In Which I Speak on ‘Blogger Ethics’

If you are in the Coral Gables area today at 10:10 am, you can catch me speaking on the odd topic of “blogger ethics” (and how these compare to journalists’ ethics) at the UM School of Communications School Courtyard, as part of Communications Week.

As the interloper from across the street, my job is to raises blood pressures. So I’m going to suggest that there are three types of bloggers: Professionals, Pro-Ams, and real Amateurs.

For the professional blogger, whose blog is part of the job, the ethical rules that apply are (1) Don’t hide your affiliation with your employer and (2) follow the rules that apply to your job/profession.

For the Pro/Am blogger (e.g. a part-time freelance journalist, some academic bloggers), I think that the rules are basically the same, although it’s probably important to be especially clear as to how you see yourself, so that readers know what to expect you to act more like a pro, or more like an amateur. That’s for example why I say my blog is “personal”, and I pay for my own hosting rather than using UM equipment — I see myself as an amateur, a hobbyist, and want to be seen that way, whatever the traffic implications.

But for the real amateurs, the large majority of bloggers, the ethical rules are the same ones that you bring to daily life: Don’t lie (do correct errors), cheat, or steal (link instead!).

I suspect there may be special issues for the under-18 blogger, but that’s mostly about not hurting yourself, rather than about not hurting others.

There are of course far more bloggers than journalists, so we’d expect a few bad apples here and there, and they certainly exist. But overall, I wouldn’t be surprised if bloggers had at least as good ethical behavior as journalists, since they aren’t in the grip of a role morality and can just act as people. (OK, done the blood pressure thing.)

If time permits I’ll also say a few words about some hard calls that come up in blogging, notably comment management issues. For example,

  • When is it ok to censor comments spontaneously (this one is easy — always so long you are clear in advance about your policy, apply it fairly, and make it clear what you are doing when you apply it)
  • What do you do about blogger swag — people actually send me stuff sometimes in the hope that I’ll blog about it!
  • Someone emails you and asks you to delete a comment about them that they find hurtful, what should you do? (very contextual, and thus very difficult)
  • Someone emails you, claiming to be the person who posted a particular comment two years ago and asks you to modify or delete it, what should you do? (this one is hard – you don’t know if they’re really who they say they are, and it may depend a lot on what it said)

And I will make a heroic effort not to talk about the Subject I Am Not Supposed To Talk About.


If you want to read more on this topic, good places to start (i.e. folks I pretty much agree with) are cyberjournalist.net’s proposed code of ethics and Rebecca Blood on Weblog Ethics.

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5 Responses to In Which I Speak on ‘Blogger Ethics’

  1. I think a more interesting question is whether there’s any way of enforcing ethics, other than the Law Of The Jungle.

    These talks tend to do what I call the Boy Scout Oath, which is not exactly controversial.

    But suppose a blogger, especially an A-lister, doesn’t care? What then?

    Case studies are abundant ….

  2. Doesn’t work. A misbehaving A-lister often doesn’t give a damn what any small group of Z-listers says about him or her. In fact, more people are likely to suck-up to the A-lister because he or she can give them attention (and sometimes more), while in contrast, calling the A-lister to account for an ethical violation is often a losing proposition.

  3. OK, don’t mention this … but this film critic just discovered she wrote for The National Review … and she is wondering when she is going to get paid!

    “To whom should I direct an invoice for my review of *Pay It Forward,* which you ran under Domenech’s byline?”

    Best Wishes.

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