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Blogger Code of Conduct, Ethics

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Business 2.0 says that blogs will become mainstream in 2004 (and they’re probably right), and with the massive number of “clutter” blogs out there (so say our critics), it may be a good idea for blog-format publications to follow a written or unwritten code of conduct or code of ethics in order to maintain, and perhaps even increase desirability among readers and prospective readers. The code should also foster a positive network among bloggers, who are very inter-connected, whether they mean to be or not.

Not everyone should be expected to follow the code of conduct or code of ethics, whichever it may be. Just as we all slip from time to time in our adherence to other rules or guidelines (take the 10 Commandments for example), I’m sure that we will slip from time to time from strict adherence to a blogger’s code of conduct or code of ethics. However, it may be a good idea for certain practices to be encouraged in the blogosphere, just as they are in the rest of the world.

“Why should we have one of these in the first place?” you ask? Well, there are actually some people out there who are paid for what they’ve written on their blog in one way, shape or form, and once blogs do become just as mainstream as say, a newspaper or a magazine, bloggers will likely join the ranks of other writers, such as journalists (there was at one point a prediction that bloggers would eventually replace journalists by 2007, which may not happen, since most publications have adopted publication formats similar to blogs or added a blog to the mix, but blogs have certainly changed journalism forever).

Could blogging become a profession? It certainly does have the potential to become one, but as long as no standards exist for it, more clutter will be created and blogging will become less, rather than more credible. Some bloggers may be concerned over this, while others likely will not be concerned at all.

What is the future of blogging? Will it become saturated with first-person ego-driven rants published in diary format, or will it become a new and more convenient way for information to be delivered to the public by the public without a gatekeeper to decide what news is fot to actually reach the public?

While it is ultimately up to bloggers all around the world to determine the destiny of blogging, some may feel that some sort of code should exist to promote a sort of civility among bloggers and non-bloggers, alike.

While I have no personal preference as to what the entire blogosphere decides, I have decided to propose a Bloggers Code of Conduct or Bloggers Code of Ethics (call it what you will) to promote civility and intellectual honesty in the blogosphere. I do feel that both civility and intellectual honesty are two necessities in the blogosphere if it is to remain a credible source of information.

I have created seven guideliness to accomplish this purpose. They are:

(1) Misinformation and/or false information shall not be published or permitted in the blogosphere.

(2) Posts or comments should remain civil, however, if someone does flame you in any way, shape or form, they should expect to be flamed in return in the form of a post or comment and they should not complain that they are treated in the same way that they have treated you. Libeling anyone should be refrained from entirely.

(3) Information in a post shall not be stolen from a source or plagiarized. If information from a source other than your own is used, that source shall be cited.

(4) You have the complete and total freedom to express your views and opinions in any way, shape or form you choose, as long as no one is flamed directly or libled in the process. You should not expect everyone to agree with your views and you should expect discussion and debate of your views openly when they are posted.

(5) Posts that purposefully state something that cannot be proven about another blogger in order to increase traffic to your blog shall not be permitted.

(6) Bloggers shall do their best to adhere to good use of the English language, as to ensure a readable post by their readers.

(7) Violation of any of these guideliness shall constitute the violating blogger’s permittance of his/her fellow bloggers posting juicy posts detailing his/her violation(s) in full.

These are rather simple guideliness and by no means are they absolute, however, adhering to them would ensure more civility in the blogosphere, which would likely increase the respect of those who may be critical, whether they are fellow bloggers or non-bloggers who are on the outisde, looking in.

Please use the comments section to discuss this proposal, and feel free to amend the guidelines or add others that you feel may be a necessity. This is simply a proposal and I have no intention to work to see the guidelines implemented, but if someone else desires to, they are free to pursue that opportunity.

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About Mr. Real Estate

  • Two comments on this post:
    1) it ignores the emergent network effects which have made blogs possible, and while the aims are reasonable and admirable, displays the consistent USA “we are the the world” worldview (6) Bloggers shall do their best to adhere to good use of the English language, as to ensure a readable post by their readers.

    Well colour me unimpressed gwailo. Quel drag, hombre. No Zeitgeist for you!.

    How about amending to talk about accessibility and usability, not only in terms of English as she is spoke. For example, you can use all the American English you want, but if you do it all in Flash, then it becomes inaccessible to machines, the disabled and almost everybody. Ask yourself, if Stephen Hawking can’t access my site, am I doing something wrong?

    2) I doubt anything Business 2.0 says because they are hidden behind an info Berlin Wall. If they don’t use the network, why should we listen to them?

