Excellent insights from Cory Doctorow on the skills and techniques needed to ensure reasonably civil and effective discourse in online environments. You would also do well to take a look at Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s advice on moderation in online forums.
Cory Doctorow: In my latest InfoWeek column, I look at what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to fighting trolls:
In the wake of the Kathy Sierra mess, Tim O’Reilly proposed a Blogger’s Code of Conduct as a way of preventing a recurrence of the vile, misogynist attacks that Sierra suffered. The idea was that bloggers could choose to follow the Code and post a little badge to their sites affirming their adherence to it, putting message-board posters on notice of the house rules. Although it sounds like a reasonable idea on the face of it, bloggers were incredibly skeptical of the proposal, if not actively hostile. The objections seemed to boil down to this: “We’re not uncivil, and neither are those message-board posters we regularly see on the boards. It’s the trolls that we have trouble with, and they’re pathological psychos, already ignoring our implicit code of conduct. They’re going to ignore your explicit code of conduct, too.” (There was more, of course — like the fact that a set of articulated rules only invite people to hold you to them when they violate the spirit but not the letter of the law).
O’Reilly built his empire by doing something incredibly smart: Watching what geeks did that worked and writing it down so that other people could do it too. He is a distiller of Internet wisdom, and it’s that approach that is called for here.
If you want to fight trolling, don’t make up a bunch of a priori assumptions about what will or won’t discourage trolls. Instead, seek out the troll whisperer and study their techniques.