Far be it from me to put words into the mouth of Tim Ireland, but it has not gone unnoticed at ‘the Ministry’ that a couple of points that Tim’s raised in the course of his extended polemic on the subject of Guido Fawkes (the blogger, not the 17th century Roman Catholic revolutionary) have led to raised eyebrows and a modicum of confusion in some quarters of the blogosphere.
Taken on face value, some of Tim’s comments on the subject of anonymity and *gasp* a ‘voluntary code of conduct’ seem, well, rather heretical - after all when a Mr ‘Nice-But -Dim’ (can’t be arsed to look up his name), from the Press Complaints Commission, flaoted the ’same idea’ before Christmas he was roundly pilloried by many bloggers for daring to suggest that we even consider (self)censoring our opinions - why should we treat such a suggestion from another blogger, and one who can genuinely claim to be a pioneer of the British blogosphere, any differently.
Nosemonkey picks up on both points is his (typically) considered response to Tim’s polemic, and on the face of it, it’s very difficult to disagree with anything he has to say:
I also see no problem with blogging anonymity, nor with political blogging that aims more at frivolous gossip than detailed discussion. Guido’s pseudonym is no more of a barrier to understanding his motivation than was Addison and Steele’s “Spectator” persona, or than are the many in Private Eye. If you care about what the writer’s own motivations are behind the pseudonym, they are often fairly easy to find out - and the people who can’t be bothered to find out evidently don’t care anyway. Quality will out - and it matters not a jot whether I write as “Nosemonkey” or under my real name if my arguments and evidence are good enough. The same goes for Guido - although (based on what crops up in his comments) a good proportion of his readers aren’t exactly the sharpest tools in the box, enough of them are bright enough to know not to take everything he writes at face value…
…To try to promote accountability and honesty within this Fifth Estate - at least, within the political part of it - is obviously laudable. But any attempt to set up a voluntary code of conduct - be it stemming from a well-known blogger of long standing like Manic or from an external body like the Press Complaints Commission - is doomed to failure.
And yet, disagree with him I do, but only in terms of the context of his remarks and his understanding of precisely what it is that Tim is suggesting.
What is apparent here, to me, is that there is, even within blogging (and the wider ‘internet generation’), a ‘generation gap’ between those like Tim (and myself, for that matter) and other bloggers, of which Nosemonkey appears to be an example.
That’s by no means intended as a criticism of NM, merely a reflection of a difference in understanding between us when it comes to how we interpret Tim’s comments; one that I consider to stem largely from our ‘belonging’ to different ‘internet generations’.
Both Tim and I come from what might be called the ‘Usenet Generation’; the early adopters, the people who were out here on the electronic frontier before the internet became the near ubiquitous mass-market ‘commodity’ it is today. We ‘grew up’ in the ‘online world’, if you like, in what amounts to its ‘original culture’ and our views on certain things are still heavily ’shaped’ by that culture, even though, as the popularity of the internet has grown and more and more people have ‘joined the party’, that culture that has become more diffuse, less influential and less well observed over time.
NM points out that he sees ‘no problem with blogging anonymity’, nor do I, or Tim for that matter, for all that it may seem that he’s saying the opposition. Where we differ slightly, and the distinction is important, is in our understanding of what anonimity is, what it means and how, in ethical terms, is should be exercised.
I blog ‘anonymously’ in the sense that I make use of a psedonym (’Unity’), which serves as my ‘public face’ in the online world - there are a few bloggers who know the ‘real name’ behind the pseudonym and a couple who occasionally will refer to me by my ‘real world’ first name - which I don’t mind at all, as that tell no one anything much about who I am in the real world and in no way compromises the ’shield of anonymity’ I deploy while blogging.
Anonymity, in that form, presents no great problems, per se, and may well be necessary in order to prevent the online world spilling over in to ‘real life’ in ways that have a negative impact on the real person who exists ‘behind the shield’ - you only have look at what happened to Petite Anglaise to see the negative consequences that can arise if, and when, that shield is compromised. Without the shield of anonymity and the use of pseudonyms, there are many bloggers who would simply find it impossible to blog, to speak openly and honestly about their experiences and their opinions. Take away the option of anonymity and there would be few, if any, ‘work bloggers’, especially from the public sector - no Dr Crippen, no PC Copperfield no Bystander - and everything they give us by way of insight into the reality of their professional lives would be lost and the blogosphere would be so much poorer for
Anonymity has its place is blogging, a role and function that for some of us is absolutely central to our being able to blog in the first place, but anonymity can also be misused and abused by the unscrupulous and unethical - what matters most is not whether or not you choose to remain anonymous, but how you make use of your anonymity and whether you do so ‘responsibly’.