    Repeat after me, blogs are not print publications. They are a function of packet network effects which become ranked by powerlaw distribution.

    Also, you make no mention of Open Source or Creative Commons, which, I guess, is a function of your mis-comprehension of how the net works since these issues would address your concerns about plagarism and mis-information.

  • if you try to claim someone else’s work is your own (whatever the format) that is plagarism. Even in an open source environment, you should (and it’s just good manners to do so) attribute other peoples’ work to the best of your knowledge.
    i have already registered my interest in trying to put into words a small blogging code of conduct, but it will be a few days before i have time to give it real thought. The general points seem ok but clarification of some points and definition of some terms is needed. Also, the guidelines need to be fully generalised, as in they could apply to any language (as Jim more or less pointed out) and almost any situation.

  • Thanks for your contributions, Jim.

    John Hiler over at Microcontent News authored a Blogger’s Code of Ethics quite some time ago, and it leaves out the things you mentioned, as well. Hiler’s looks quite a bit like the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, and his premise was that blogs and other print publications are quite similar. They do appear similar in many cases. Blogs do blur the lines a little bit, which can be tedious if you’re not a blogger and you come across a blog that you think is an Internet-based magazine or other publication.

    You’re more than welcome to re-write (or copy and paste) the Bloggers Code of Conduct/Code of Ethics I’ve written to include the things you’ve mentioned. After all, this project was intended to be an Open Source project from the beginning.

    Thanks again for your contributions.


  • Great points jadester! I look forward to reading your blogging code of conduct when you release it for viewing. Keep up the great work!

  • Much of this information and discussion is found at Creative Commons.

    I pay as much attention to what professional journalists think about anything online as I do to commercial radio programmers talking about music. Generally, they exist only to keep the advertisments from bumping into each other.

    Essentially there are only two real guidelines for blogging or whatever you want to call it on the network: Make it Useful and Make It Usable. All else comes from those two principles.

    And Blink tags are still evil.

  • Jim, I’m aware of Creative Commons, but it isn’t quite the same as a group of actual bloggers regulating themselves for the sake of ensuring their creations are high quality, their works are protected and their treatment of fellow bloggers civil. Creative Commons also focuses on a bit more than blogs, alone.

  • The reason I bring up CC and the like, is that attempting to set up a regulatory code means you don’t understand what the net is about. It is about process, built bottom up, from which the procedure emerges. When I said your aims are resonable and admirable (to borrow from Dr. Johnson), I meant where they were reasonable, they weren’t admirable, and where they were admirable, they weren’t reasonable.

    Think about writing: it doesn’t develop from a prescriptive doctrine (yes, it was tried by Webster, but he was insane). You start with an alphabet, grammar and vocabulary. Through usage, the more elaboarate structures emerge.

    In music, you don’t start with set scores and arrangements, you start with scales and tempos, harmonies, and build from there.

    Trying to set a dogma of blogging is futile, just as codes of conduct in journalism are futile. If the process isn’t in place, your code will fail because it is imposed, not emergent. Otherwise you are just setting by-laws in a town nobody lives in.

    That is why working from Creative Commons is a better defense against abuse of your creative work than a set of rules being paid lip-service.

    If your blog (or whatever else you are doing on the net) doesn’t start from the process of Useful and Useable, then why are you doing it? Everything else develops out of that process.

    Remember, the street finds it’s own uses for technology.

    That’s why most print journalism is so irrelevant, they have codes of conduct, but have no Usefulness or Usability. Conduct emerges from process. Complexity develops from basics.

  • I understand what you’re saying, I just don’t see journalism as irrelevant, and I never intended the code to be absolute. I apply the code to most of what I write, but not when writing the first draft (although, most of what I write only is written once, then edited, then posted). What I write is Useful and does have Usability, perhaps not to a blogger, but to someone in the mainstream media or to someone else seeking out the information (I get responses on my posts from both).

    I originally drafted the code listed in this post as a starting point and encouraged others to amend it here. Creative Commons is a nice way to protect from abuses of your creative works, but it’s not as nice or as strong as a copyright (I dropped my Creative Commons for a copyright long ago on my blog). Creative Commons doesn’t address the civility issues, either.

    From my experience, if your editor gives you guidelines, it doesn’t necessarily hurt the article. In fact, it often times improves it.

    If band members do not work with the guidelines set by the songwriter, it sounds horrible, typically.

    There are always guidelines to any work, whether you set them yourself, your editor sets them, your songwriter, choreographer, etc. The guidelines aren’t what ruin the work, what ruins it is the attitude of the working individual. If you’re not fond of guidelines, you probably won’t work well within their framework. Others will find a way to work within them or work around them. This is probably what will eventually happen in the blogosphere, eventually.

