We are fortunate to have sparked quite a lively debate on this blog. We got a lot of love from Google. Last week our magazine Policy Innovations was accepted by Google as a news source and Google's Blogger named The Ethical Blogger a "blog of note," triggering a flood of traffic and comments.
One of the biggest areas of debate so far has been about the utility of anonymous postings. I originally called for general transparency in the blogosphere here and mused on the counter intuitive credibility an anonymous blogger can have in oppressive environments, such as in China. We also had a touching comment from a teacher in the New York school system who was sanctioned for writing an op-ed, using a professional email address. Here is an excerpt:
I hate the feeling that in this country, a supposedly free country, that people must hide behind anonymous names.This is a complicated case, as they all are, because this teacher tried to do the right thing but was caught in school system politics. I am not sure if this advice is applicable, but Tim O'Reilly has discussed anonymity quite a bit on his blog thread on developing a Blogger's Code of Conduct.
I, too, hate the namecalling and animosity I read in debate. We can disagree without bashing the person; we can converse without rude language.
This is a topic I care about personally and professionally. How can students learn to debate and converse when all around them they see venomous attacks and language not worthy of intelligent thought?
One of his codes of conduct is to connect privately before we respond publicly: "When we encounter conflicts and misrepresentation in the blogosphere, we make every effort to talk privately and directly to the person(s) involved--or find an intermediary who can do so--before we publish any posts or comments about the issue."
From the lessons he learned so far, he notes on anonymity:
Another place where we clearly erred in the first draft is in the suggestion that anonymity should be forbidden, as there are most certainly contexts where anonymity is incredibly valuable. (Some that come to mind include whistleblowing, political dissent, or even general discussion where someone might not want to confuse their personal opinions of those of an organization to which they belong. As one commenter remarked, it might even be useful for a shy person to whom anonymity gives a bit of courage.)
Like the New York Times Public Editor (read Matthew Hennessey's post on this topic here), O'Reilly concludes that civility is therefore of utmost importance:
But I believe that civility is catching, and so is uncivility. If it's tolerated, it gets worse. There is no one blogging community, just like there is no one community in a big city. But as Sara Winge, our VP of Corporate Communications pointed out, it's not an accident that "Civil" is also the first two syllables of "civilization." What's more, when an exchange of ideas turns into an exchange of insults, everyone loses.Without civility, a few bad apples ruin the Internet for everyone.