Its about ethics - Unity is the pseudonym I use here, and also the pseudonym I use when visting other blogs and posting comments. I consciously maintain a consistancy in the manner in which I ‘introduce’ myself to others I encounter in the online world, such that my actions are transparent to others, and I deviate from that self-imposed ‘rule’ only if given no choice in the matter - the only place I don’t post comments as ‘Unity’ is on Comment is Free, and then only because their user registration system does not allow ‘duplicate’ usernames, and the name ‘Unity’ had already been taken by the time I got around to registering at CiF (not that I’ve ever seen their ‘Unity’ post a comment on there, but than, admittedly I don’t read every article on the site, so it may well be that me and the other ‘Unity’ have markedly different interests’.
And because I voluntarily adopt that practice, although I am anonymous in the sense that, with a few exceptions, by online identity and my real world identity are kept entirely separate such that one does not easily lead to the other, I am far from being anonymous within the online world - the name Unity, and the fact that I always use the option to provide a link back to MoT when commenting, if provided, serves as ‘audit trail’ on my online activities that leads back to here, and to me, And because of that, ‘Unity’ my online ‘persona’ is known quantity - to discover ‘who’ I am and where I’m coming from, all one needs to do is read my blog.
My ‘name’ (Unity) is my reputation and my reputation is what I stand or fall on as a blogger - and that, in my view, is precisely how it should be.
To some considerable extent, what Tim is referring to when he raises questions and concerns about anonymity, is not really the generality of anonymity, but ‘authenticity’ and the difference between the honest and dishonest use of anonymity within that context. It is one thing to make use of pseudonym to draw a line between the online world and the real world for honest reasons; i.e. to protect one’s real world identity for fear that exposure might cost you your job. It’s quite another to use the anonymity that the online world affords for things like spamming, trolling or to create a fictitious persona in order to cause nuisance or to try to damage/destroy someone’s hard won reputation - just ask Luke Akehurst what he thinks of that last tactic, as he’s certainly been on the receiving end of it.
That’s the distinction that lies at the heart of what Tim’s talking about when he talks about anonymity, and also the justification on rare occasions for deliberately breaking someone’s shield of anonymity and exposing the real individual ‘behind the mask’.
My attitude to the use of anonymity stems from and is informed by that ‘rules of netiquette’, which is what Tim is referring to when he talks about bloggers having a ‘voluntary code of practice’ - except that the rules of netiquette aren’t really rules and they aren’t really a code of practice; they’re much more a culture and set of social mores than inform one’s online behaviour.
Netiquette amounts to no more than a consensus amongst people in the online world that certain common sense behaviours and practices benefit everyone - its about being honest, both with yourself and with others - playing ‘fair’ if you like.
The simplicity of the principles on which its based should not, however, be allowed to mask its importance. The internet, in general, and blogging and its precursors - forums, newsgroups and bulletin boards - in particular, has developed and grown as a self-organising, self-regulating system in no small part due to netiquette and its widespread acceptance by individuals and online communities. Netiquette is how we all manage to get along and interact without the online world descending into complete chaos and constantly spilling over into real life in ways that cause harm.
The ‘rules’, such as they are, are actually pretty simple, so simple, in fact, that the rarely need to be stated explicitly - people just pick them up as they go along by watching what others do and following their example. That’s why is rare to see anyone talking about netiquette except when the rules are broken and the need arises to ‘correct’ someone behaviour, the mechanism for which is nothing more than peer pressure and the sanction of a loss of reputation, if the breach is a serious one.
For example, one of the most important of these rules, in my view, is, ‘what starts online, stays online’ - if I get into a flame war with another blogger, then we settle things online and don’t allow it to spill out into the real world. You don’t go around to someone’s house and the beat the living shit of them because they called you a cunt on their blog, nor do you break their shield of anonymity by tracing their real world identity and then start firing off e-mails to their employer in an effort to try and cost them their job.
