Slightly to my surprise, I found myself agreeing with Jonathan Freedland's complaint about civility, or the lack of it, in blogs:
"Journalists like me have had to raise our game, knowing that a factual lapse will be pointed out within minutes. But that advantage is surely out-weighed by the risk that the blogosphere, which could be a new, revolutionary public space, instead becomes a stale, claustrophobic environment, appealing chiefly to a certain kind of aggressive, point-scoring male - and utterly off-putting to everyone else."
As he says, anonymity is part of the problem among commenters sections, although I'm not sure there's any practical solution:
"At present, you can be an irascible, misogynistic anti-semite online with little or no consequence. But what if that began to affect the rest of your online life? Note how careful people are to be well-regarded on eBay, where money is at stake. Might it not be possible to have a single online identity, one that you cared about, even if it had little connection to your identity in the real world?"
Most bloggers I've read so far have dismissed the idea of a code of conduct. I don't think it's so bad, even if it's no more than a gesture. Daniel Henninger makes the case in the WSJ:
"The admission of need for something called a Bloggers Code of Conduct is about more than just the Web. The deeper import of what may be happening here should be evident in [Tim] O'Reilly's remark, which was the final sentence in a long New York Times article on the subject last Sunday: 'Free speech is enhanced by civility.' It is difficult for me to imagine a more revolutionary sentence... Free speech we know about. Civility we have forgotten. Ask Don Imus."
No doubt the worst offenders would carry on as usual even if a code was introduced. But maybe we should give it a spin. Some people, I notice, seem to think a blog isn't really a blog unless it has a comments section. I don't agree. Norm copes very well, and Andrew Sullivan would be crazy to introduce one. Just monitoring his e-mails, during my Christmas stint at his site, was hard enough work for me. One thing that struck me was how often people fired off quite lengthy messages without bothering to read the original posts properly. The venom was amazing at times. It would be a hundred times worse if he opened up to a free-for-all.