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Blogging Code of Ethics and Personal Responsibility

? Hamm takes on Lou Dobbs |


| Expanding BW Blogs ?

April 09, 2007

Blogging Code of Ethics and Personal Responsibility

Heather Green

While I was walking down the hill to the ferry this morning, I was thinking about the blogging code of conduct. It resonates with me and I think the reason why is because each journalism job I have had has had a code of ethics for journalists. Here at BW, we have to sign it each year and we have training with our lawyers about reporting and the responsibilities you have toward sources. And then of course, with our blog, we have had long conversations about how to approach comments, with a good deal of the emphasis being on hate speach and libel.

I understand Deep Jive Interests' point that in a way what Tim O'Reilly is proposing is a comments policy, but underlying it is this notion of a code of agreed upon behavior that the folks going to a blog would uphold. And that's the bigger notion, I think. That's what made me think of Hannah Arendt and the banality of evil and why the notion of collective guilt keeps coming up with the genocide of World War II.

Because what we're talking about is personal responsibility to uphold a collective notion of acceptable conduct. And that seemed to me to be the biggest failure of the group associated with the blog where the death threats and sexual harrassment of Kathy Sierra appeared. Rather than individually condemning the comments posted about her, they were allowed to stand. And that gave them credence.

So the biggest issue doesn't seem to me to be anonymity or deleting hate speech, it seems to be what kind of responsibilty each individual will take for enforcing whatever conduct is accepted by a blog. Otherwise, you just slip back into letting things happen. And then you're responsible for that.

10:00 AM


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I agree with you -- and probably agree with the principles in the "code," I'm just not a "code" person. To catch comment spam, I have a filter on my blog's comments and I moderate any comments from new commentors. I don't allow jerks to come in and trash my living room -- and I won't allow them to do so on my blog. That's my personal code, however. Not the one from the Good Housekeeping folks. I'm also on record as saying "comments" are not a requirement on blogs -- although I miss them when they're not around. One of my reasons for believing this is the whole "management" of a community that comes with allowing comments. If that responsibility is going to keep someone from blogging -- worrying about managing comments -- then I'd rather them not have comments, than to not have a blog.

Posted by: Rex Hammock at April 9, 2007 11:47 AM

Hey Rex,

I agree that the idea of having a code across the Internet, whatever the different parameters it could have, doesn't seem to me like it makes sense. Each blog will have its own code and you can get groups of blogs to agree to certain ones, but broadly, it's a no win situation. That's why i think it comes back to personal responsibilty, which leads to group responsibility.

Posted by: Heather Green at April 9, 2007 01:09 PM

I do not think your reference to Arendt is correct in this instance. The banality of evil assumes a more mondane form where it would not present itself as a noticeable breach of conventions regarding proper speach and discourse. Rather it lies in the engineering of the processes that lead to the inhuman results. Therefore, it is less noticeable and like eichman never killed anyone himself, and his activities were seemingly mundane and secretarial.


write up


Posted by: Russell Cole at April 10, 2007 06:34 AM

I think it rather presumptuous for a select few self annointed top tier bloggers to elect to draft a code of ethics for the rest of us who enjoy the internet as a medium of unmitigated free spreech. The whole beauty of the Internet is its capacity to self regulate without the formalization of any codes or enforced standards that people are subjected to. The culture of the Wiki is an example of this. People tend to be good citizens when engaged in voluntary communities. For you people to pontificate to the rest of us regarding the protocol we should follow when blogging defeats the purpose of Net neutrality and the vestige of free uncensored speech that we have been enjoying since the establishment of the web and its communicative capacities. Regardless, if you hotshots are in a position to dictate to the rest of us how we should write, then why are you reduced to blogging in the first place

russell cole

Posted by: Russell Cole at April 10, 2007 07:15 AM

Hi Russell,

I am with you. I don't think one code written for everyone, no matter what the parameters, will work. But it seems to me that this notion of owning your own words breaks down, because part of how society works is by enforcing norms even if they are unwritten. When the community around a blog doesn't step up to push back against speech that crosses the line, then its not much of a community.

Posted by: Heather Green at April 10, 2007 11:12 AM

A good way to restore some manners in "cyberspace" would be to remove the cloak of anonymity from the vandals. People might be less keen to behave like boors if there was chance that colleagues and acquaintances would see their writing.

Posted by: Michael Kenward at April 10, 2007 12:34 PM

Hi Heather,

Thanks for the link. ;)

The reasons why I feel that it is really no more than a comments-policy issue is because while it is laudable to want to improve the sense of personal conduct on the internet, at the end of the day it is a useless exercise.

That which we find liberating about the 'net is the very thing which encourages the cheap ad hominem attacks, and at its worse abusive, hate filled remarks -- and yes, I'm referring to the anonymity of the 'net.

We all have a comments plicy of sorts, because all it is is a sense of what we believe to be an acceptable level of discourse on our blog.

For those who take a very liberterian view, they might think almost everything is acceptable. And that's fine.

But, like in Chris Locke's case, they have to be prepared for the consequences when hate-filled crap shows up and everyone explicitly allows it to continue and fester because they explicitly do not moderate anything.

And I think, perhaps, we agree on that last point. ;)


t @ dji

Posted by: Tony at April 11, 2007 02:17 AM

Yeah, yeah. We all know how highly all journalists think of themselves with their lofty ideas and 'oaths'. But we also know how quickly, and how easily, this so called code of ethics that journalists follow is abandoned in favour of a news scoop (a la Piers Morgan). As soon as fame or profit come into the picture, most journalists become worse than ravenous dogs, salivating at the chance to write what they continue to think is 'the story of the century!'. Bah, what we need is more hypocrites trying to enforce censorship on the rest of us.

Posted by: Said Ebbini at April 11, 2007 04:18 AM

I agree that sitting down and coming up with a written code of ethics for blogging is a bit useless for the same reasons many have written about (the internet medium, free speech, etc.). However, I think the best thing this post has done is to promote the discussion of such a topic which forces us to think more precisely about our own code of ethics, whether blogging as a journalist or an Average Jane. In the end, if a blog I read begins to allow hateful comments without addressing them, I can choose to no longer read it or post a comment addressing the statements myself. Self-regulation on the Internet is key, but how we will effectively accomplish that without first opening a dialogue.

Great post!

Posted by: Lucia Correos at April 12, 2007 01:39 PM

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