say nothing of the daily homophobia and xenophobia). Ignorance like this ought not to be met with acquiescent silence, or a polite murmur of disagreement. It needs to be engaged head-on, called out for what it is, and exposed to the sort of ridicule that a flat-earther might experience at meeting of geophysicists.
In other words, people who repeatedly claim and perpetuate hateful, ignorant, and harmful things don’t deserve a thoughtful engagement, deconstruction, and explanation every time. They can – and should – be dismissed as bigots. Or liars. Or straight up loons. There is no reason in the world to be patient and polite with someone who claims that some humans don’t deserve the same basic rights as others, or that a whole swath of humanity ought to be killed because it will satisfy their uninformed selves.
You want to improve the blogosphere? Raise the bar on substance, instead of hiding behind form.