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A blogger's code of ethics

Recently, I excoriated another blogger for what I viewed as unethical conduct. Also recently, people have obtained copies of the "C-BS News Standards" manual and compared it to the Tiffany Network's conduct during Memogate. Those two incidents combined to make me realize that I've never seen a Blogging Code Of Ethics spelled out anywhere. With that in mind, I figured it might be a good idea to kick around the idea of starting one. As a starting point, I'm going to actually put down in writing the principles I subconsciously adopted when Kevin first offered me the gig here.

Update: Several people have pointed out that Rebecca Blood had come up with very similar ideas about two years ago. I didn't know about her beforehand, and I appreciate the heads-up from Jeff Blogworthy and others. Yeah, there is a tremendous amount of overlap between her piece and mine, and I think hers is actually written a bit more clearly. It was more of a general piece, while mine had very specific examples (mostly my own, but not all of them -- thanks, Kos-heads) in mind. If anyone found what I wrote interesting, they really owe themselves to go read hers, too. Most of what I said, she said too -- but better and firster.

1) A blogger must be honest.
A) Every piece should a sincere expression of how the blogger perceives the facts to be, and all opinions should be heartfelt. Omitting key facts that don't buttress the blogger's point or posting outrageous comments simply to stir up reaction or draw attention is dishonest, and such conduct should be shunned.

B) A blogger should not put forth themselves as an expert on any given field unless prepared to back up such claims with proof.

C) A blogger should not attempt to "hide" mistakes. Deleting embarassing, dishonest, or just plain wrong postings is an attempt to re-write history. An honest blogger will update, correct, or apologize for such work, but never attempt to bury their mistakes. "The moving hand writes, and having writ moves on. Neither all your tears, nor all your wit, Shall lure it back to erase half a line, Nor change a word of it." That's from the Rubiyat of Omar Khayyum, and it's sound advice.

D) A blogger should give credit where credit is due. Sources should be cited, other blogs that broke stories linked to, and original ideas credited to their sources. Plagiarism is way too easy to commit these days, and even easier to uncover.

The sole exceptions to this general principle should be 1) fictional or satirical pieces, which should be labeled as such; and 2) obscuring of personal or identifying details, if the blogger prefers to post under a pseudonym or the piece involves people who haven't given their consent.

2) A blogger must be accurate. Bloggers who put forth statements and accounts as factual must do their homework and GET IT RIGHT. Sloppiness, laziness, and inattention to detail will get found out, and will cost the blogger credibility. And in the online world, where the only currency is reputation, they will eventually bankrupt themselves.

3) A blogger must be interesting. Topics blogged about should have some interest to at least a good percentage of the audience. (A personal note here: I have a perfectly wonderful piece written about a local talk-show host here in Manchester, Cow Hampshire, but who really cares about a former TV sports guy named Charlie Sherman? And I still can't believe I wrote and posted that piece about the intricacies of battleship design and construction...)

4) A blogger must always put forth their best efforts. I have a half-dozen pieces I've started but had to abandon because I just couldn't get the piece to work. I admit I have pretty low standards, but I do have some, and if I don't think a piece is worth reading, I won't post it. The one that particularly galls me that I can't get to work is one about Jeremy Hinzman, a cowardly piece of shit deserter from the United States Army currently seeking political asylum in Canada. I think I might have to revisit that one again soon...

5) A blogger must be responsible. If a blogger chooses to allow comments (and I think it's a good thing, generally), they have the obligation to police such comments. When someone posts a comment that violates the blogger's ethical standards -- say, such as libel, excessive profanity, coding to "rig" another site's poll (gee, where did I get that from?), grotesquely off-topic postings, other bloggers shamelessly plugging their own sites, and outright commercial spam, just to name a few examples -- it is the blogger's obligation to remove it. I consider myself pretty fortunate -- I've only had to go in and delete about a dozen comments since I started here at Wizbang (not counting commercial spam).