In fact, even if they don’t blog anonymously, you don’t pull stunts like that on anyone, no matter your disagreement with them, unless there something in their conduct that provides for an overriding justification for your actions - if, for example, I discovered a Tory MP or councillor (or any politician from a mainstream political party) making blatantly anti-semitic or racist remarks under a psedonym on a far-right forum, then, yes, I would consider that good reason to break their ’shield of anonymity’ in order to expose their conduct to proper scrutiny - not because I disagree with them or despise racism (which I do) because such behaviour is unacceptable for someone who holds public office.
However, before taking things that far, I would also have to be extremely confident, if not absolutely certain, that I’d made a correct identification, that I’d interpreted their comments accurately and that their actions were serious enough to warrant such a response - simply disagreeing with them or thinking them an arsehole is not cause enough to warrent such an intrusion - and if all those conditions were satisfied, my first recourse would be to the political party to which they belonged and not to the Daily Mail or The Sun. Only if it became clear that their party would do nothing to rectify matters would I consider myself justified in taking the matter fully into the public domain.
Tim’s point about netiquette, about voluntary adherence to its ‘rules of conduct’ comes in two parts; first that, increasingly, the ‘new’ generation of internet users, which has many bloggers amongst them, are either unaware of, unmindful of, or simply don;t give a shit about these rules - simple as they are.
That’s nothing particularly new or unusual, there’s always been some degree of trolling and sock puppetry to contend with, but what is changing is how that’s regarded - the new generation is rather more inclined to see such things as an ‘occupational hazard’ and let things ride or dismiss it as being something that ‘comes with the terrority’ - as in ‘Oh, well - that’s just Guido being Guido.’
Second, Tim harbours a concern that if things become too chaotic and too unrestrained out here, particularly when it comes to crossing the Rubicon into the real world, then at some point that will be used as justification by politicians to impose , or attempt to impose, some kind of external regulation on us - that instead of being able to live by our own rules, which exist and have developed to support and facilitate free expression, we get forced into a straitjacket of the government’s devising.
I don’t quite share Tim’s anxieties, at least not to the extent that he’s expressing them, but I can see where he’s coming from. The internet’s much vaunted and valued culture of free expression owes its existence, in no small measure, to that culture having developed in an environment at at a time in which the dominant ‘voice’ that animated the evolution of internet culture was that of America. For as much as we like to consider free expression to be a ‘British tradition’, its the US Constitution and the protections afforded by its First Amendment that have shaped and created the internet’s culture of free expression and its all too easy to forget that, here in Britain, the protections we are afforded are in no way as comprehensive or preotected from govenrmental interference as they are in the US.
This is the text of the US First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
And this is the best that we have, at present, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as enacted in UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998.
1.Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2.The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
The difference is plain to see - the US First Amendment lacks that second (and very important) chunk of ’small print’ that lists a whole host of situations in which Parliament can make laws that abridge freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and often in terms that are highly subjective and open to interpretation - ‘for the protection of health or morals‘, for example.
Nevertheless, the main reason I don’t quite share Tim’s concerns is not because I can’t see why he’s concerned or that he has any cause for concern - our difference of opinion on this is only a matter of degree and not of principle.
Remember, the rules of netiquette, or perhaps culture is a better word, developed at a time when when there was much less interaction between the online world and the ‘real world’ - those of us who were around at the time found this culture to be of value even though little or nothing of what was said, or done, out here ever caught the attention of the press or of the political classes, let alone spilled over to affect or impact on their interests. We still developed our own culture and our own standards, even with no one looking over our shoulders and no one to watch over us but us.
