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The industry of blogging has a low barrier for entry – anyone and their mom can create a blog. But the media’s presence online is expanding, and since journalists are bound to a code of ethics, should bloggers be as well? How else can we mediate the internet, or call out bloggers who are violating the generic moral code? Should the internet really be a free-for-all?
Of the handful of blogging codes of ethics I’ve read this term, I think this one over at Mom Crunch is the most compelling (and not because of the Biblical allusion). Blogger cecilyk asked for ideas for ‘commandments’ from the blogging community and narrowed some 400 answers down to just ten. The reason why this code struck me more than some of the others is (a) it’s obviously formatted for the internet – she doesn’t use just blocks of text (hey…who’s got two thumbs and is full of hypocrisy?), and (b) that she gets specific: and that specificity speaks to many harmful aspects of blogging that we don’t always foresee, but most of us fall into.
Honoring fellow bloggers, “Thou Shall Comment As Thou Wishes To Be Commented Upon” and ”Thou Shall Remember to Unplug” are key points that I believe weren’t captured as well by some of the other blogging codes of ethics, the Commandment about unplugging and living life resonated with me especially. Why should I take advice about life from someone who never leaves their computer? Life is to be lived, not merely discussed.
What About Me?
Do ethics play a part in my blogging? I think inadvertently they do. Most of my writing is personal and introspective, not opinionated or informational. I’m not exactly in danger of spreading false information or slandering others. If (and when) I do write about current events, or knowledge I find important, relevant, or fascinating, there’s no way I wouldn’t take care in providing accuracy. I realize that I subconsciously hold myself to many of these standards listed in the various ethical codes – and part of this is my tame content.
Here are two very plausible ethical dilemmas.
A) You Google yourself and find that another blogger has taken several of your original blog posts and posted them on her site. She includes your name as the author, but does not include the link to your site nor any other information about it. You see she’s gotten thousands of hits and lots of comments in response to a post YOU WROTE. How would you handle it? What are the ethical issues this raises?
If this actually happened to me, I would be furious. I’m imagining myself taking the high road, communicating calmly and coolly, but in all likelihood, I’d be irate – which never happens. In response, I’d post the link to my original post on her post, and send her a private message telling her what’s up - that she has one week to tell all of her followers that her content isn’t original, and point them toward me (and whomever else she stole from).
From here on out, I would watch her like a hawk and comment on everything she copies, plainly stating that she did not write this and providing a link to whoever did. I would write a post about it on my blog, linking to her site, and include the ultimatum I gave her for the public to see. I’d probably complain to all my friends, too – especially if she denied everything. (I’m so mature, sheesh.)
The ethical issues this raises….are many. This chick would not be honoring her fellow bloggers, because this is straight up plaigiarism, which violates the first rule of the Online Journalism Review’s ethical guidelines. Frankly, I think plaigiarism violates everyone’s ethical guidelines: especially when it’s irrefutable, clear as day, such as this case. It’s a little frightening to realize that as a victim, I’d be somewhat powerless against it. Could I sue her? Would I? Is it worth it – especially if I’m not granted protection in court? The hypothetical example described above is the kind of case that makes me cry out for regulation and mediation on the internet. Not censorship, but some kind of organized effort to bring justice to these kinds of events. How is it that I’d be powerless against this kind of violation?
This leads to the ethical issue of accountability. If everyone on the internet is self-policed, who is actually holding themselves accountable; does this system really work? If we can’t hold ourselves accountable, who should be granted that power? Do we really need a ‘mommy’ figure to discipline the outliers?
B) In social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and many blogs, writers blurt out lots of information that are no more than rumors – often false. They’d rather be first than be right. Think about the codes of ethics you’ve read. Which rules apply? Which rules SHOULD apply?
This is an intricate and widespread dilemma. The rate of news consumption through social media doesn’t always allow time for multiple sources to be gathered, or facts to be checked (unfortunately). Life happens at a fast pace, and use of social media tends to amplify that pace. When it comes down to it, I believe different rules apply to different platforms. Live-tweeting is an awesome component to any event, and I don’t consider it unethical when used by journalists, as long as they are tweeting for their publication and remain unbiased. (Save the snarky comments for your personal twitter – unless that’s against the policy of your publication.)
I believe that both on Twitter and blogs, writers (professionals and amateurs alike) should include corrections in updates, and admit mistakes. I believe disclaimers should always be included when sources (and their reliability) are minimal or absent. I believe this because everyone should feel obligated not to spread false information – and if something is false, it should be brought to light.