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Fact-based ethics for bloggers

Coming up with a “code of ethics” for bloggers makes about as much sense as coming up with a code of ethics for people who say things. The diversity of blogs makes a code of ethics not even a pipe dream but a pipe nightmare.


We in fact do have some ethical expectations for people who say things. We expect you not to lie (without good cause), to let us know if you know you’re unreasonably biased (e.g., “Of course, that company does pay my salary” or “But, I was married to her for six years, so maybe that’s biased me”), and be capable of responding to a well-intentioned question without socking us in the nose. We don’t need a Code of Good Talking to formalize that. Rather, those are the conditions that enable us to converse in the first place.

There are some facts about blogs that pertain pretty generally, and those facts — features of the landscape, if you prefer — give rise to what I think are some reasonable ethical expectations. For example:

Fact Ethical rule of thumb
Blog posts are persistent Correct errors because erroneous posts may be around for many years.
Blog posts get linked to by others When you change a post, indicate that you have done so to prevent posts linked to it from becoming incomprehensible.
Posts may be read by people who don’t know who you are Unless there is some reason not to, provide some contextual information about who you are, or who your pseudonym is.
Someone may find a single post via a link and have no further context Be transparent about relationships that may influence you, perhaps by providing a persistent link to a disclosure statement of some sort.
The common ground between the author and commenters may be unknown Respond in a way that tries to find the common ground rather than assuming there is none.

Nothing too surprising in this list of rules of thumb, of course. It’s the tie back to facts that interests me. Is doesn’t imply Ought, but Is whips Ought into condition.

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8 Responses to “Fact-based ethics for bloggers”

  1. Blog posts are persistent

    They are because you don’t throw them away, not because you plan them that way. In that sense, blog posts are like chalk drawings on the pavement: made for a day, but sometimes lasting forever.

    I wrote a rant once on how blog software is all focussed on the ethereal side of blogging, but not on the persistant side. (The latter requires the ability to organize your archives, for instance.)

  2. David, great idea, great format. Any chance you’ll now do this for the 10 commandments?

  3. Lasciate che i computer vengano a noi

    Prima di buttarci in pasto un paio di link interessanti (da Slate e da David Weinberger) sul rapporto fra giornali e blog e sull’etica dei blog, Leibniz scrive un titolo apparentemente senza un collegamento con il testo: “Niente macchina da

  4. Valid ideas. Kind of like the Golden Rules for bloggers.

  5. Ah, David, David, David; such good sense from you. Props, kudos, praise, plaudits and whatnot. And woudn’t Vannevar Bush be proud of the way you augment the process of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record?

  6. Interesting list. I like it.

  7. Very nicely said. You should send it off to the blogger people and ask them to install it on the front page of every blog! :-)

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