Things have change over time, as they inevitably do, and many of us who come from the ‘Usenet Generation’ are becoming increasingly watchful, if not concerned by the direction that the internet, and particularly the growing influence, impact and near ubiquity of blogging is taking - there’s a ‘double whammy’ brewing that could come back to bite us all on the arse. As more people join the ‘blogosphere’, overall awareness and understanding of the culture of netiquette, what it is, why it developed and why us ‘old hands’ found it so useful is becoming increasingly diffuse, just exactly at the time that various real world institutions; the press and political elite are becoming more and more aware of us, what we’re doing out here and the extent to which we’re starting to impact on influence what’s going on their world.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure that if each of these two trends (the weakening of the netiquette culture and increasing ‘real world’ interest in blogging) keep going in their present direction then somewhere along the line there’s going to be an almighty ‘crash’ as the two hit head-on and come into direct conflict - and in the absence of US-style protections for free expression, such a conflict can only have one winner - ‘they’ (i.e. the political elite) have the power to legislate, after all.
That’s the picture that Tim’s seeing, and it one that I see too, albeit that I still think we’ve some way go before such a ‘crash’ becomes inevitable.
Getting back to netiquette in general, I can well understand why Tim’s reference to it a ‘voluntary code’ caused some consternation, not least as it appears to follow on from the likes of the PCC and Alistair Campbell mouthing off about such things before Christmas - and if the idea of Campbell taking a direct interest in what we’re up to out here doesn’t give you pause for thought, then you’re really no paying attention at all.
But the reality is that the two are connected only superficially - the ‘voluntary code’ that Tim’s referring to is nothing like that which the PCC would push for, and even the precise interpretation of the ‘rules’ of netiquette and their application will vary, to some extent, from medium to medium - the social mores of communicating by e-mail differ slightly from those on Usenet, which in turn differ from those in use on forums.
And blogging has its own variations that are specific to the medium and to its own culture.
There is, believe it or not, a formal internet ’specification’ for netiquette, lodged with the Internet Engineering Task Force as a ‘request for comments’ (RFC) - its actually designated as RFC1855.
If that sound like gibberish then let me just explain that RFCs are many of the open standards and protocols that make the internet possible were developed - if you developed a new, more efficient, protocol for sending emails then you’d publish it as an RFC, get feedback from and debate your proposals with others in the ‘technical community’ and out of that debate, a commonly agreed standard would emerge that everyone could then use. Many RFCs are highly technical and define what goes on ‘under the hood’ of the internet, some are advisory or suggest guidelines, and some just classic examples of techie humour, such as:
RFC1438 - Internet Engineering Task Force Statements Of Boredom (SOBs)
RFC1882 - The 12-Days of Technology Before Christmas
RFC2324 - Hyper Text Coffee Pot Control Protocol (HTCPCP/1.0)
RFC2795 - The Infinite Monkey Protocol Suite (IMPS)
Some of the ‘original’ netiquette guidelines in RFC1855 - and remember the document only expresses what were, at the time, the ‘unwritten’ rules of online conduct and we not an attempt to create a new set of ‘rules’ - remain applicable today, even though RFC1855 was written and published in 1995.
Take this one, which applied to email, for example:
Be careful when addressing mail. There are addresses which may go to a group but the address looks like it is just one person. Know to whom you are sending.
That’s still a pretty common error that people make and one that, for some, has proved to less of embarassment and more of career-killer. And then there’s…
Use mixed case. UPPER CASE LOOKS AS IF YOU’RE SHOUTING.
That’s another one that still very much applies today - what blogger doesn’t, on spotting a long comment posted all in capitals, think to themselves either ‘Oh good, we’ve got the green ink brigade in tonight’, or simply ‘Oh shit, I’ve got me a nutter.’
Other rules of the time are no long really applicable - it used to be consider bad form to ramble on unnecessarily in sending e-mails or postings on newsgroups, back in the days when online e-mail storage was limited and relatively expensive and ontime time was paid for by the minute. Time (and bandwidth) was money and a user (or spammer) who waffled on or sent you stuff you neither wanted or needed was taking up both.
That’s the kind of ‘voluntary code’ that Tim’s referring to, the vast bulk of which amounts to no more than honesty, common sense and bit of common courtesy, little things that keep the electronic frontier tacking over without turning in Dodge City every 15 minutes.
In terms of netiquette one of Tim’s biggest and most valid beefs with Guido relates to what Guido laughably refers to his ‘comments policy’, for which, in responding to Tim, he’s provided only the scabbiest possible ‘justification’. My blog, my rules - and as long as I post those rules where people can see them, then they’ve no recourse to complaint and only themselves to blame if things get deleted.
