Jean Dublog

Friday, December 30, 2005

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Blogged Survey Results
Just a few weeks ago, I posted a plea here for bloggers to let me know what they thought about ethics in blogging. Twenty of you were kind enough to share your thoughts with me. Another heartfelt thanks to all of you. You really rock. And, as promised, here are the results. This is not my whole paper, too long to make for good blogging; just the results.

Is there a widely embraced code of ethics among bloggers?
• 70 percent No
• 20 percent Yes
• 10 percent Don’t Know

Most of the bloggers who responded elaborated by citing one or two basic tenets that they follow (to be explored at some length in Question #3), but few saw little evidence of uniform ethics at work in the blogosphere. One Connecticut blogger said the lack of a set of rules is part of the appeal of blogging.

“Part of the allure of the blogosphere is the ‘wild wild west’ mentality that seems to permeate it. Some blogs hold themselves to ethical standards, others do not. I try very hard to keep my blog focused on published reports and the facts. I do, of course, inject my own biased opinion because I can,” said the blogger.

Another Connecticut blogger said blogging is “as close to pamphleteering as you can get. The ‘ethos’ of blogging is as varied as the bloggers.” Others remarked similarly that bloggers are an extremely diverse bunch from different backgrounds, ages and points of view who cannot possibly be held to one set of standards. One even stated that blogging is the result of “an individual’s obsession, done without consultation.” Several were adamant that the “blogger owns the site and sets his/her own rules.”

A couple of bloggers do see some minimal ethical standards at work, though one of them said these tepid standards “don’t go much past the etiquette stage at this time.” Several said, however, that they hoped ethical standards would become more widely embraced over time.

How are ethics among bloggers evolving?
The answers to this question were quite varied. If there was any consensus at all it could be seen chiefly among four bloggers who said that over time a code of ethics will emerge for blogging that is inspired by ethical standards applied to journalism.

“As some independently produced blogs gain more and more attention, I do see some ethics standards emerging that are similar to those that journalists follow. Ultimately, it comes down to visitors, and I do believe serious blogs have serious readers who want an information source that is accurate and ethical in its practices,” stated one blogger.

Other comments included:
• “It is becoming more important to those who want to remain credible to double check their info before posting. It is also becoming less ethical not to provide links to sources.”
• “I don’t think bloggers will ever seek independent confirmation or keep a stable of confidential sources.”
• “I’ve seen no meaningful discussion of ethics amongst bloggers, nor do I think there is a coherent community of bloggers. I think a discussion of ethics in blogging is a waste of time.”
• “As new bloggers come forward and as issues are discussed I think there is an evolution – not of the ethics but of the bloggers themselves. They are coming to realize the need for decency, truth, standards.”
• “Locally. People try to live up to the standards they see manifest in the blogs they read and respect. And, people call others out (especially those they otherwise respect) for lapses of judgment on blogs.”
• “I would postulate that there’s going to be a drift to the two extremes on this issue, at least in terms of popularly read blogs…I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see either a normal or a bimodal distribution develop among the blogging community regarding ethics.”
• “Ethical standards can be on a case by case basis, depending on the subject matter. The standards will change depending on the topic.”

Do blogethics vary by region?
• 5 percent Yes
• 40 percent No
• 55 percent No answer or unclear

Do blogethics vary by blog topic?
• 45 percent Yes
• 10 percent No
• 45 percent No answer or unclear

Clearly, there is little support for the idea that blogging ethics currently vary depending on the geographic location of the blogger. Roughly half of the bloggers surveyed, however, do believe that different ethical standards come into play depending on the topic of the blog.

“Since blogs exist for just about every interest and field, generally the code of ethics that govern a particular field will follow into the blogosphere. It’s all about credibility and visitors will leave in droves if they feel the information source is not conducting itself in a manner that leads to the reliable dissemination of information,” said one blogger.

Other comments include:
• “I’ll be cynical and say that as a blog gets more sophisticated, so do its attempts to hide any ethical transgressions.”
• “Based on the type of blog (topic), the adoption of ethical behavior does vary. I think that personal blogs may not be as interested in ethics as a blog that is being written with a public voice.”
• “The science folks and academics seem more hard core about honesty than some of the political folks and the Intelligent Design crowd.”
• “Political/news/current events blogs are much more permissive of foul language and strongly worded sentiments than any other kind (e.g., personal journals, expert blogs, science blogs, tech-nerd blogs, etc). Bashing is a natural aspect of political campaigning, but it is not a natural part of kitchen table chat, or scientific discourse.”
• I do agree with the comment above that political blogs tend to be loud, angry, rude and partisan, but I think that as ethical standards (i.e., in regards to plagiarism, openness, etc.) go, political blogs are developing some of the strictest.”

