Choosing Civility ... herd on the street.

Dave Winer writes that he doesn't like herd behavior so he doesn't join herds. Sorry man, if it were only that easy. I'm pretty sure I'm stuck with being a social animal, dependent on and engaged with others, and I'll just have to make the best of it, like it or not. And actually I think that being interdependent is the good news. Furthermore, the internet is a like an atomic cloud chamber illuminating and recording our interactions.

I am sad for Kathy Sierra (and her family), and disheartened, but not surprised, at what happened. And it's no surprise to see how widespread bad behavior is. As has been said, setting up a forum for mean and hateful speech yields the intended result. We know this from years and years of group and organizational behavior. A good way to get results is to set expectations. It's not news, but I need to keep reminding myself of how easily I can be herded.

But I've also been encouraged by the reasoned discussion that has emerged in the past five days. Mary Hodder cautioned about banning people. Dave Winer argues for concern for all unpopular people. I agree. More "us/them" thinking will not lead to a more open, inclusive, or safe internet. Doc Searls reminded me how easy it is to jump to conclusions without the facts. On the internet no one knows you're a dog, but is it too easy to be labeled a "bad" dog, or even a "good" one?

I know from my own lived experiences in groups and communities that anonymity can be useful, but a group can only be more than a collection of individuals when the members are accountable to one another for their own behaviors. It's hard to be anonymous and accountable. Just like deciding how to disagree, every online group needs to decide how to handle accountabiliity.

In this online world that we are building, any codes of conduct are going to come from us, from the bottom up. And for me, the best guide I have found for how to get along in a crowded and diverse world is the book "Choosing Civility" by P.M. Forni. Forni puts the onus on the reader to step up and be responsible for their own behavior. He suggests 25 rules, and provides tips for putting each one into practice. Here's the list:

  • Pay Attention
  • Acknowledge Others
  • Think the Best
  • Listen
  • Be Inclusive
  • Speak Kindly
  • Don't Speak Ill
  • Accept and Give Praise
  • Respect Even a Subtle "No"
  • Respect Other's Opinions
  • Mind Your Body
  • Be Agreeable
  • Keep It Down (and Rediscover Silence)
  • Respect Other People's Time
  • Respect Other People's Space
  • Apologize Earnestly
  • Assert Yourself
  • Avoid Personal Questions
  • Care for Your Guests
  • Be a Considerate Guest
  • Think Twice Before Asking for Favors
  • Refrain from Idle Complaints
  • Accept and Give Constructive Criticism
  • Respect the Environment and Be Gentle to Animals
  • Don't Shift Responsibility and Blame

Many of the people I've read this week want to make the online world better, and so do I. Today is Stop Cyberbullying Day. What this online world is like is up to me, and I will make every effort I can to choose civility.

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