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Bloggers: Manners, Please?

If you're a regular consumer of the blogosphere, you've no doubt come across far more hateful and hurtful comments than those uttered by now-unemployed shock jock Don Imus. Moderators on various sites do filter some of the worst vitriol (Slashdot is a great example), but there are sites where everything goes.

Need an example? Take what one person wrote about presidential candidate Barack Obama on his official YouTube page: "I believe he's runnin' for president so we can invite all of africa (sic) to come and become hardcore rappers and dirty hoes (sic) on welfare." (Incidentally, here's what a YouTube spokesman said in response: "Users can flag content that they feel is inappropriate and once it is flagged it is reviewed by our staff and removed from the system within minutes if it violates our Terms of Use.") It's all enough for two Web luminaries to call for a time out.

Tim O'Reilly, publisher and Web 2.0 visionary, and Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, have proposed a code of conduct for bloggers. The idea got a lot of attention after an article appeared this week in the New York Times. Proponents say it would offer bloggers options like choosing to delete any anonymous postings, or filtering anything that's deemed to cross the line. They may even be given "badges" that certify their compliance. The hope is that bloggers will gain more respect, and the medium will clean up the cyber graffiti.

But critics charge that the foul-mouthed Web vandals will continue to post their venom. And some bloggers worry it borders on hampering free speech. I spoke with Jeff Jarvis, blogger and professor of journalism, who said the Internet is like a town, complete with the town drunk, and unfortunately the town racist.

"There are thousands of hours of radio and TV, there are 70 million blogs and most of them are wonderful. Just because there's one twit in the lot doesn't condemn the whole," he told me. The best option, he said, is to avoid reading any of the miscreant postings.

Lisa Stone, one of the leaders behind, says each site should be responsible for its own content. While O'Reilly and Wales say they based their code of conduct on the guidelines, Stone says her group has never talked to the men, and she doesn't agree that a blanket set of rules would work for the different blogs and sites.

"Saying that one code of conduct would work for all people is like saying one religion would work for all people or one kind of blue jeans would work for all women," said Stone. "I tell you that's not going to fly."

In many ways the Internet is a reflection of the real world, complete with all the good, the bad and the ugly. The question is should it be policed in the same way.

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