    There is really only a need for guidelines when people steal others’ works or libel them in a public forum. I’ve seen both happen in the blogosphere, and Creative Commons, while it did exist, didn’t stop it from happening or remedy the situation.


  • Doesn’t the idea of guidelines and rules for bloggers strike anyone else as being supremely oxymoronic, the antithesis of the concept?

  • it depends how far they go. What i had thought from John’s original suggestion (and i think it still stands) is that the idea of this is simply to provide guidelines on how to make sure your readers are aware of your political bias (if you have one) (or whatever bias is relevant in the context of each piece you write)
    This does not, for example, extend to reviews of most films and books because they are not political. If a book or film IS political (e.g. Bowling For Columbine, Dude Where’s My Country? etc.) then it is most likely the reviewer will mention somewhere in their review whether they agree or disagree in general with the stance of the book or film being reviewed, which should be enough in that case.

  • Eric Olsen

    Other than the use of the word “English” rather than some generic term for language so as to not codify an Anglo-American domination of the the blog world, this list sounds perfectly sensible to me.

  • This is the list i came up with. Bear in mind i sort of had it forming after the first post on this. Also, i haven’t had time to thoroughly go through it and tidy it up, etc.

    1)Bloggers should make clear their usual political leaning somewhere on their own blogpage, preferably the front page. A simple, known political party label such as “conservative” or “democrat” or “socialist” could be used, alternatively a simple “left-wing” or “right-wing” could be used.
    Acceptable displays include having the political leaning as part of the blog title (i.e. “blogs from the left”, “repulican musings” or whatever) or displaying it on a banner, as long as it is readable.

    (an alternative to the above would be a “statement of political leaning” – simply have a link named as such somewhere prominent on the front page, that links to a statement making clear the blogger’s usual political leaning. the statement may be as brief as is possible)
    -The reasoning behind this is, to make sure, on no uncertain terms, that a reader knows what a blogger’s bias is. They may not be interested, but if they are and either it isn’t obvious, or they are stupid, there needs to be a simple, clear way for them to find out.

    2)In all articles, a distinction must be made between actual rock-solid information, and rumour/opinions. E.g. “Brenda is pregnant” is a fact. “Bob says Brenda is pregnant” is a fact if Bob does say this. “Brenda is pregnant” is NOT a fact if it is just a rumour that you heard off Bob, and presenting it as a fact is misinformation at the least. It is not as difficult as it may at first seem to ensure you make the distinction; most newspaper articles are in fact written this way, albeit tailored to suggest in the reader’s mind the writer’s opinion.
    With regards to fiction, this point does not apply

    3)Flame wars/slanging matches, etc. are not constructive, and rarely (if ever) serve to change anyone’s mind about anything. Engage in them if you wish but, if you get upset/disturbed/whatever during the process, do not make this known to the participants – it only provides them more ammo. It also serves as a reminder that you reap what you sow. Should an undesirable visit your blog and start the insults, simply ignore that person for long enough, and they will give up and go elsewhere.
    OK, this is less of a guideline and more simply advice, but i don’t want to restrict the free speech core of blogging too much. Just don’t act like a baby if other people don’t just sit back and take your abuse, ok?

    4)Standard copyright laws should be adhered to (duh). I’m not sure of the details, but there is *i think, not certain though* a certain maximum length of text you are allowed to quote. Just use your common sense – even 50% word-for-word reproduction of a news story, fictional work, review or other article is, well, a little pointless. If you are doing a full reproduction with the blessing of the author, that is ok, otherwise, learn to use smaller quotes. All quotes must be attributed to the source from which you obtained them; if you are multi-sourcing (i.e. you found a source through a link to it from another site) you give the ORIGINAL source as the quote’s source. On your personal blog, if you discover you have made a mis-quote and/or mis-attribution of a quote, a simple update of the original post, or a separate update post, is sufficient.

    5)Do not directly link to online content that must be paid for first; by this i mean, for example, linking to an article on a news site where you have to pay to get that article is wrong. Linking to the main page of said news site would be acceptable, although you must mention that you have to pay to view the article at the site.

    6)No reviews of any kind of books, music, films or any other media items are to be posted until AFTER said item has been officially released. The only exception is where you have been given legal access to do so, e.g. you have been sent a “gold disc” version of a PC game a month before its official release, in order to review it.

    7)Blogs should not be used for the purposes of spamming, either via harvesting e-mail addresses or simply by posting gushing reviews of your own company all over the web

    8)Respect the rights of your fellow bloggers, specifically their right to have a different opinion to you. Different opinions do not make us stupid,neither do beliefs; they make us human.

