What's Your Internet Code of Conduct?

I was in the middle of writing a post for today when I logged onto google reader and learned about the newest firestorm hitting the YA blogosphere. My post wasn't really working out, and I do have some feelings about this, so we're switching tracks.

The scenario is a familiar one. A magazine made some unwise decisions. The news spread all over twitter, response posts went up all over the web, and the magazine was inundated with angry comments. Now, the situation isn't quite black and white. It's a magazine, not an individual or private citizen, so presumably it’s more open to debate and controversy. Also, many of the responses have been professional, respectful and well thought out.

On the other hand, many responses were not.

And as I scrolled through the responses, I couldn't help but think, “Dear God. I hope I never piss off the Internet.”

Social media is a powerful thing. I like to think of Twitter as word-of-mouth on crack. Usually great for getting news out, but it also means that when stuff hits the fan, it really hits the fan. If you say a stupid thing in real life, a few people get mad at you. But if you do it online, the entire world knows and is all too eager to tell you so with the click of an anonymous mouse button.

So I’ve been thinking about my own conduct online. What do I do when I see something that I vehemently disagree with? I do have a pet peeve when it comes to bad neuroscience. Not the occasional misconception, but the really soul crushingly bad stuff – usually spoken with authority -- that makes me wonder whether we're talking about the same species. These are the times when I'm really tempted to post a link telling people how stupid it is, and sometimes I've succumbed to that temptation.

After some thought, I’ve decided on these rules for myself:

1. If I see something blatantly wrong or offensive, I will respond in the comments section of that post or website.

2. If I feel the need to elaborate, I may blog or tweet about the subject, but without names and without links. This way, people who already know what I’m talking about will understand, but I won't be bringing new people into the fray.

Those are just my thoughts for now, and my opinion may change. I also don't mean to single out people who have given opinions in this particular instance. Like I said, many of the responses were professional and well thought out. These are just things I've been thinking about with every new Internet blow up.

What say you, dear readers? Do you have an internet code of conduct?
To get regular updates from this blog, use one of the options on the left sidebar to subscribe.


  1. I don't have one per se, but if I did, it would probably best be described as Julia Sugarbaker on one of her tirades. (I don't know that such a policy is advisable, however.) My righteous indignation is overly developed and could use some reining in. Thank for the food for thought.

  2. While I appreciate your efforts, linking to the people you comment on has been one of the great innovations of the blogosphere. It drives traffic, but more importantly from a fairness point of view, it allows people to read the article themselves and form their own opinions. More than once, I've visited a site expecting to be outraged because of something another blogger had told me about it, and found it to be rather innocuous. Without that link, I couldn't have given it a fair hearing and reached my own conclusions.

    And don't underestimate the driving traffic part. The magazine may not like the tone of the debate on their website, but they're not at all sad about the huge influx of hits.

  3. I try to always use strong language not in the cursing/snarky sense, but in the actual strong words that describe how I feel about the situation. Then I back it up with facts. This way we can have a discussion about actual facts instead of a mud-sling competition where we just insult people.

  4. I like the 2nd rule, and do that myself. I try to make my arguments as broad as possible so as not to come off as a personal attack. I do that for one big reason: I don't know any of these people from Jack. They're probably fine human beings, who just happen to believe or say something I disagree with.

    For instance, I recently took a stand agains weak book reviews on blogs AND the agents who are encouraging people to do them. (Essentially strong arming prospective authors into only saying good things about books for fear of ticking off an agent/editor.) I didn't name names, but people know where the stories are coming from.

    Everyone wants to be published and/or have a successful writing career. No one wants to be put on 'the list'. However, when you cease to stand by your convictions or have an opinion to make those things happen, I think you've completely compromised what it means to be an artist.

    In other words, I totally agree with you.


  5. Jeffrey - now I'm going to have to go look up who Julia Sugarbaker is :-)

    Donald - I can see your point about fairness. Although, if you are talking about something without naming names, then I'm not sure how relevant it would be. The scenario I have in mind is this: say someone on a webpage says blatanetly wrong fact X about the brain. I write something debunking fact X. in that case, I'm not sure it's really necessary for people to follow the link over to the first post. Now, if I were ascribing opinions to someone and disagreeing with them, then yes. I do agree that you need to link to their original words. And I agree with you about traffic. I think it varies from case to case. For example, I'm pretty sure the tiger mother was happy about all the publicity she got. On the other hand,Cooks source wasn't.

    Meg -- good policy to stick with facts

    EJ - good for you for taking a stand. I'm still thinking about the review thing myself. Right now I'm sidestepping the whole issue by not doing reviews on my blog.

  6. I think it's wise to have such a policy in place. What I try to think about when I want to belch vitriol into a comment section or forum is that the internet moves incredibly fast and while the data is "forever," really nothing is permanent. Next week the arguement is likely to be moot. And, if it's not, such as some really hot-button issue that'll never die, then at least I can take pride in not being one of "those" people.

  7. Rules 1 and 2 are a good starting point for an internet code of conduct.

    Rule 3 should be about the appropriate response when you have been told that you are wrong or offensive (as I know from experience!). What do think it should be?

  8. Since this is my professional presence, I try to always be professional. Not that I never express an opinion, but I strive to do it with respect, and recognize that it's just that: my *opinion*.

    And sometimes I just have to let things go that bother me and pick my battles. Just like with my family. ;-)

  9. I think that is one of the reasons I don't have a Twitter acct! I cannot tell you how many times I have thought something in my head and later been glad that I did not say it aloud. I think with Twitter I'd be tempted to tweet those things that I probably shouldn't even say...probably thinking I was all funny, but you never know.....

    Internet code for me: THINK before you post. Be polite.

  10. Scott Westerfield and Maureen Johnson both wrote very interesting blog posts about this very subject.

    It's interesting. My code of conduct tends to be first and foremost: civility. I think there's always a polite way to express something, and if I can't figure out what that is, I simply don't say it. I can't tell you the number of times I've been incensed into writing a thesis of a response, gone to the "Post Comment" button, and stopped.

    If there's one thing a good education has taught me, it's that a sound, civil argument is the only way to enter the fray of a comment war like the one at BitchMagazine 100 list. It looks unprofessional to mock others for their opinions, even if their opinions are on your own work/thoughts/mental-capacity.

  11. Interesting post. I guess my code of conduct is similar to yours. I find that most people ask my opinion as an excuse to tell me theirs, and I prefer to go to the source as opposed to relying twitter feeds or Facebook postings. :)

  12. Thanks for the thoughts, everyone!

    Twaza - that's an interesting suggestion for rule 3. I think mine would be to wait at least a few hours, and always remember tha tpeople can see me responding. If there's a factual error, then I'll let myself argue the facts politely. If it's a subjective thing though, there's basically no way to argue it without seeming defensive, so I'd just not reply, I think. What do you think?

  13. How funny! I just blogged about Internet etiquette for writers. My view is this: Never put anything in writing you don't want the world to see.

    Here's my blog article:



  14. I commend you for even considering that there should be a code of conduct - most people don't. I think that when it comes to something like neuroscience, which (from this layman's perspective) tends to be a subject full of empirical evidence, there is absolutely nothing wrong with voicing corrections.

    It's a different story when it comes to something as subjective as writing and publishing. I came over here from Nathan Bransford's blog, and I think I know the scenario to which you are referring. I don't think that any kind of involvement in something like that is necessary. It's sad, really. I didn't comment on it, but I wish I had never read it.

    Great blog here, Livia! I'm following now.