Well that fair enough, to an extent, but then one of the key ‘rules’ of netiquette is that if you open up you little piece of the online realm to others, whether by way of a comments facility on a blog, or by running a forum, then with decision that goes some measure of responsibility for dealing honesty and fairly with people who enter your online fiefdom, provided that they deal with you in broadly the same terms.
For example, its considered, under netiquette, ‘bad form’ to delete or edit comments (or forum posts) without giving some brief explanation for the deletion or indicating where and why an edit was made.
Why? Because although it’s your blog, what you’re altering is very often someone else’s comment and its in your interests, in terms of your reputation, to be seen to be dealing fairly and honestly with people.
Few would quibble with a blog owner deleting comments that are nothing more than out and out personal abuse, unless the owner’s style of blogging would make that look hypocritical. For example, DK (Devil’s Kitchen) is well known for his robust and often inventive use of invective and will surely, at some point, be successful in adding at least one new swearword, or a new variant on an existing swearword, to the English Language. So on the principle of ‘do unto others…’ the last thing you’d expect DK to do is delete a comment just because someone referred to him as a cunt - and if he did, and especially if he did without giving an explanation for his thinking on the deletion, many would consider him to be a hypocrite and his reputation would suffer accordingly.
That’s an example of the culture of netiquette as it would (hypothetically) work in practice, under which DK’s ‘offence’ would be the hypocrisy and dishonesty of his dealings with the commenter who called him a cunt - but that would only apply to DK because such a comment is not out of keeping with his own style blogging.
It’s a practical, commonsense ‘rule’ - swearbloggers cannot complain at getting sworn at, unless something egregiously bad is directed at them. ‘Cunt’ would be fine, ‘fucking paedophile’ would be a very different matter because the abuse lies in the word ‘paedophile’ and that’s a term that DK doesn’t (and wouldn’t) use as a term of abuse. If DK did called someone a paedophile, then he’s easily intelligent enough to use the word in its proper context, i.e. the person referred to is ‘paedophile’ and there’s evidence to back up the assertion.
On the other hand, deleting or editing comments simply because a comment points out an error of fact or catches your in a lie (which is even worse) or rips your arguments to pieces or make you look like a ‘know-nothing’ dickhead is considered a serious breach of netiquette, because in doing so you’re dealing dishonestly with both the individual who posted the comment and, with your readers in general. And this ‘rule’ of ethical conduct applies equally to stealth editing your own posts to cover up mistakes and errors and ‘time-shifting’ corrections, where an error is corrected and acknowledged, usually by adding a brief note to the post indicating that a edit has been made, but ‘time-stamped’ in such a way as too make it appear that you’d spotted the error before it was pointed out in comments, and not afterwards.
Guido is quite welcome to set whatever rules he thinks fit when it comes to comments posted on his blog - in fact, this is one example of where he’s stated plainly what his ‘rules’ are:
* If you want to libel someone - get your own blog.
* If you want to abuse Guido, get your own blog (unless you do it wittily).
* If you want to complain about jews, blacks, lizards, little green men in your head etc. Get your own blog.
* If you want to complain that it is biased, get your own unbiased blog.
* If you want lengthy discussion about policy, bore on your own blog.
* If you get offended easily, don’t complain, don’t come back.
But merely having ‘rules’ and stating them on you blog does not mean that your rules are necessarily honest one, or one’s that deal fairly with people who visit you blog, no are they any guarantee that you’ll abide by your own rules and apply them fairly and with an even hand.
Guido’s ‘defence’ - you can read my rules anytime you like - means absolutely jack-shit, both because some his ‘rules’ are so wide open to interpretation that they can be used to justify any editing or deleting just about anything posted on his blog and because those rules only mean anything if you stick to them yourself…
…and there’s ample evidence to show both that exploits the arbitrary nature of ‘his rules’ to the full.
In fact, its safe to say that the only rule that applies to comments over at Guido’s is that its his blog and he do what he fucking well likes and its also safe to say that he’s got to the point where, between his coterie of comment box anonymongreals and his relentless media-whoring, he believes himself to be pretty much untouchable to the point where his reputation amongst other bloggers is of no relevance at all.
