What with the recent Kathy Sierra death threat saga, I’ve been thinking about the kind of behavior people tend to engage in online. I don’t think it’s any secret that a fair portion of the folks interacting with others on the internet – whether via blog comments or message forums – display really rotten behavior. There’s no way these people really talk to others in real life the way they do on the net. What that amounts to is an abuse of anonymity. As such, I’ve seen some folks suggesting that net anonymity should go away.
I disagree with that, but I do have another idea: perhaps what we need is a good old-fashioned blacklist?
To make it work, a good number of the most popular blogs and forums on the web would need to participate. It would work like this: suppose Person A posts something that is egregiously abusive – like a death threat – on a blog or forum someplace. The owner of the site could report Person A’s IP to the blacklist service, along with a link to the offending post. Participating sites could then check and see if anyone with that IP was posting on their site as well, and – being aware of that poster’s behavior on other sites – ban that user from posting to their sites as well, if they so chose. This would allow the blogosphere (plus any site operators who care about such things) to establish a shared base of knowledge with regard to abusive or criminal behavior by visitors common to the community, and give members of the community the ability to deal with it if they want to. In simpler terms, it would be a Wikipedia of internet bullies/criminals.
Personally, if I still had comments enabled and I knew the IP address of a poster who had been making death threats elsewhere, I’d be happy to ban that individual from posting here. And if I were running a large message forum, I’d certainly consult any available reference to weed out such folks.
I know, I know – I can hear you already: “That’s draconian,” “That’s against the spirit of the web,” “You’re a fascist,” “Going by IP alone isn’t sufficient,” “blah blah blah.” Get real here. This kind of abusive behavior is a real problem on the web. We can talk all we want about how the web is self-policing, but if the site operators who care about such things don’t communicate with each other and then communicate with the community to present a clear “This is not acceptable, and here are the consequences” message, it’s never going to improve.
Got a better idea? Let’s hear it. I’m certainly not the smartest person who’s thinking about this problem – at least I hope not. If I am, then we’re doomed for sure. 😉