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Ethics of Web Logging (383)

From bridgetester
Blogger Influence Raises Ethical Questions By Anick Jesdanun, New York (AP), 01/21/05

Right now I am posting my daily essays on topics of interest to me. Before that most of my posts were links to sites and articles I found interesting.

I post about my life for two reasons 1) to keep a record of what is going on, 2) to let my friends know what is going on with me. My LJ is very personal. But it is out there in public, so I can see the need not to disclose anything confidential, or write anything libelous. I try to keep in mind that the people I'm talking about might actually read what I write, and how would I feel then.

But I'm not a "policy maker and other influencer of public opinion" and I don't think my readers are either. The vast majority of people with web logs are just plain folk. This is just another tool for the free expression of ideas. And, like web sites, web logs should be evaluated by the quality of information they are trying to present and how close they come to succeeding. There really is no one standard that applies.

On the other hand "Be honest and fair. Minimize harm. Be accountable." sound like good rules to me. I try to do those things. Even the stricter guidelines of "disclosing any conflicts of interest, publicly correcting any misinformation and linking to any source materials referenced in postings." Are still reasonable. I hope my Live Journal meets these minimum standards. I try to link to my sources, give credit where credit is due, and be honest about what influences me.

I had noticed that there was an almost reverse policy in citing sources on LJ. When I have quoted other people's posts (with links) because I wanted to express my opinions but didn't see the point in arguing directly with them, some people have accused me being unethical. I thought I was just being clear and honest and giving my readers the chance to check my sources.

But no one is paying me to promote them. If I was a media professional I think discloser would be a trust issue. How could my readers trust me if I was being paid to advocate a position. I think not disclosing that sort of information is an ethical breach.

Comments

When I have quoted other people's posts (with links) because I wanted to express my opinions but didn't see the point in arguing directly with them, some people have accused me being unethical.

Wow. So these people think its not within your rights to express an opinion in your own journal? Those are the sort of folks I'd ban from my journal from that point on. Your LJ is yours and no one is forcing anyone else to read it. I generally think of mine as entertainment for myself and talking to myself...if others read and make comments that's their will but I certainly don't agree with anyone trying to impose their will or opinions on me or how I use my journal. It matters not one wit to me that this weblog is in a "public" medium (although mine is "friends only" and not open to the general public), its still my thoughts and as far as I can tell expressing them hasn't become against the law yet. :)

Ethics

"So these people think its not within your rights to express an opinion in your own journal?"

No they aren't objecting to my expressing my opinion. They are objecting to me quoting and linking back to the person I was disagreeing with without addressing that person directly. I think it is a problem distinguishing between disagreeing with an idea and disagreeing with person.

I think in academia there is a better understanding that one is supposed to be talking about ideas not people. One has an obligation to credit where one finds ideas so other people can 1) get proper credit and 2) check one's sources.

But if one thinks that disagreement is a personal attack then citing without addressing the source seems like attacking someone behind their back. While that is not criminal it does seem rude. But no one has ever called a journalist unethical for quoting someone in a critical report. Journalist are also supposed to cite sources.

its still my thoughts and as far as I can tell expressing them hasn't become against the law yet.

In general I agree. But slander and libel have always been limits on free speech.

Re: Ethics

But slander and libel have always been limits on free speech.

But if you're merely disagreeing with an idea and not saying personal things against the person you're quoting...
It seems perhaps some others can't make that distinction??? Pretty silly of them to think you're being unethical for not wishing to open a dialog with someone else. Who says makes these rules? Its your choice. I dunno...maybe I'm just showing my age...

People get so ridiculously litigious over trivial crap. I suppose I could worry about something like that if I ever felt something I said "ruined" someone's life or reputation. (But I don't say stuff like that, not publically anyway.) I don't think my journal garners that much readership! LOL

I'm not debating anyone as much as I'm merely talking to myself. :)

Re: Ethics

But no one has ever called a journalist unethical for quoting someone in a critical report.

But... journalists don't quote people without interviewing them first (which requires their permission), unless the people in question are public figures making public statements. And as you said above, most bloggers aren't public figures and many make the (unsafe) assumption that their publicly available journals aren't really public because they "don't have that many readers." Analogy: if a journalist overheard you having a conversation with friends, would you expect hir to quote and name you in an article later without getting your permission? Now, whether we should consider LiveJournal closer to the public statement or to the conversation with friends is debatable, but I think for now consensus leans toward the conversation with friends.

There are a couple of other assumptions in play as well. When we look at traditional journalism, we assume that its products -- news articles, columns, what have you -- are being produced with the greater good of society in mind, that quoting someone critically serves the greater purpose of allowing readers to make informed decisions on important matters. We also tend to assume, at least among the intelligentsia and notwithstanding increasing evidence to the contrary, than professional journalists have been taught and will act according to journalistic ethics. Most blogs, on the other hand, are mental masturbation at best, and as readers we have no reason to believe that any given strange blogger will have ethics or the greater good in mind. So it makes sense that bloggers should be given less leeway.

