Doctor Science Knows

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Axioms of Online Discussion

The storm over Ed Whelan's outing of publius has moved into the cleanup phase.

Actually, you *are that* bad, mr. moto. But I am responding to you not for your benefit, but because a lot of new people are visiting, and it's clear you are not alone in your ignorance and confusion.

This whole blowup arose because Ed Whelan, a pro blogger, was just as ignorant of the rules of online communication as mr. moto is. Not just the rules, the *axioms* -- the principles that were worked out back in the Usenet days, before the WWW even existed.
  1. No plagiarism
  2. No outing
  3. No sockpuppets
  4. No obtaining material benefits (money, computers, lip gloss[1]) by fraud
  5. No stalking
  6. No deliberate spread of malicious software or links
I think that's it.

These aren't really rules of netiquette, these are the *premises*, the axioms which online communication has been found to require. These axioms aren't about politeness, they're about making communication *possible*.

This is why bloggers both left & right joined in condemning Whelan's behavior -- it wasn't that he was "too mean", it was that he broke an axiom. It was and is shocking that someone could be a paid blogger without keeping to these axioms reflexively.

And this is why mr. moto is wrong. publius' remarks might possibly have risen to the level of "flaming", though I personally would call it at most a slight scorching. But outing is not proportional retaliation, it is *breaking the whole system*, it's taking the conflict to a radically different level.

I'm not going to go into the rationale behind each of the axioms, because that would take too long -- can anyone recommend a good link? But as with any educational process, you obey the rules first, then study why we have them.

[1]Based on an actual event, I'm not kidding

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