Tuesday, February 13, 2007

RFC for the Ethical Blogger Pledge

Recently, online communities have had their trustworthiness challenged, at the same time that Citizen Journalism has been attempting to rival traditional media as a reliable information source. Looking around, I notice that there are several lists of blogger ethics, but no real community consensus on the whole range of ethics issues related to blogging. Here, then, is a bit of a compilation and distillation. It is submitted as a request for comments. The rules are in no particular order.

Also, where to host the final Pledge is an open question at this point.

  1. I will respect the privacy of others.
    Ethical bloggers treat sources and subjects as human beings deserving of respect. Avoid publicizing the private contact information of anyone without their informed permission, even if that information is publicly available.
  2. I will make the rules of my site clear and apply them equally
    The beauty of the blog is that posters are known by the content of their character, without regard to group or class membership. State the rules openly, so that all posters are aware of them. Apply the rules the same way to all posters. Site rules may distinguish between groups, but their application should be consistent.
  3. I will not spam
    The practice of posting links to your blog on other, unrelated blogs should be punishable by the removal of all links to your blog, its removal from all search engine caches, and a stern lecture or two.
  4. I will not astroturf
    Astroturfing is the practice of generating the appearance of widespread support among ordinary people. This also applies to the group blogging "splash", in which several people collude to post related stories together at the same time, giving the appearance, at least to the search engines, that a story has greater interest among bloggers than it really has. Post the stories, link to each other, but don't pretend you aren't in it together.
  5. I will not use sock puppets
    A sock puppet is an alternate user name, typically used either to troll or astroturf.
  6. I will not be a troll
    Trolling is posting inflammatory or controversial material on a blog, either to annoy its other users or to generate the appearance of discord. A closely related tactic is mobying: posing as one aligned in spirit with the community of a blog, but making statements that are either subtly or blatantly in discord with it.
  7. I will tell the truth
    Tell the truth as you know it at the time of the post. If you turn out to be wrong, post a correction. [Update 1: I will not seek to remove posts I have made.]
  8. I will give credit where it is due
    If someone deserves a quote, quote them; if you found an interesting post by reading about it somewhere, leave a "hat tip". Attribution can be informal, but if you don't attribute you're just taking credit for information and ideas provided by others, which falls under plagiarism, copyright infringement, or intent to deceive.
  9. I will disclose any relationships between me, my sources, and our topic
    If you cannot disclose your sources, you must reveal any reason they might have to be biased, or describe their level of bias if their reasons might endanger them. If you have a financial or other relationship with a source that might color their information, disclose it. If you have a relationship of any kind with a person or group that is the topic of your post that affects your coverage of the topic, disclose that, as well. [I think this one could say "I will not hide ...", unifying all three cases]
  10. I will highlight corrections no less than the material they correct
    Corrections should be made at least as conspicuous as the initial error. If you know that others have linked to your post containing what you know to be a mistake, you have the burden of passing the correction on to them. Material should not be edited for content once published. Corrections, if they appear with the original, should be set apart as updates, not incorporated seamlessly within it. Quietly correcting typographical, grammatical, or spelling errors is a matter of choice, but the older a post is the more important it is to not to change it.

The mobying, astroturfing, trolling, and sock puppetry points probably need to be refactored somehow, perhaps as a single unified point with "I will tell the truth". In any case those points are vague and should be restated.

Joho the Blog has some interesting notes on the nature of blogs that could lead to additions.


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