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Ethical Blogging

I read four articles yesterday (1, 2, 3, 4) about the "ethics of blogging." I'll be blunt: I think it's a bunch of hooey.

If you're an ethical person, your ethics leave their mark on everything you do in life, everyone you know. If you're ethical, you're most likely an ethical parent, business person, citizen, and blogger.

Drafting a list of "Rules for Being Ethical" is both a waste of time and an indication of deeper issues in those drafting the lists. Most times I've seen people draft a list of "ethics" they've felt as though they have something to prove. Software engineers, for example, have been talking about codifying a standard of ethics similar to those of other engineers. The problem is that writing such a list doesn't prove anything to anyone: doing it does.

As far as I can tell, this is clearly one of those "talk the talk or walk the walk" situations. You won't find a list of my ethics on this site.

14 Responses to "Ethical Blogging"

  1. Er. That's great. Good on you. So now - if someone's told you you've made a mistake, what do you do? Would I be able to expect you to post a correction somewhere or would you just not mention it? Or would you edit the original entry. Knowing that affects how I read your site - and how much faith I might place in what you say.

    Another one - have you stated anywhere that you do or don't take advertising? I believe you wouldn't intentionally mislead me, but I don't know what you think actually would constitute as misleading - you could participate in the Project Blogger thing and not believe it to be an issue. But someone out there might think that constituted some kind of bias. You may not believe it's worth talking about, but you have to accept that they might not feel the same way...

  2. Ethics are, by definition, situational; that you are an "ethical person" in one sphere is no guarantee that you will act according to the ethics of another. Weblogs are (arguably) a new medium and defining your ethics helps readers learn what they can expect from you. It isn't a matter of integrity, it's a matter of communicating the expectations that your readers can have.

    You were talking earlier about the Griffin PowerMate you bought. Let's say that Griffin had given you a couple of dollars to mention the device in your blog. Would that change what you wrote? Maybe not, but that would help your readers figure out your relationship to the product, which almost certainly colors the text.

  3. Ethics, by defintion, aren't situational. They are guidelines, algorithms if you will; the situation may change and provide a different environment (input/variable into the algorithm) thus producing a different output/result; but ethics themselves are not situational.

  4. i have to agree with erik. if you are an ethical person, your "ethics" or guidlines for life will show through in everything you do. as per the comments about corrections, i would edit the post itself. but most often people leave the correction in a comment of some sort. if that's the case, i'll leave the comment up and edit the post to say what it should have said in the first place. if there is no comment and correction is recieved through other means, i'll edit the post and add a line somewhere that says who emailed the correction.

    ethics are guidelines you apply to everything, new situations, old events, thoughts, memories, _everything_. how you think about stuff, how you derive enjoyment from stuff, also depends on your ethics. for some people blogging itself goes against some of their ethics because it goes against one of their guidelines/beliefs. i believe that murder is bad, and that'll show through in my actions. that's all it is.

  5. I think calling them ethics "rules" is misleading. It's a code - the difference is, "rules" implies mandatory compliance (of the sort which is obviously never ever going to happen, and a good thing too), whereas a "code" is voluntary and is merely something that is upheld in spirit, by those wishing to do so.

    I don't think it would hurt if bloggers agreed to comply by a code of ethics, but I also don't think it would matter much if they didn't. As Erik says, it comes down to "walking the walk", and if you read a weblog enough you get a pretty good idea of how "ethical" somebody is. And who's to stop somebody saying they're ethical and then being anything but? Answer: weblog prominence and credibility is based on the trust of its readership. Break that trust with noticeably unethical practices and watch your readership desert you.

  6. Product Placement In Weblogs

    Project Blogger is a new marketing initiative whereby companies can harness/subvert weblogs in order to have their products mentioned.

  7. include "ethics.h"

    On ethical blogging, and why it's best left to be implicit.

  8. Blogging and Journalism Ethics

    Erik Barzeski made short work of four blog entries he posted on his site regarding responsible, ethical blogging.

  9. I promised Tom Coates and Christian Claiborn a response to their comments left on my Ethical Blogging entry a few days ago. Before I do...