Effectively he’s removed himself from the blogosphere to a position somewhere between us and the mainstream media, which he’s not quite managed to join fully as yet, and as such his only real interaction with the blogging mainstream is as something of a parasite who needs our attention only when he’s pimping for hits - its not gone unnoticed that there’s a distinct element of proportionality beween the size of his hit count and that of his ego, one that conventional wisdom and urban legend might suggest would also indicate an inverse relationship with *e-hem* ’something else’.
Tim’s ‘Usenet generation’ background is clearly reflected in the manner in which he’s ‘gone after’ Guido by hitting him in the reputation on the basis of actions undertaken by Guido that clearly are ‘beyond the pale’ to anyone ‘brought up’ in the culture of netiquette. Lay the charge, provide the evidence and make the the ‘call to action’. Ostracise and isolate. That’s how the ‘rules’ of netiquette have always been enforced, by means of ‘peer pressure’.
If you want to be in community then you play by the rules or you can fuck off somewhere else.
Its the oldest method of ‘law enforcement’ there is, in fact when the PCC thing was being discussed before Christmas I saw this very principle stated, most aptly, in the following way:
Now here is the law of the jungle.
As old and as true as the sky.
The blogger who keeps it may prosper.
And the blogger who breaks it must die…
Sadly, I can’t recall quite where I saw the comment and who made it - its was on a blog is as much as I can recall, otherwise the requisite link and credit would be afforded.
How effective Tim’s approach will prove to be is rather more open to question - the blogging ‘community’ is not so tightly knit as that you’d find in a Usenet newsgroup or in an online forum and the ultimate sanction - complete expulsion by means of an outright ban on access is not an option open to bloggers. You can kick Guido and coterie of sycophants out of your own comments boxes, if they start to become a pain in the arse, but a complete expulsion is a near impossibility - Guido would have to something egregiously stupid like getting nailed in a libel action or posting something so over the top that Google/Blogger stepped in to shut him down on terms of service violation to isolate him completely, and the latter would only be a temporary thing as he’d be back within days using another provider or hosting his own blog in his own webspace.
So as far as Tim’s actions are concerned, while I understand both his motives and his modus operandi - and their origins - I have to concede that, for the time being, any effect they might have will be marginal, at best, and easily blown off by Guido as having no effect whatsoever - probably the most ‘damaging’ thing Tim’s managed to do is create sufficient smoke to get the attention of Ros Taylor, over at CiF and the mere fact that her article has drawn a mere 20 comments, including one each from me, Tim and Guido, and that, of the rest, most are more concerned with bitching about the Graun’s comments policy than anything that’s happening in own goldfish bowl is probably a better reflection of Guido’s real status and profile than any of the self-generated hype we’ve seen around Guido over the last year, especially when you think that winding up Polly Pot enough to make her take a shot at bloggers is usually good for at least a couple of hundrend replies on CiF, if not considerably more if the wind-up’s a particularly good one.
There are definable limits to what Tim could reasonably hope to achieve by taking an open pot-shot at Guido, which I’m sure he’s perfectly well aware of, and, for now, the best that he could hope for is to open a few eyes, show Guido up for who and what he really is and, yes, take a fair bit of flak in the process from some of Guido’s camp-whores - the latter aspect of all this is unpleasant (especially if you’re on the recieving end of it) but none the less instructive, as it does serve to illustrate and validate much of what Tim has had to say about the manner in which Guido operates, and while some might consider that Guido has more or less ‘blown off’ Tim’s ‘attack’ with barely a hint of being ruffled, quite as few others will have been looking at his reaction and making a mental note or two for the future having been even less impressed with Guido’s arrogance - and his antics - than usual.
So, where next?
Well so far as Guido’s concerned, what you do and how you respond to any of this is up to you, but if, as a blogger, you’re at all concerned or simply pissed with media creating the impression that Guido is somehow the ‘alpha male’ of British blogging then take the time to say so. Don’t just write off his antics by sighing and offering up the observation that its just ‘Guido being Guido’ - and I know we’ve all probably done it at least, I’ve done it myself - if Guido pulls a complete boner or gets right up your nose then do what you’d do to anyone else and have a go at ripping him a new arsehole.
