Tuesday, 10 April 2007

My Economic Philosophy - 5 (The Greater Freedom, redux)

It looks like the debate about which is the greater freedom (a freedom without restrictions or a freedom that cannot be taken away) is taking place again in the context of blog netiquette.

The incident that triggered this latest debate concerns technology persona Kathy Sierra. (I owe a personal debt of gratitude to Kathy for her excellent book "Head First Servlets and JSP" that helped me achieve my Sun Certified Web Component Developer for J2EE certification. I have also read and enjoyed her other books "Head First Java", "Head First EJB" and "Head First Design Patterns").

A few people left disturbingly graphic insults and death threats on her blogsite, and the pattern of intimidation continued, with similar comments appearing on other blogsites, until she began to fear for her own life. The freedom of speech exercised by those who made the death threats resulted in a very real loss of freedom for Kathy, who felt compelled to cancel a speaking engagement and stay at home out of fear. My heart goes out to Kathy. I hope she recovers from the trauma soon and continues to contribute to technology and the world in general.

I guess this incident mirrors how a laissez-faire market can result in some players losing their freedom through the aggressive actions of others, even though those others may technically be playing within the rules.

Following the Kathy Sierra incident, Tim O'Reilly proposed a blogger's code of conduct, which I think is a good thing. One of the proposals in it concerns banning anonymous comments.

I have been a bit laissez-faire about comments so far, but (inspired by Tim's guidelines) I will ban anonymous comments on both my blogs from now on, and delete uncivil ones (but not comments that merely disagree with my views), in order to be consistent with my philosophy of the greater freedom. Because these are related concepts, after all.

According to a news report, Tim said the guidelines were not about censorship.

"That is one of the mistakes a lot of people make — believing that uncensored speech is the most free, when in fact, managed civil dialogue is actually the freer speech," he said. "Free speech is enhanced by civility."

Amen to that.
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