What are the core ethical standards you subscribe to in blogging?
The standards that were mentioned most often in response to this question were “truth” and “accuracy.” Other standards mentioned by several bloggers included not deleting comments that were not SPAM, crediting sources and linking whenever possible to sources or for more information, and correct errors in a timely fashion.

A couple of bloggers also spoke passionately about the need for a blogosphere ethic to help protect the identity of anonymous bloggers. One said that everyone has the right to blog anonymously if they so choose, and that no one has the right to reveal their identities or “out” them.

Here are some of the bloggers’ concerns in their own words:
• “Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?”
• “No full names of friends or family. No deleting/changing the content of posts after, say, 1 hour.”
• “I do vent my frustrations by using some colorful invective at times, but I never attack another blogger, unless he’s a troll.”
• “Honesty, non-plagiarism, keeping it ‘clean’ for every reader.”
• “I very rarely personally insult people, not even Bush.”
• “I am happy to participate and support your project, yet in the spirit of fully participating in it I’ll say that I think this whole discussion is wrong-headed, frankly. The thing about blogging, as with the Internet in general, is that it is completely open…Many to many (sic), self-selecting communities that define themselves and come and go at virtually no marginal cost to the participants. Attempting to bound that space with a set of rules of engagement is irreconcilable with the nature of it.”

Should general blogethics include the following?
All of the following questions were culled from various lists of proposed blogging ethics found on Internet sites. I asked for “yes” or “no” responses to determine what bloggers think of such lists, while minimizing fears about the time required to complete the survey.

Identify and link to sources whenever possible?
• 85 percent Yes
• 5 percent No
• 10 percent No Response or unclear

Never distort content of photos?
• 55 percent Yes
• 30 percent No
• 15 percent No response or unclear

Never publish information you know is inaccurate?
• 80 percent Yes
• 10 percent No
• 10 percent No response or unclear

Show compassion toward those adversely affected by your blog content?
• 55 percent Yes
• 25 percent No
• 20 percent No response or unclear

Show good taste?
• 60 percent Yes
• 15 percent No
• 25 percent No response or unclear

Admit mistakes and correct them promptly?
• 85 percent Yes
• 5 percent No
• 10 percent No response or unclear

Expose unethical practices of other bloggers?
• 50 percent Yes
• 35 percent No
• 15 percent No response or unclear

Never ban a person or delete a comment simply because you disagree?
• 70 percent Yes
• 15 percent No
• 15 percent No response or unclear

Be transparent in all you blog?
• 60 percent Yes
• 20 percent No
• 20 percent No response or unclear

It is clear that this group of bloggers overwhelming supports some basic ethical standards, including identifying and linking to sources, admitting mistakes and correcting them, and never publishing information they know is inaccurate. But it is not clear there is support for anything more than voluntary compliance. And, support for other ethical standards is far from solid. Despite my request for one-word answers, a number of respondents felt the need to elaborate or explain their answers. Some of these comments help shed light on the issues they feel are most important.

For example, 55 percent reported that they believe photo content should not be distorted, but 30 percent opposed such a restriction. Some of those who want the freedom to alter photos do believe in limits of some kind, but they view doctoring photos as akin to satirical writing. As one blogger explained, “I often deal in comedy so distortion is a must. But I make no secret that the distortion is parody and not truth.” Another said, “photoshopping is fun, but it should be either very obvious, or it should be stated that it was retouched.”

Another proposed standard that bloggers were uncomfortable with was the idea of exposing unethical practices of other bloggers. Half said they would, but many others expressed strong reservations. Several said they simply did not have time to “worry” about what other bloggers were doing. “No. I usually leave that to the ‘experts.’ I pick my fights carefully.”

Showing compassion toward those adversely affected by a blog post was another idea that produced mixed reactions. Fifty-five percent were in favor of such a standard, but those who were opposed – those who specifically mentioned that they do political or issues-oriented blogging – objected strongly. “Show compassion to BushCo? I don’t think that’s necessary,” said one blogger. Another said, “Mine is a political blog. Enemies are to be made fun of, destroyed. That is a part of the game. They are free to do the same to me on their blogs.”