The following joint statement was adopted unanimously by everyone in attendance at the at the 5th International Forum on Online Dispute Resolution in Liverpool, England:
While information and communications technologies (ICT) enable unprecedented interactions between individuals around the world, they also introduce some dynamics that can degrade dialogue.
ICT enables people to communicate immediately and anonymously, often without moderation, and in some circumstances this encourages behavior (such as threats or insults) that most individuals would never engage in face-to-face.
This behavior may make people feel unwelcome, disrespected, or harassed in their online interactions. Ultimately, individuals may be dissuaded by these dynamics from participating, which undermines the vibrancy of our global conversation.
As a result, we encourage individuals to:
- communicate online with respect
- listen carefully to others in order to understand their perspectives
- take responsibility for their words and actions
- keep criticism constructive
- respect diversity and be tolerant of differences
We embrace full and open communication and recognize the unique opportunity for expression in the online environment. We support freedom of speech and reject censorship. These principles are not intended to address what ideas can be expressed, but rather the tone with which communications take place.”
To support this statement, the National Center on Technology and Dispute Resolution at UMass-Amherst has launched this website, RespectPledge.org, which offers a Respectful Communication Pledge to which you can add your name. Instead of promoting a Code to be enforced by blog moderators, which has been criticized as censorship, this website offers a pledge that can be taken voluntarily by individuals.
Obviously, not everyone in the blogosphere will be interested in taking such a pledge. However, stating these principles clearly and giving individuals a way to publicly affirm them may help to promote and sustain a culture of respectful communication online.
We welcome feedback from pledge signers. Hopefully efforts like this one will help to plant the seeds of a more respectful and welcoming online culture in the years ahead.