Sorry if I'm rambling on here, but journalistic ethics, the Internet as a culture with its own long-standing rules (though the historical rules have become less and less common knowledge since the mid-90s), and the amalgamation of the Internet and the fourth estate are all topics that make me passionate. :-)

Re: Ethics

"Now, whether we should consider LiveJournal closer to the public statement or to the conversation with friends is debatable, but I think for now consensus leans toward the conversation with friends."

If it's a conversation with friends, it's being carried out via bullhorn for all the world to hear.

If you're putting something on LJ and it's a public entry, and if anyone can open a web browser and read it, then that's a public statement. If someone is concerned with having someone besides their friends "overhear their conversation" (which a blog really isn't) then they should make their entries "friends only".

Just because someone thinks that running down the street naked and covered in blood is a personal statement doesn't mean that the person should be surprised if people stop, stare, and call the police.

Re: Ethics

If you're putting something on LJ and it's a public entry, and if anyone can open a web browser and read it, then that's a public statement.

Yes, but does that alone make you a public figure, by journalistic standards?

If someone is concerned with having someone besides their friends "overhear their conversation" (which a blog really isn't) then they should make their entries "friends only".

I think you'll find a lot of LiveJournalers who disagree that a blog isn't a conversation, certainly a LiveJournal blog. In fact, most of the people I know here wouldn't even call LiveJournal a blog -- it's a journal. It's not the same as an isolated blog on a website; with the comments and friendslist and communities, it's inherently interactive, which is why many of us came here.

I'll go with the conversation metaphor again. You can have a conversation with your friends through a bullhorn -- and a lot of people on the Metro do effectively that. :-) And, yes, if someone's shouting through a bullhorn -- if they're advertising their blog all over the place, for instance, are widely accepted as a Big Name -- then they can be considered a public figure. But just having a conversation on the Metro, quietly, with your seatmates the way most people do, doesn't make you a public figure or your words public domain. The fact that other people on the Metro can hear you as they pass by, that they can read your journal, doesn't give them any right to your intellectual property. If you're reading your new story out loud to a friend and someone overhears it, there's nothing technically stopping the stranger from republishing it elsewhere without telling you. But I don't think you'd find many people defending his right to do so.

Re: Ethics

But just having a conversation on the Metro, quietly, with your seatmates the way most people do, doesn't make you a public figure or your words public domain.

And yet the the New York Times has a column called METROPOLITAN DIARY where people submit conversations thay have had with strangers, or overheard on the subway.

I think you are confusing "impolite" with "unethical". Etiquette and ethics are not the same thing.

I don't recognize my behavior in your arguments, or my arguments in your responces. You seem to be talking about something else entirely. In general, your posts on this topic have been so out of proportion to the issue that I am forced to conclude that you are talking about some personal issue from your past, not anything I have said or done.
I can't really picture this without seeing the past posts in question, but I wonder if their problem wasn't with the citing, but with the quoting. In traditional journalism, it's understood that once you speak the words, they're gone, you can't control them. But on the Internet, it's always been the rule that you do not pass someone's words on to audiences they didn't choose without their permission. You can paraphrase, you can quote when replying to the same community the original was posted to, you can forward things with the original author's permission, you can maybe quote a tiny bit out of context (much less than non-Internet "fair use" would allow), but you absolutely do not violate the author's choice of audience, her control over her intellectual property, or the technology's ability to preserve attribution. If you were quoting more than an insignificant line or two of someone else's post without the original author's explicit permission, I'm not surprised people jumped on you.

Actually, even paraphrasing with a link back sits badly with me in this context, but that's less because of Internet history than because of LJ's "community of individuals" flavor. It seems too analogous to talking about someone behind their back, and hence I think it should be done under a locked entry if at all. Yeah, the journal's yours to write what you want... but you still have to deal with the consequences, just as you do in the meat-world, and that means being courteous. You might tell your close friends in detail how much you disagree with someone in particular, but if other people who might be that someone's friends come within hearing distance, you'd probably vague up the names and details of the argument, wouldn't you?

The few times I've responded to something like that in my journal, I've done the paraphrase-and-vague-ify without a link. But those were also circumstances where the discussion was taking place across several journals and a case could be made that the points I was arguing against were a part of the general intellectual mix and that I was responding to the mix rather than any one person in particular.
On rereading, this sounds a bit harsher than I had intended. I just wanted to clarify that I wasn't trying to jump on you too, just explain what your critics might have been thinking.

quoting on the internet

But on the Internet, it's always been the rule that you do not pass someone's words on to audiences they didn't choose without their permission.

