Tim O’Reilly, Blog Sheriff with a shiny new badge

How to enforce more civility at blogs is the hot topic of the past few days.   Here at the Joe Duck blog I recently encountered the tricky nexus between censorship and civility when I chose to ban a sometimes insightful but almost always abusive commenter.  He was the type of person who seems compelled to be abusive.  I think it’s fine to ban that type of person, but I object when people say this is not a a form of censorship – it certainly is and to some degree any censorship can hurt the quest for truth.

Jarvis takes Tim to task about his ideas.

In the latest debate I’m concerned people are confusing two different problems: Blogger Kathy Sierra had some death threats recently.  Mike Arrington suggests this is what got this debate going.    Death threats are illegal and need police follow up.  However Mean-spirited comments are hard to regulate effectively, regardless of any policies, because the line is subjective, unclear, and very dependent on context (e.g. discussion of a savage serial murderer vs a new cell phone).

So as much as I’d like to agree with Tim that we should work to invoke some standards I’m very skeptical of any approach that tries to define civility.   Skeptical enough I’d say there really is no reason at all for a new approach, sheriff badged or not.

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