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.