There's certainly plenty of room for more, and I'm sure I've overlooked a few of the things I follow unconsciously at this point, but I think this serves as a good kickoff point. Suggestions, as always, cheerfully accepted.

J.



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» Pajama Pundits linked with Ethical Blogging

» La Shawn Barber's Corner linked with Open Thread: You Blog, I Comment

» Kin's Kouch linked with Woohoo Code of Ethics!

» Young Pundit linked with Blogger Code Of Ethics

» Jeff Blogworthy.com linked with The Blogger code

» Joe's Dartblog linked with Blogging Ethics

» Kalblog linked with Interesting Ethics

» Tom Rants linked with I can't avoid it any longer

» Jack Yoest linked with Blog Management

Comments (35)

Insist on conformity in a n... (Below threshold)

Insist on conformity in a nonconformist environment?

Take Care
Michael

JT, yours isn't the first a... (Below threshold)

JT, yours isn't the first attempt at a "code of ethics" for bloggers. Jessica's Well was swamped with negative responses at her efforts, and for good reason.

The "institution of blogging" is bigger than citizen journalism. I for one, an avowed partisan poliblogger have not written about policy in more than a week. Or so. The code of ethics that you put forth are more the code of punditry than anything else, with the exception of points 1.

On point 1: I'm not sure if it was on Zeldman, ALA, or another independent-web site, but the number one rule of writing online is that unless you make clear that what is being written is fiction, one is to never write something he knows to be false.

On 2-4, the most blog-centric points: "Accurate" will hold a blogger to the standards of the open intellectual market. Inaccurate folks will continue to be discredited with each misstep. "Interesting" holds a blogger to the standards of those who read him, which in the end is not good for the blogger himself. That which interests a blogger is assumed, upon writing, to be interesting to one's audience. Blogging, believe it or not, is an egocentric medium.
"Best efforts" is relative. Indeed I get pissed off at a lot of snarky blog posts that sneer at the idiocy of political opposites, like posting that infamous Jesusland map with "hahahah!" as the title, but again, the free and open intellectual market will leave sites like those with dwindling audiences. I suppose my point on these is that let the audiences sort it out. We don't need a manual of sorts, at least not for all of us, which by the way is what "blogging code of ethics" connotes.

Finally on #5. Responsibility is an attribute that all people who go online should foster. Without a doubt. Not just bloggers, but MSM, advertisers, merchants. It goes above and belongs to any code of ethics that has been, and may be, written.

<a href="http://www.rebecca... (Below threshold)

Rebecca's pocket has such a post. Check it out. This was pointed out to me by Beldar awhile back and I bookmarked it.

Scrap #3. If you feel it's ... (Below threshold)

Scrap #3. If you feel it's interesting enough to write about, someone, somewhere will appreciate your taking the time. And I just specifically clicked through to read the battleship post.

Conversely, if you're forcing yourself to write about something you're not interested in, it is a waste of everyone's time.

Dang, Glenn Reynolds has fa... (Below threshold)

Dang, Glenn Reynolds has failed. He writes about everything, and most of what he writes isn't long enough to "work"!

- Seems to me that the grea... (Below threshold)

- Seems to me that the greatest strength of the blogosphere is its enherent diversity, immediaately enforcing the severist of self policing, namely the peer pressure, review, and parsing of one's fellow bloggers. Better than any manual ever devised. As O.F.Jay commented, the market is the harshest taskmaster....

There should be no problem ... (Below threshold)
Bullwinkle:

There should be no problem with any part of your code with any of the conservative blogs, everything in your code reverts back to 1, BE HONEST. Liberal blogs and liberals in general have a big problem there. Honesty doesn't mix well with a tilted agenda with hidden intentions. Never has, never will. If the liberal blogs held themselves to the same standards as Wizbang and Captains Quarters, just to name two of my favorite conservative blogs, they'd have at least a tiny bit of credibility. They never have, they never will, they can't, if they did they be conservative.