I can understand that for email lists where the standards of personal correspondence might apply but LJ and especially LJ communities are public forums not private corespondences (unless the post is privacy locked). I don't see how one can expect the standard of personal correspondence can apply to something that is placed on a public web page.

but if other people who might be that someone's friends come within hearing distance, you'd probably vague up the names and details of the argument,

I have never approved of that vagueing up the details to make people feel better about themselves when they are gossiping behind someone's back. if you can't pass on someone's name with the information you shouldn't be passing the information at all (unless they want you to use a different name for their protection).

"the paraphrase-and-vague-ify without a link" just confuses the issue. If someone said something specific then it is more intellectually honest to quote with attribution so one's argument makes more sense.

This argument for instance would be a lot clearer if I could show you the actual discussion (unfortunately I think it happened in a community that doesn't exist anymore, at least I can't find it). I can't show you the other persons argument but I can show you my post that started it

I feel I was responding to a "general intellectual mix" but specific quotes are better for rhetorical purposes. In my experience when you "vague up" the other side of the argument it really just makes things worse, people misunderstand your argument.

Re: quoting on the internet

I can understand that for email lists where the standards of personal correspondence might apply but LJ and especially LJ communities are public forums not private corespondences (unless the post is privacy locked). I don't see how one can expect the standard of personal correspondence can apply to something that is placed on a public web page.

It's not a question of personal/private correspondance, but of Internet culture. Most of the rules on Internet communication, including this one, arose on Usenet, which is/was a public forum. And it's a public forum where your words alone are responsible for your reputation among thousands of people who have no other way of judging you. And it's a public forum where it's very easy for one person to influence your reputation among thousands by sloppy or malevolent editing of a quote or its attribution. So it makes sense to have very strict community standards that protect your words (and hence your reputation).

I think the email lists are relevant, though, not in defining the cultural standards but in ensuring they've been passed on. In the mid- and late 90s, it was a constant struggle to try to teach the huge waves of newbies how to behave properly on the Net, a struggle that was pretty much doomed by their sheer numbers. But I also remember a positive rash of newbies on e-mail lists who were forwarding stories, discussion posts, and even private correspondence on to other audiences without permission, and many of those forwards were done in less-than-innocent circumstances. The result was a lot of burned people on a lot of emotional lists that afterward became much more willing to enforce the rules about quoting than the rules about, say, keeping signatures to four lines or less.

Off to look at the other post...

Re: quoting on the internet

Okay, I read the post you linked to. Honestly, if it had me you'd quoted an entire long paragraph on a personal and flammable topic from without permission, I'd have been very pissed off. Honestly, I'm sorry, but I just boggled reading that. It was much worse than I expected from the sort-of-academic discussion we were having. If I had just seen that in your journal without having this discussion about it first, I would probably just have defriended you to make sure you didn't have access to anything sensitive to bandy about.

Specifically:

1) Both quotes were on a highly flammable, sensitive subject.
2) The first quote was inherently personal and sensitive.
3) Both posts were a lot longer than "fair use" for Internet communication (and probably by traditional standards as well, since you're republishing their entire comments).
4) Neither quote was necessary; the link to the original post and comment would have let readers see what you were responding to just as well.

With both of these quotes, you've taken them out of context (an atheist community where the authors could be reasonably comfortable that readers would be supportive) and you've abrogated their right to control their own words and their own audience. They can no longer edit or delete their words, something which LiveJournal is supposed to allow, and they're being used as rhetorical tools in a conversation which they're not allowed to participate in. The second quote is a perfect example: the author has apparently changed hir journal name, but you're attributing the words to someone who no longer exists.

if you can't pass on someone's name with the information you shouldn't be passing the information at all....

"the paraphrase-and-vague-ify without a link" just confuses the issue. If someone said something specific then it is more intellectually honest to quote with attribution so one's argument makes more sense.


But you yourself in that post refer to a book you have at home; is that intellectually dishonest? Or look at ekchuah's comment about her coworker. Is that gossip? If you're truly responding to the idea and not the person, you should be able to paraphrase it well enough to get your point across. To do otherwise is to put rhetoric ahead of courtesy and community standards and to say your own (understandable) desire to "make sense" and a good impression with your writing is more important than any moral right the original authors have to their intellectual property.

I am, truly, trying to explain rather than attack here, but I can't think of any circumstances where that post would be acceptable. By net standards it's quoting without permission, by conversational standards it's talking behind someone's back, and by academic/journalistic standards it's a violation of fair use.
But I'm not a "policy maker and other influencer of public opinion" and I don't think my readers are either. The vast majority of people with web logs are just plain folk.

I get the idea that some people who don't have much experience with blogging tend to misinterpret it. I've seen some news articles suggesting that everyone with a blog is some kind of amateur journalist, and other people apparently have the idea that bloggers are all teenage drama queens who complain about how horrible their moms are. While both of these sorts of blogs certainly exist, most of the ones I've come across are just of the "here's what I did" or "here's my opinion on this" variety (which can include some politics or drama, but that's rarely the main focus). I don't see that anyone with a blog should be held to stricter standards than anyone else expressing themselves in a public forum.

the ethics of blogging

yes, I agree with you.