Blogging Ethics: What are the issues?

Graydancer Toby Bloomberg
Charlotte-Anne Lucas Christopher Calicott
My Blogging Ethics panelists. Clockwise from top left: Graydancer, Toby Bloomberg, Christopher Calicott, and Charlotte-Anne Lucas.

As I’m preparing for my Nov. 8 BlogWorld Expo panel on Blogging Ethics, I’m trying to map out the territory. Specifically, what are the main ethical issues that bloggers encounter?

Based on my initial research, it seems that these issues fall into two main camps: issues of form (since blogs generally have certain commonalities of presentation and delivery, regardless of content) and issues of function (the purpose of your blog, the kind of content you’re trying to deliver through that blog, and which communities you’re trying to connect with).

It seems to me (and please comment below if you disagree) that, as with most communication media, blogging ethics aren’t absolute. That’s because blogs are a tool with myriad uses.

…That said, it seems like the issues of form might be closer to absolute across the blogosphere than issues of function.

I’m trying to map out the key root-level aspects of blogging that entail ethical issues. Here’s where I’m at so far. I’d appreciate your help with designing this list…

FORM:

Access: Deciding whether your blog should be public, private, or otherwise access-protected — either the whole thing or for specific categories or posts.

Comments: Allowing (or not), moderation (or not), required identity (or not)

Removing or altering posts: Corrections, clarifications, deletions, date changes, etc.

Post header/footer elements: Whether to publish the author name, date, time stamp, etc.

Feeds and e-mail alerts: What about when your content leaves your site and gets indexed or syndicated elsewhere?

Group blogs or hosted blogging services: How do these issues change when it’s not just you blogging? how do you decide who you’ll allow to blog, and what they can do on your site?

FUNCTION:

Type(s) of content: Is your blog a vehicle for business, marketing, or customer communication; official announcements; personal expression; journalism; community building; etc.?

Your goals/agenda: Why are you blogging at all? What do you hope will happen because people read or engage with your blog?

Community: Which groups are you trying to reach through your blog? What do they expect from communication in general, and you in particular?

Transparency and disclosure: How clear should you be about who you are and what you’re trying to do with your blog? What kind of transparency do you expect or require from commenters?

Free speech: When is/isn’t it ethically OK to moderate or censor yourself, or commenters, on your blog? What ethical issues factor in when deciding how to set posting and commenting ground rules? How much should community conventions for civility, etc. affect decisions concerning free speech on your blog?

Privacy and identity: What’s OK on your blog in terms of anonymity, pseudonyms, multiple identities, “outing” people or organizations, etc.

Legal risks and contractual obligations: Is it ethically OK to use your blog to blow the whistle on or complain about your employer, even if your employment agreement prohibits that? Is it OK to allow others to do that on your blog through comments? Is content that could be considered legally libelous or slanderous ever ethically OK (provided you’re willing to face the legal consequences)?

Influence and compensation: Even if you are perfectly transparent about your goals, agenda, funding sources, etc., are there any cases where you probably shouldn’t blog about a certain person, organization, or topic because of your personal ties to it or role in it?

…This list is a work in progress. I’m hoping to refine and even simplify it down to its essence, so our panel discussion ends up being useful and not getting lost in the weeds too much.

How would you modify this list? Did I miss anything major? Please comment below.

2 thoughts on Blogging Ethics: What are the issues?

  1. Pingback: contentious.com - My Blogging Ethics Panel Expands

  2. Amy:
    I started a blog about my ex-employer, because as professional society, they state opinions publicly on gender discrimination but do not live up to them (the field remains 88% male). I also blog about other issues. I do not use my name, nor do I use any former or current employee names, except those who are public figures.
    After I sued my ex-employer in federal court for discrimination, the employer is now is asking a judge to close my blog. This is alarming. Please add that to your topics. Can this actually happen and to what degree? Why should someone not be free to talk about what is happening to them in the court process (we are not criminals and these cases take 5-7 years)? If one has not filed suit then she can still blog–that doesn’t make sense to me as an American.

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