How would it be policed? wi... (Below threshold)
Rod Stanton:

How would it be policed? without *REAL* enforcement it would end up a joke like the UN charter.
Rod Stanton
Cerritos

While I can't subscribe to ... (Below threshold)

While I can't subscribe to the whole list, I think the concept is right. Honestly, the good blogs I read all follow a code of this sort, and it's called integrity. Sad that some out there show us that it needs to be spelled out.

Aw, don't try to structure ... (Below threshold)
opine6:

Aw, don't try to structure everything. I'll bet you're either an engineer or lawyer.

Part of the appeal of the blogosphere is the wide open, anything goes, say what you want, aspect of it. The readers can pretty much sort out who is a straight-shooter and who is not.

The great thing about the b... (Below threshold)

The great thing about the blogosphere is, there'll always be somebody to catch and point out where we've fallen short of whatever set of ideals we choose to espouse.

Honest bloggers will acknowledge these notices; dishonest ones will pretend, in vain, that they never make mistakes.

In my case, I write on my blog to suit myself and those others who share my taste (or lack thereof) -- which means I'm about at the level I'm ever going to get, and that's fine with me. I'm still small enough that if a reader has a genuine question about how I do things, they can ask.

Whether the answer they'll get is helpful or not, is another question...

My blogging new Year's reso... (Below threshold)

My blogging new Year's resolutions are going to include:

a) No linking and rehashing stories already linked by Drudge or Instapundit, unless there is self-Darwinism involved. Those are always funny.

b) I shalt not "Heh".

c) 'Tis nobler to suffer a day or two of blogger's block than it is to post stupid filler crap for two days.

d) MORE CRAPPY 80's MUSIC!

You can never go wrong writ... (Below threshold)
Mahan:

You can never go wrong writing about Washington Treaty battleships, or dreadnoughts, predreadnoughts, or ironclads. Never. There's a dearth of writing on the topic. Write more, in fact. Did I mention you can't go wrong writing about battleships of any stripe? :]

NO, NO, NO!No to a... (Below threshold)
steve sturm:

NO, NO, NO!

No to a code of ethics. It will not work, it strikes at the very heart of blogging, it is elitist, it is something only people with a chip on their shoulder would want...

For more ranting on this, I invite you to visit thoughtsonline

Interesting starting point ... (Below threshold)

Interesting starting point on a set of guidelines. I'd suggest keeping point-of-view out of the final edit - ie, the mention of Hinzman or local news items, etc.

I've registered a domain and setup a wiki page at http://ethicalblog.org should you be interested in contributing ( see http://ethicalblog.org/wiki/index.php?title=Blogger_Code_of_Ethics ) for a starting point that I really enjoyed.

As great an idea as this so... (Below threshold)

As great an idea as this sounds, I daresay that such a code already exists in an unwritten format given the amount of review and scrutiny each blogger's post is already put under by their peers and their readers.

Just think about how much of a hit Kos is still taking from his comment in March about the four contractors who were killed in Iraq.

"Interesting" is awfully, a... (Below threshold)
John Robinson:

"Interesting" is awfully, awfully subjective.

Kevin, I think that a "blog... (Below threshold)

Kevin, I think that a "blogger's code" while nice in theory, simply won't work.

That said, I think it would be an admirable trait of thoughtful bloggers who want to be taken seriously to disclose there own guiding principles somewhere on their site, or link to a communal alliance of serious bloggers.

These bloggers could display a simple 3-word text link on their site:

Honest. Accurate. Responsible.

This link could take them to the internal page or external site that explains the ethical standards of the ABE (Alliance of Ethical Bloggers, which someone would need to form) or a similar organization.

I'd develop this comment further, but I'm just here to unethically promote my own blog of half-baked, boring, inaccurate lies.

