Today the New York Times has an article discussing the state of civility in the blogosphere. The article opens with the question, “Is it too late to bring civility to the web?” Rather than answer the question directly, I’ll offer a corollary observation that provides long established insight into the answer.

While some may see the blogosphere and the behavior of its participants as a new phenomenon, it isn’t difficult to find an appropriate predecessor model. That model is found on the streets of any metropolitan area and it is called rush hour traffic and the prevalence of road rudeness…or in its extreme…road rage. Granted, personal attacks and snark on the internet are not likely to lead to fatalities, but if computers had wheels, it certainly would.

Last week, Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher who is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, began working with Jimmy Wales, creator of the communal online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to create a set of guidelines to shape online discussion and debate.

Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.

Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Wales talk about creating several sets of guidelines for conduct and seals of approval represented by logos. For example, anonymous writing might be acceptable in one set; in another, it would be discouraged. Under a third set of guidelines, bloggers would pledge to get a second source for any gossip or breaking news they write about.

Bloggers could then pick a set of principles and post the corresponding badge on their page, to indicate to readers what kind of behavior and dialogue they will engage in and tolerate. The whole system would be voluntary, relying on the community to police itself.

OK, not to belittle the intentions of these two men, but again I’ll point to traffic to make my point. Anyone who has been blocked from merging into traffic from the onramp or had another vehicle veer suddenly into an opening the size of a small Yugo just in front of them at sixty miles an hour during rush hour or been flipped off by an otherwise perfectly normal looking housewife understands that badges serve little purpose in informing others of the behavior to be expected. I’ve been flipped off, cut off, and blown off by soccer mom vehicles sporting bumper stickers that say, “my child is an honor student at ABC grade school as well as by those bearing the famous fish symbol containing the secret Christian code “ixoye”…intended to allow Christians to identify each other…and by vehicles bearing many other “values” driven badges.

The problem on the highway or the internet isn’t going to be resolved through a badge system. Did anyone attend Easter mass yesterday and witness the value of symbols…no not the crucifix behind the altar or the statue at the entrance; I’m talking about the pretty new Easter outfits…complete with bonnets and bow ties. These are the outfits worn by the same people who also attend Christmas mass every year without fail…and then get into their shiny clean vehicle and race out of the parking lot without ever yielding to the old woman walking to her car that is parked in the back row because she forgot that it was Easter Sunday and foolishly arrived at the same time she does each and every Sunday.

Read the full article at Thought Theater…here:

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