    Most of these seem to be commonsense but the funny thing about commonsense is that, once it becomes commonsense, people stop using it. Even i don’t adhere to 1) yet although i’m looking at changing that.

  • While it is worth noting you are concerned about discourse in blogs and have gone to the effort to compile a list of rules sorting the universe into earth, air, fire and water, and conceded the possibility of aether, it is a wasted effort. You have created the horseless carriage and amended that riders should have an electric buggy whip on board. If you want to print a pamphlet, print one, but that’s not the network. After all, they have the internet on computers now.

    Burns: Yes, I’d like to send this letter to the Prussian consulate in
    Siam by aeromail. Am I too late for the 4:30 autogyro?
    Kid: Uh, I better look in the manual.
    Burns: [groans] Oh, the ignorance.

    While it might be useful to RTFM, instead of reinventing the wheel again (or as Mark E. Smith said, stick to the three R’s — Repetition, Repetition, Repetition) read the RFC.

    In this case RFC 1855.

    This document provides a minimum set of guidelines for Network Etiquette (Netiquette) which organizations may take and adapt for their own use. As such, it is deliberately written in a bulleted format to make adaptation easier and to make any particular item easy (or easier) to find. It also functions as a minimum set of guidelines for individuals, both users and administrators. This memo is the product of the Responsible Use of the Network (RUN) Working Group of the IETF.

  • I’ve been trying to ping you, but with no results. Please check my lengthy post at ethicalEsq (01-19-04) on this topic, WebEthics: Lean Don’t Lie

  • David – the pings don’t show up until after a comment has been made. I thought I had read somewhere that they were going to change this though. It’s there now as you’ve probably already seen.

  • Dwaine AKA Scooter AKA D.J.

    I agree with most of the list, except for a few things. People should be able to flame someone directly. That way the person who’s receiving the “flaming” knows that they’re being flamed so that they can respond and have a juicy American arguement over whatever the topic is. Also, blogs don’t have to be civil. Some blogs are comically uncivil. There can be blogs that contain fact and blogs that make no sense at all, but are funny. Personally, I think that there really shouldn’t be a code of blogging as of now because blogging isn’t really an important source of info as opposed to television or other sources. If there was any code for this, blogging would be far more dull. It isn’t dull now, but you know what I mean. Blogging is an excellent form of free speech and I don’t think it should be hindered. Rules suck.

  • I think it is ironic that someone who has been trying to extort this site by saying he would quit unless bigots were allowed to drive a bright, talented minority member away to be posting to a thread about ethics.

  • Shark

    re: ethics, rules, standards for blogging

    I agree with:

    Caruthers mantra: “Make it Useful and Make It Usable.”

    (My version would add: “…by informing, enlightening, or entertaining”)

    —and Hal’s ‘symposium killer’: “…guidelines and rules for bloggers” = oxymoronic, antithesis of the concept.

    Some additional random thoughts (at 4 am):

    1) The problem with blogs seems to be a universal problem (in all media) these days: Lotta people typing with NOTHING TO SAY.

    Reminds me of a John Cage line, “I have nothing to say and I’m saying it.” —which could be the Universal Bloggers Spinning Flashing Animated Logo.

    2) We’re moving into a world where it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between truth, fiction, news, marketing, opinion, and analysis regardless of the medium. Blogging is just another blurring of that landscape.

    (One of last week’s “BIG” news stories was that “Ken and Barbie are no longer together.” It made it onto every national “news” program, as well as Blogcritics; if you think that’s not Salvador Dali’s version of Neil Postman’s nightmare, you haven’t been paying attention. And for those sick of hearing me say “all news is marketing; all marketing is news—- I REST MY CASE, ‘kay?)

    In 1993, I wrote a in piece about the implications of the web: “It is not only the democratization of information and its distribution, but it means disinformation at the speed of light.”

    3) IMO, Bloggers are just spray painting graffiti on some back alley in cyberspace, and their paint has the shelf-life of warm buttermilk. Some write brilliant essays, some write poetry, and some piss on the walls.

    Just like the real streets.

    BTW: I wonder how many professional writers and journalists have ‘blogs’; and how many bloggers think they’re professional writers—but are restricted by the fact that they’re semi-literate morons with nothing to say.

  • Shark

    BTW: Before the world tackles a code of conduct for bloggers, how about we address Manners In Public Places?

    “Keep Honking — I’m Reloading”

  • morganusvitus

    The site looks great ! Thanks for all your help ( past, present and future !)