:)

I guess that would need to ... (Below threshold)

I guess that would need to be AEB not ABE, but then again, I'm not accurate...

Brandon,I think that... (Below threshold)

Brandon,
I think that makes my point: the bloggers that need a code of ethics spelled out are the ones that won't follow them.

I think the code of ethics ... (Below threshold)
Berlins:

I think the code of ethics should be determined by each site. Some sites will allow cursing some won't, some will allow alittle. Some sites are authoritarian and edit comments and some don't.
If you were to follow a bloggers etiquette, somewhat similar to golf where certain acceptable behaviour should be followed in polite society, I think you are on to something.

I think these are all good ... (Below threshold)

I think these are all good ideas. One thing we bloggers can do is encourage one another to attain high standards. A code of ethics, robustly and frequently discussed is a way of doing that.

Good Stuff

Tim McNabb
fivehundredwords.com

A couple of comments. Fir... (Below threshold)

A couple of comments. First, blogs are as different as bloggers, so you'll have to have a pretty narrow "Code of Ethics" to apply to them all. What applies to Scrappleface may not apply to a more "serious" blog and what applies to a ranter may not apply to a livejournaler may not apply to the Becker-Posner blog. Frankly, I'd avoid anything much more than "An ethical blogger makes every effort to be honest regarding facts and sources, to honestly distinguish fact from opinion and to make their satire and hyperbole so outrageous only an idiot can miss it."

Second, while I think most of your proposals are great, you're overlapping from ethics into etiquette. Perhaps there should also be a "Blogger's Code of Etiquette," but the two needn't, in fact shouldn't, be confused. I know from serving on professional standards boards in my own industry that we often have to inform people, "What broker X did was rude, but it wasn't unethical. Manners are not ethics." I'd say that applies with even greater force if you were to seriously want to hold bloggers responsible for comments written by others. (Though holding anyone responsible for the conduct of others is such a patently bad idea as to require writing a few hundred words of its own just to explain it the trial lawyers in our midst.)

I think this is a nice idea... (Below threshold)
Omni:

I think this is a nice idea, but it would eliminate a whole slew of blogs if there were ever a way to implement it... blogs that have readers who enjoy them. There's room for all sorts of blogs, and all sorts of bloggers, in the world; even those who are so bad that NO ONE reads them still have the right to self-expression, and it doesn't harm the rest of us if they express themselves badly... heck, we look better by comparison.

As to what's "interesting," I'd say that people with unusual interests should be ENCOURAGED to write about those things, because one of the great things about the internet is how it allows us to find those few other people that share our oddest fascinations and opinions.

It'd be nice if people got their facts right, and gave credit where credit was due, but few people do that in real life, so can you really expect them to in the blogosphere?

The only people who'd agree to a blogging code of ethics are those who are already following a "code" of that sort; the people who do NOT follow such an internal code would rightly claim their right to free speech.

If TV and Newspapers can't ... (Below threshold)

If TV and Newspapers can't subscribe to any code of ethics, how do you expect 4 million crazy ass bloggers to do the same? If you're trying to come up with a solution, then you are part of the problem... ;-)

- "You can not put too much... (Below threshold)

- "You can not put too much water in an Atomic pile containment tower".... Dan Akroid and Jane Curtin refering to the operations manual for instructions in what to do while the plant is overheating and threatening to explode - (curtousy of SNL).....

- I was going to say that generally manners and ethics go hand in hand and then I thought of "Slick Willy" - nevermind.....

So does the lack of caption... (Below threshold)
LF:

So does the lack of caption contest results on Sunday belong under

1) A blogger must be honest, or

4) A blogger must always put forth their best efforts, or

5) A blogger must be responsible?

<a href="http://www.hathaby... (Below threshold)

Count me out. The group still has to pay attention to what's done.

That's not so much a code o... (Below threshold)
Beck:

That's not so much a code of ethics as it is a job description. A blogger must be interesting? Not ethics. Necessary for getting readers, yes, but nothing to do with ethics.