Whatever else Guido might be, he’s not really a blogger - not in the general sense that most of us are. He might have started out that way, but as his ego and his profile have grown he’s become something else, no longer a blogger but not quite a bona fide member of the MSM, and if somewhere at the back of your mind you’re holding back on your opinions just because you got it into your head that Guido’s a blogger and its just not the ‘done thing’ to rip into him they way you might with a full blown member of the professional commentariat - A ‘La Toynbee’ or a Mad Mel or may be a Richard ‘Littlecock’ (far more in keeping with Guido’s style) - then might I suggest that think again and re-evaluate how you see Guido in relation to everyone else out here.
And if you do feel the need to try and classify Guido, then let me suggest that ‘media whore‘ is a good a phrase as any to be using. Try it for size - media whore - sounds about right, don’t you think?
And don’t think, either, that because Guido routinely blows off any flak that comes flying in his direction by playing to the idiots gallery on his own blog, that your comments don’t hit the mark and aren’t having an effect. If Guido really didn’t give a toss what other bloggers think then he wouldn’t have been popping up here and there to try and defend himself (badly). Whatever else you do, don’t get to thinking that he genuinely gives a shit what any of us bloggers really think of him but then don’t be fooled by his ‘why should I care, you’re only sending more traffic my way’ stance either. What Guido will be well aware of is while his antics might have got him the attention of the MSM and his name in the ‘most influential’ lists, the manner in which he’s got there has been largely by rubbing the MSM’s rhubarb and jumping their territory, and it’ll take one slow news day and a few signs of a bloggers’ ‘backlash’ aginst Guido to give someone the idea that a ‘why do they all hate Guido?’ piece might make for a easy column filler in the media section - that’s the thing with being a media whore, you’re only good so long as your supply of willing ‘John’s’ hold out and when you start looking a bit tired and worn out, you’re easily traded in for a fresh new model.
Whatever else happens, one thing Guido’s forgotten is the old adage that you should be nice to people on the way up, as you may well meet them again when you’re on the way back down - if (when?) does eventually fuck up, I think its safe to predict both that sympathy for Guido will be in pretty short supply and any payback he gets, especially from the MSM, is likely to be a real bitch.
More generally, if anything I’ve had to say here about the culture of netiquette is new to you or strikes a chord, then thnk it through, take a mooch around the net and read up on it and find out a bit more about what it is, where it comes from and how and why it developed.
The general contention seems to be that a ‘voluntary code of practice’ for bloggers is something that can’t work and won’t work - and if you’re thinking in terms of the kind of code that might be drawn up by the Press Complaints Commission, Alistair Campbell or a committee of MPs then you’re absolutely right.
A code of practice drawn up in their terms wouldn’t work.
But if you’re thinking that the negative reaction that the suggestion of a code of practice got before Christmas was solely down to bloggers standing up for their unfettered ‘right’ to express themselves freely and operate without any rules of conduct or good behaviour then think again - for some of us, especially those of us who belong to the Usenet generation, the real reason why we don’t need such a code is that we’ve already got one; netiquette, and its one that was wholly ‘designed’, ‘devised’ and ‘developed’ by us, for us and to suit our needs and purposes, and enacted by the most democratic of all means - an unspoken concensus that the ‘rules’, cultural and social mores of netiquette are no more than basic honesty and commonsense.
Netiquette works, if you observe the ‘rules’ because it works and it make everyone’s online existence just that bit easier and more enjoyable. It ain’t bust so it don’t need fixing - it just needs a few more of the ‘new generation’* to realise that it exists and appreciate what it can do or them.
*Despite identifying Nosemonkey as possibly belonging to a later internet generation that Tim and myself, that’s not to suggest that he’s either unaware of netiquette or doesn’t apply it to his own blogging - he patently does and probably without thinking about it or even necessarily recognising that he does it, unless he’s specifically referring to it - and that’s the only reason why I think he didn’t make the connection between Tim’s reference to a ‘voluntary code’ and netiquette. For someone like Nosemonkey, and many other bloggers, netiquette isn’t so much a code of practice and a matter of second nature - all it requires that you have behave like a reasonable human being and you’ll rarely, if ever, make a wrong turn.
And that’s why it works…