Wednesday, May 31, 2006

PZ on blogging ethics:

Blogging Ethics

The ethics of blogging need to be addressed.

A couple of serious, bad things are happening:

First, character assassination has become routine on blog sites, both liberal and conservative. People are saying and implying things, without substantiation or information, about personalities, and this comes under an old category: libel. The English newspapers were the ‘90s equivalent of today’s blog threads, and a number of successful prosecutions for libel made them more hesitant to make personal attacks on the front page. Those papers are still up to it, but they check their stories now.

A lot of what we are reading on the blog threads comes under the heading of libel. This needs to change. I believe we all know that.

Second, anonymous posts put authorities in various fields at the mercy of people who do not know what they are talking about. We say this is good – a democratizing tendency; that cyberspace knows no hierarchies or professional closed-shops. But it is not all good, at all. People who have no experience and no background in church life are able to attack people who have served for decades and who do know something about what they are saying. For myself, I am often labeled as “non-Anglican,” because I stress the Protestant dimension of the old Church, by people who seem to have fled into episcopalianism just a few years ago and simply do not like the actual history of the denomination into which they have fled. It is not right to be labeled as “non-Anglican” when you have grown up in that church forever and simply were fed by a different stream within it. I get the idea that some of the people who go on the attack here have just not read very much, or even experienced very much. The point is, anonymous bloggers get by with outrageous statements without having to give account for them.

Third, blog-threads have the potential to unleash deeply inbuilt aggression within all of us. Because we do not have to deal with the writer face-to-face, there is too little discretion and not enough thoughtfulness. When I dissent with someone whom I know, then I have to couch what I say in a way that can be “heard,” at least in principle. But when I don’t know the person – don’t even know if he or she is using his or her real name – I can say anything I wish, and just tear off in the opposite direction, without fear of having to look into his/her eyes. The potential for Original-Sin aggression to get in the mix on the internet is high. I know it in myself, and it is not good.

I would suggest – and several seem to be saying this now – that internet postings, and especially on those lethal blog threads, be limited to people who are willing to use their real names and list their actual e-mail addresses. Anonymous or coded names should be dropped. That would help. Also, something like libel legislation needs to be thought through in terms of the web. Innuendo and at times vicious personal attack really needs to stop. How many people who are reading this find that they are losing sleep after checking the threads on various sites? And I mean conservative as well as liberal, “reasserter” as well as “reappraiser.” How many people are going to bed mad? Ich frage nur.



Richard P. Cook said...

I think that people's faith in the veracity of news sources in general is declining. I think as people get more and more experience getting news from blogs, they will learn to discount statements read on them. People are generally very adept at sizing up people on the street for accuracy as just a basic part of life. You can generally tell when a car mechanic is taking advantage of you without knowing anything about cars. It will take time for people's experience with blogs to teach these skills. More and more gate keepers will also emerge to give ignorant people confidence in what they read. "If you don't know jewelry, know the jeweler." The free market does a pretty good job of dealing with these scenarios given time.

bpzahl said...

I guess Malcolm Gladwell should write a new book that's sort of like Blink, but dealing with the blog world! :)

Eve said...

Malcolm Gladwell's book came to mind for me too, after reading rpc's post. Just in the 6 months or so that I've been reading/blogging, it amazes me how much my instinct/intuition has sharpened (I think).
A great thing they do on another site I frequent (Titusonenine) is that posters are required to register with real name/email address, and then may post at will, with any nickname desired. The "webelves" then moderate (very minimally and moderately I might add) and somehow keep the site from veering toward LCD. They seem to cut out the most egregious posts altogether, and edit others, always alerting the reader that something has been edited.
I agree generally that real names should be used, but in cases where the issues being discussed are sensitive, I find I cannot do it.

John Zahl said...

Dear Eve,

I too have found the blogging world and mentality to be really helpful. It's like having a personal Diet of Worms every day, which is amazing, no?

But know that dad wrote this piece partly in reaction to the comment threads posted on titusonenine, where, while they have tried hard, civility is still not always on the top of the agenda. Anonymous posting is a problem, and people on titusonenine have now returned to using their weird little aliases in a way that enables them once again to attack without putting themselves out there. It seems like only approx 50% of the people posting there actually list both of their full names when doing so, even if Kendal has a copy of their address on file. In short, titusonenine threads are far from the ideal, as far as I'm concerned.

I usually tend to know who is posting JohnCamp and nobody seems too consumed with the idea of remaining anonymous here, so we haven't had too many problems, though I recently deleted some comments that were both anonymous, mean-spirited, and seeking to stir the waters unhelpfully. I will continue to do so if I deem it necessary, airing on the side of over-cautious, rather than not. Words are powerful and can / do hurt. I suddenly find myself reflecting once again on just how much this similarly problematic side of "emailing" has seeped into the very fabric of my long-distance relationship with my fiancee, Deirdre. I try hard (and fail often) to avoid scenarios where significant content has to be transmitted via email. Phone calls are still much better, as are hand-written letters sent via post. Call me old-fashioned..., John Z