In the last couple of weeks I had someone come on this site and post, via anonymous comments, a series of diatribes that were a serious attack on another individual and company. The information was detailed but utterly unsubstantiated. The tone was extremely angry. The allegations ranged from deception to outright fraud. I also did a little IP address tracing and determined that the person had gone to some lengths to hide their address.

Within a matter of hours I contacted people who knew something about the companies and person involved, cogitated on what to do, and decided to remove all posts from that individual. I did so without compunction and didn’t think anything else about it. I don’t normally remove comments, in fact that was only the second time in the four five years I’ve had this site. But I guess this kind of thing is going to become more common and we’re being forced to deal with it.

Recently a blog author I follow has been forced to withdraw from blogging and even cancel personal appearances due to death threats received via comments on her blog. The story has received major news coverage, making CNN, the New York Times, and BBC News among others.

Kathy Sierra, author of Creating Passionate Users wrote a nice, user-centered blog about keeping users engaged and had a wonderful sense of graphics and graphic usage. It was good stuff. But somewhere someone got ticked off and began a campaign of vile and serious threats against her.  I find this almost incomprehensible. I didn’t have much to say that hadn’t already been said, and I didn’t feel like adding to the long list of people linking to the murky, disturbing post that describes it all from Kathy’s perspective. But there, I’ve linked to it, as I can’t really talk about this without doing so.

In response to the Sierra fiasco Tim O’Reilly (of O’Reilly Publishing) came out with a Blogger’s Code of Conduct that has created it’s own little tempest in a teapot, as bloggers debate what is censorship, what isn’t, what are we liable for, what is protected speech, etc. I was reminded of all this today when I came across a post by Michelle Lintz at the writetechnology blog:

The Blogosphere Grows Up a Little

Everyone has growing pains as they progress from toddler through to adulthood. The blogosphere is a living, dynamic thing and it’s no different. It was inevitable, of course. That’s not to say it’s not painful for some, and emotional for many.

I debated on even mentioning it, but when it was picked up by the New York Times and the BBC (here and here), I had to investigate further.

To understand it, you have to acknowledge that as in any industry or field, there are certain high-profile folks. In the blogosphere, we have our own “stars” or “celebrities.” People like Dave Winer, Robert Scoble, Kathy Sierra, just to name a few. These folks are incredibly high profile, speak at many events, are public figures that express their views on widely read and well respected blogs. The rest of us are just regular bloggers and the rest of us make up the majority of the blogosphere. In fact, for many of us, these blog stars exist on the periphery of our blogging existence, if at all. So, why are their problems important?

As the blogosphere, or at least the high-profile part, reeled from all this, Tim O’Reilly (yep, the guy who puts animals on his tech books) decided to step in. I concur with many bloggers out there that his actions as “hall monitor” are slightly misguided, no matter how well intentioned. O’Reilly has issued a draft Blogger Code of Conduct and suggests blogs have badges – those who subscribe to the Code of Conduct and those who have an “Anything Goes” badge. Basically, Anything Goes means that any sort of comment can be posted on the blog.

It raises valid questions. Are bloggers responsible for the comments posted to their blogs? Can we censor the comments, and is it censorship? What information do we actually own, when it comes to our blogs, and how accurate are we expected to be? Should we allow anonymous commenting? Are we responsible for the people who choose to remain anonymous? […]

I had some discussions with a lawyer friend when the untoward comments appeared on my blog. He advised that I might expect a cease and desist letter, which he admitted would be a monumentally stupid thing to do on the part of the company’s attorney (he knew what I would do with it.) But we agreed that corporate attorneys don’t get paid for being smart, they get paid for being lawyers. We also agreed that such a letter would have little legal standing other than possibly causing me a little inconvenience. Ultimately, fear of lawyers had nothing to do with my decision.

What did affect my decision was the fact that some yahoo had come on my site, using my weblog and its (admittedly minor) traffic to propagate their personal vendetta. I don’t need O’Reilly’s Code of Conduct to help me understand that people don’t get to do that here.

I am not the government. I am a private individual and therefore cannot, by definition, engage in censorship. I have no obligation to protect anyone’s speech. I have a vested interest in allowing people to post comments challenging my views, questioning my conclusions, forcing me to justify and defend my positions. But I don’t have to let just anyone write just anything they want. Not now, not ever.

I really don’t understand this whole censorship argument. Freedom of Speech and censorship are principles that apply to coercive forces, like governments. If the government didn’t have the power to imprison and execute there would be no need for laws mandating protected speech. I don’t have the power to do either of those things and therefore am not subject to such constraints. I’m just a guy who doesn’t have to play with people who don’t follow the rules of common decency and good sense.

So comment here all you want. I allow anonymous comments as long as no one abuses it. I don’t mind if you disagree with me as long as you do so in a way that makes some sort of sense, and I won’t delete comments unless there is something truly objectionable and unwarranted. But please, refrain from personal attacks, name-calling, making unsubstantiated allegations of illegal behavior, or engaging in other libelous diatribes. I just don’t have the time or patience for it.