  10. I don't really want to enter into this debate at the moment, but for this reason only - if someone DID propose a system of ethics for weblogs that you could sign up for, then no one would have to. If some people believed it had value then it would have value. If others didn't then they wouldn't have to sign up to it. My point here is that believing something is unnecessary is not a good enough reason to argue against someone else doing it. We can get too hung up on debating whether things should be done and miss the opportunity to do them and allow people to decide whether they want to join in or not.

    In the meantime, there are other benefits of such activity - the ability to get people up to speed quickly with some of the ethical issues involved in weblogging for example. Newbie webloggers who don't know the conventions of behaviour might be able to get up to speed quickly. Non weblogging friends often say to webloggers "this is not for your site" - because they don't know what our limits are - what we do or do not do. A guide would be useful for them as well.

    As to how to stop people breaking the rules they SAY they're breaking - well that's another matter. it's not so much a question of punishing people if they don't abide by the rules, but giving people - the self-regulating community - a standard to take people to task about something. "You haven't published a correction about something" becomes a "So-and-so didn't publish a correction about this on their site, in direct violation of their proposed code of whatever". Reputation is one of the only things one has in weblogging circles...

  11. Here's another benefit - drawing up a list of what is ethical might help one to actually try and decide what those boundaries are. And if an individual didn't agree with the ethics as they were represented they could present an alternative viewpoint - start a discussion about it. Debate about weblog ethics, it seems to me, is something that could do with a good discussion...

  12. I'm up for such a debate, I just see no value in listing it on your site (except for such a debate).

    You say:

    Non weblogging friends often say to webloggers "this is not for your site" - because they don't know what our limits are - what we do or do not do.

    You're again touching on something, Tom, that is very nearly a good illustration of my point of view. My friends know my limits. They know I wouldn't post something about their inability to maintain an erection (to make something up). Any grey area things (like, say, someone getting fired perhaps) they know I'd ask and show them the context.

    What are you going to do, Tom? Direct your "non-weblogging friends" to your list of ethics? Again, that would prove nothing. The fact that you call them a friend (and they you, I imagine) should be where they have formed their trust of you. The list? Useless. Waste of time.

  13. Your need to 'prove' something or to have a way of punishing people who transgress commonly understood ethical boundaries seems to me to be entirely too literal. The first reason to do this is to try and reach some kind of weblog-wide consensus about the kind of things that we might consider ethical and / or unethical so that people can move between sites with a REASONABLE expectation and understanding of what the ethical boundaries might be considered to be. Even if we can't reach a consensus, the process of trying to find one should help us individually clarify what we feel is and is not ethical - what we would or would not do. Is an Amazon affiliate link an ethical compromise or not (for example). It may seem trivial to some, but I believe that's a debate worth having.

    Certainly a list of ethics isn't a replacement for getting to know someone's site and coming to your own conclusions about them, but it is a useful complement to that process. We all understand the utility in companies putting up signs that say "only free range eggs" or "a member of the happy recycler's club" even if we don't know much about the services or standards they are using in these things, because we believe that IF EXPOSED the people concerned will lose any and all respect (plus some) that they initially courted. A loss of reputation constitutes a legitimate threat!

    As to 'proving' things to your friends - that's not the issue either, and it depends on the kind of site you're writing. Some people use their sites as platforms for columnist-style writings - Carrie Bradshaw style - about things that have happened to them and their friends. You might not do that, so you might not have been in the position to have to explain to someone that yes you have written about something that happened to them, but that you've made sure to protect their identity and generalise out from it to such an extent that no one could identify them (or suspect them) from your description. Journalists do this all the time in so-called 'trauma' interviews, when someone has been raped or stalked or mugged or suffered an illness wouldn't want to be associated with their statements. There is a legitimate issue in being able to explain to them in the clearest terms how you protect their identity, how you make sure you don't put any of your friends into difficult situations. If you're walking these difficult hinterlands, then clarification IS IMPORTANT. It would be helpful to have something clearly written and clear that said this is a well-thought through and clearly described set of guidelines that have been demonstrated to protect people, have been used on hundreds of websites and which I adhere to.

  14. Law And Ethics In The Blogosphere

    I'm a little late in reporting this but last week an appellate court ruled that along with website operators and email list editors, bloggers aren't responsible for libelous information they republish. I have to point out that this ruling effects...