Blogging ethics issue gets more attention

Posted on January 24, 2005 9:24 am by | Blogging

The rising profile of blogging ethics has followed a predictable path:

  1. Some bloggers engage in questionable ethical behavior
  2. Bloggers discuss the question of ethics among themselves
  3. The public profile of blogs is raised during the 2004 US presidential election
  4. The discussion picks up steam. Some solutions are presented
  5. More stories of ethical misbehavior are reported
  6. The tsunami raises blogs’ profile even more
  7. More stories of ethical misbehavior are reported
  8. The mainstream press picks up on the story

The mainstream press, in the form of Associated Press, reports today on concerns about ethical standards in blogging: “The growing influence of blogs such as his is raising questions about whether they are becoming a new form of journalism and in need of more formal ethical guidelines or codes of conduct.”

Some bloggers have crafted codes of ethics for themselves. Another approach is a general call for bloggers to disclose any conflicts of interest or other situations that might lead to a perception of a breech of ethics. Still others have proposed codes that could be available for any blogger to sign onto. My friend and colleague Allan Jenkins doesn’t like this idea, subscribing to the notion that blogs are a distributed form of communication and therefore not conducive to any kind of common agreement. Allan offers his own ethical code on his blog.

Still, I continue to like this idea. It’s not a first online. There have been some very serious applications of the concept, such as the trusted vendor logo that indicates a commercial web site has met the standards of an organization that monitors such sites. Less serious uses incluide the “No Frames” campaign, in which frames-free web sites proudly proclaimed they did not use the HTML design technique by applying a logo to their sites. The Creative Commons logo on many blogs (including this one) is another instance of individuals deciding to sign on to a set of standards maintained by a central authority. It’s an entirely voluntary exercise, but once you say “This is how I’m going to behave” or “Here is what I’ll allow you to do with content from my site,” you can then be held accountable based on your personal decision to abide by those guidelines.

Rebecca Blood, a longtime blogger, circulated guidelines for blogging ethics, but (according to the AP account) fewer than 10 bloggers have adopted the guidelines by linking to the document. Perhaps rather than a blogger offering such guidelines as an individual, an organization such as Creative Commons needs to emerge to offer the guidelines, or even multiple sets of guidelines from which to choose (the way Creative Commons provides different types of copyrights for different types of Web sites).

I’m not sure which approach will finally emerge, but as blogs mature and public awareness increases, bloggers will need to be able to associate themselves with some form of ethical standard.



  • 1.The part of the idea I dislike is that some sort of collective code should apply. Although many advocate it.

    You asked me if you could "sign on" to my code. I said, "No, but you can copy it and make it your own". Because then it's the Shel Holtz Code of Blogging Ethics.

    And, at last count, 19 people have emailed me making the same request. My answer to each has been the same: "Copy it, modify it, put your own name on it... then it's yours".

    What is instructive is that no one -- not even you -- has done this. I believe that is because you all buy my argument -- that a code of ethics should be one's own -- but few can be troubled to define that code.

    Hell, even I thought "Oh, I'll let the IABC and journalism society codes cover me." And for many, that works fine.

    If I could make one of those little chiclet icons, I supppose I would. And say "if you like the Code of Blogging Ethics, paste this code on your site."

    But my admonition would be "You sign up, you live up to it. I'm not going to chase down your ethics, but you can bet your readers, in the end, will."

    Allan Jenkins | January 2005 | Copenhagen

  • 2.PS, am envying you people at the conference. Would give my eyeteeth to be there, but expect to see you all in Paris.


    Allan Jenkins | January 2005 | Copenhagen

  • 3.And I'd love to be in Paris, but alas, it's not in the cards.

    But to your points, Allan, why shouldn't I post my own copyright statement rather than sign on to the Creative Commons? (Or, for that matter, why don't you have your own copyright statement on your site rather than sign on to the Commons?) Why is a code of ethics different? Not arguing, mind you, just asking.

    Shel Holtz | January 2005

  • 4.You make a good point: why sign on to one code (copyright) and produce one's own of the other (ethics)?

    It wasn't a deliberate choice for me, but looking back, I realize its because the CC license was a) easy (just check the boxes off), b) easily understood, and c) easily agreed upon. It's also about property, not morals.

    Ethics codes, though, seem made for debate. Robert French's class at Auburn is using the DRC code as a discussion topic, and they are already debating its merits. Our peer group also questions that part or this part.

    What that tells me is that it would be hard to write a code that many people would instantly sign on to in agreement. Hell, Moses came down with the Ten Commandments three thousand years ago and our whole society still debates "Don't Kill".

    But plenty of people are willing to set up a collective code. My problem with that was, and is, what of those who won't/don't sign on to it? Are they presumed to be less ethical? Frankly, the whole movement for collective ethics codes, credentialing, blogging "standards" smacks of a lot of unnecessary control freakery and range-fencing.

    If the DRC Code of Blogging Ethics starts people thinking, I'm happy. If it were the basis of a checklist that people could sign on to, a la the CC license, and people found that useful, then I would be glad to lend it.

    All that said: I give a lot though to this, and I'm certainly not clear in my own mind about where I'll finally stand on this.

    Are ethics being discussed much at Napa?


    Allan Jenkins | January 2005 | Copenhagen

  • 5.Ethics are being discussed as we speak -- a session just starting. Stay tuned, I may have a post on it momentarily!

    Shel Holtz | January 2005 | Napa, CA

  • 6.Am here!

    Allan Jenkins | January 2005 | Copenhagen

Comment Form
What is the four-letter acronym for Bring Your Own Device?

« Back