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Pizza and netiquette at Berkman April 27, 2007

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Social Media.

Over pizza on Wednesday at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, I joined a discussion led by Berkman fellow and author Dave Weinberger on online civility for bloggers, constructive debate and the price of making rules explicit.

There was lots of food for thought in between bites of my pepperoni slice. Dave treated us to an evening of ideas peppered with excellent gems every few minutes, without even a hint of civil rant.

Whatever we call them – netiquette, best practices, ethical rules – the web these days is awash with permutations of conduct codes for those wont or clueless enough to step out of line of civilised debate.

Stuff like, don’t shout on the net (ie DON’T USE ALL CAPS) when replying to a comment; try to quote from the original text to be understood; no racist, pornographic or sexist comments, etc etc.

Should we have lots of such guidelines so bloggers can skirt slaps on their wrist by making explicit the norms already implicit on their sites?

Amid widespread hooliganism against women bloggers, would we want to be reminded of how to behave online when it’s something we know anyway? Please, the Web is no library as I said in my earlier response to a proposed code of conduct.

There is room and role for uncivil discourse if it leads to constructive debate and solid ideas. But our recoil at a coarser conduct of cyber-conversation tells us about how we connect through talk. We are conditioned to behaviour codes in the physical world and we tend to apply the same to cyber-sparring.

The cost? Just look at civil servants on some islands, or corporations run by folks who think PR is about controlling conversations rather than engaging in conversation with customers.

Companies feel a tremendous urge to control communications; it seems as bred-in-the-bone as wanting to sell products. They create org charts to define who gets to do the talking. They issue policy statements: only PR can talk to the press. Only Investor Relations can talk to financial folk. Only the CEO can talk to The Journal. We can’t afford to muddy our message or dislocate our positioning. God knows what some disgruntled worker might tell valuable customers! So, let’s set up a command hierarchy and station it in a hardened communications bunker.

excerpt http://www.cluetrain.com

As the blogosphere struggles to come to grips with the reality of cyberbullying, is a code the answer? What type of conversation would such a code try to create? Is civil conversation an elitist ideal or the bedrock of all discourse? These remain questions to ruminate on as I chew my pizza.

Dave is set to release his book Everything is Miscellaneous, this Monday. He’s a co-author of the The Cluetrain Manifesto, and in 2004, served as Senior Internet Advisor to the Howard Dean Campaign.


1. We Get the Web We Deserve « Webs@Work - July 24, 2007

[…] easier. The Web may make good stuff easier to find than currently possible in the analog world. Hear hear, pass the pizza Dave! My own sense is that as a professional I am good at what I do and sometimes a poor excuse for a […]

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