I always find it a circular... (Below threshold)
-S-:

I always find it a circular discussion whenever blogging as a process is the topic, to any degree and about any aspect of it.

I agree with a few others here and that is that the writers who manage blogs ethically and so are already doing most of what Jay Tea suggests, and I also think that the very idea of "organizing" the behaviors contained in blogging are going to be anathema to those who aren't concerned with ethics. But, it's all about social ethics, and that's what's reflected in blogging: some people say please, thank you, excuse me, may I, let me help you, what can i do for you today and things like that, and some people say get out of my way, what's it to you, f/off, give that to me, and similar, and always will until there's a change of character in the latter.

That's what's reflected in blogging: who people are as they regard humanity and themselves in relationship to fellows. You can write legislation and codes till doom's day but some people will still never read the print, or, want to.

I think the code of ethics as to blogging, though, is being "written" but not in type: social feedback. Otherwise, no one would ever read or even hookup with the Ecosystem and Site Meter or care about site visits...

Blogs that have become popu... (Below threshold)
Vulgorilla:

Blogs that have become popular, and continue to be popular, do so for a variety of reasons. Some of those blogs violate the proposed "code of ethics" from top to bottom. The lure of the Internet is a diversity of ideas, some of which may have no basis in fact, but appeal to the beliefs of an audience of readers, no matter how warped or biased. The marketplace, which is the ultimate referee, will sort and sift out the blogs with no long term future. It's how the world should work.

<a href="http://www.thespoo... (Below threshold)
Veeshir:

Spoons took a shot at it once too.

I think he might have done another at a different time but I can't find it.

Hi all. I am a doctoral fe... (Below threshold)

Hi all. I am a doctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Rebecca Blood recommended I jump into your convo. I have five questions posted at blogethics2004.blogspot.com designed to see which philosopher is whispering into the blogosphere...Is in Kant, Ross, Rawls...Who? I would invite you to share you thoughts by visiting the site.

I will be completing a research paper on the subject which will be posted at that URL in January.

Many Thanks
Martin

Martin, if you're studying ... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Martin, if you're studying communication, you probably ought to know that "convo" (or "conversation") involves two or more people exchanging ideas and viewpoints. Simply saying "hello, this is interesting, please continue the talking over here where I can take notes" isn't really contributing ideas and viewpoints. Some might even call it "attempted hijacking" and other rude terms. Why not offer your own thoughts on the matter?

J.

JT,I stand guilty ... (Below threshold)

JT,

I stand guilty of violating #4. I appreciate your comments regarding my ethics survey. Let me assure you it is not something I take lightly. My area of expertise in Media Law, specifically spam legislation, and I see ethical codes in the e-environment as a natural step for CMC.

I have posted responses to your comments regarding my spelling errors, and would love to hear your responses to my five questions should you be so inclined. The site is blogethics2004.blogspot.com. The results of the paper will be posted on the same site in January.

Also, I will be using parts of Rebecca Blood's code and Johnathan Dube's "A Bloggers' Code of Ethics" in my research. Might I have permission you use your proposed code?

As for my own take on blogger ethics (my views are not mentioned on my site as I want people to respond with their own thoughts on the subject...not to respond to my assertions) is that ethics are typically market driven. As the public comes to recognize the blogosphere as an even more genuine source of "news" than the MSM, they will demand accountability. This will resultin Congress making some noise about blog content regs...and eventually a blogging association will form...and a code (that never can be enforced) will be passed. Those bloggers who run their sites in accordance with the code will likely display some type of association seal on their blog. Like you....I think "real" blog ethics will come down to 1.accepted patterns of etiquette (such as those on which you called me out) 2. professional standards (such as linking to all sources, copyright concerns etc.) and 3. the elimination of conflicts of interest arising out of advertising and sponsorship deals.

Thanks for your comment,
Martin




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