Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Blogger ethics: existing codes II

CyberJournalist's Bloggers’ Code of Ethics is broken down into three broad areas
  • Be Honest and Fair
  • Minimize Harm
  • Be Accountable
The first set of principles are fair and straightforward: don't plagiarise, don't misrepresent, identify your sources and link to them and distinguish between advocacy, comment and factual information. In addition, they include this principle:
Distinguish factual information and commentary from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
This point is important - you always see these pay-per-post ads - people who offer to pay you for product placement, in essence. Of course, people tend to justify them by saying "I was going to give a positive review anyway, so why not get paid for it". There's nothing wrong with it - so long as you let your readers know that you were paid for the review. If you don't let them know, you are violating the trust between reader and blogger.

The second set of principles deal with the idea of minimising harm. Generally bloggers should show compassion when dealing with people and be tasteful in their coverage of issues. While these are basic ethical standards, not everyone adheres to them. Finally, the Cyber Journalist ethics call on bloggers to be accountable. These are, to me, the most interesting.
  • Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
This is an important point, in my opinion. Too many people find it difficult to admit it when they make a mistake. Doing so is good for you, and it builds your credibility.
  • Explain each Weblog's mission and invite dialogue with the public over its content and the bloggers' conduct.
Isn't the fundamental mission of a blog "to write about things that interest me"? I'm not sure how important this is in a general sense. On the other hand, it's probably important in the context of a science blog. So I suppose that makes sense. As for "inviting dialogue"...does this mean "have a comment section"? Or does it mean something more?
  • Disclose conflicts of interest, affiliations, activities and personal agendas.
I don't think it's necessary to disclose affiliations unless they are applicable. Many bloggers use pseudonyms. Many people wouldn't be in trouble until they disclose the identity of their employer. But you owe it to your readers to disclose conflicts of interest. As for your personal agenda - no one expects bloggers to be unbiased. People read bloggers because they have a opinions. And while I trust a political blogger on politics precisely because I know their agenda, it's a little different when we talk about science. Science is supposed to be apolitical. We are supposed to leave our agenda behind when we start talking about science - or at least, separate it from the science. This makes for some interesting questions, certainly.
  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence content. When exceptions are made, disclose them fully to readers.
  • Be wary of sources offering information for favors. When accepting such information, disclose the favors.
  • Expose unethical practices of other bloggers.
  • Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.
Pretty basic stuff. The bit about exposing unethical bloggers is interesting - per O'Reilly's rules, you should only do that after you have tried and failed to get them to change using back channels.

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