A while back I did a post on Ethics for Reviewers. An incident the other day provoked me to think more broadly about ethics for bloggers. I used a photo in a post for which I did not find attribution. Unexpectedly, the post went viral to a degree I never expected and ended up on the screen of the person who took that picture. Via Facebook, I received a request to either give proper attribution or take it down. It was a great photo so I gladly did so and that was the end of the matter. But this prompted me, perhaps as a matter of penance (!) to reflect on the ethics of the wider practice of blogging. Here are some of my thoughts:
1. Give proper attribution to all sources and don’t use sources you don’t have permission to use. It’s actually stealing and a violation of copyright. Verbatim or substantive quoting of material without proper attribution is plagiarism. Provide source information for quotes or statistics, and attribution information for media you are sure you can use. I am not a copyright lawyer but it seems that the rule of thumb is that you can use it if: you created it and have not surrendered rights to it, it is public domain, or media in Wikimedia Commons (include all attribution info). If you err, correct it immediately if the correction is demonstrable. Better yet, if in doubt, either ask or don’t do it. That was my mistake the other day. Attribution in web-based media can include links back to the source, which also makes your blog of greater interest because it is a portal that takes people elsewhere.
Forgive the length of this–the rest will be briefer:
2. Do not intentionally deceive! None of us knows all there is to know about the things we write about, nor even about ourselves. But the internet is an uncurated place where a lie in digital print or image will become truth for many. Of course the danger of lying about yourself is that there are people who know better! The quality of the our blogging world and its contribution to our world’s health depends on telling the truth as we have light to see it.
3. Do not attack the character of people. Bloggers are generally better at this than media pundits or Facebookers, but ad hominem attacks on people as opposed to discussion of disagreements about ideas, policies, takes on life degrades the blogging world.
4. Don’t write to chase an audience. It’s really tempting to tailor your writing to what gets views. It’s one thing if you’ve agreed to write pieces on a certain topic for pay. Most of us aren’t there, but views can become a kind of “pay” that shapes us if not careful. Write about what you know about and care about and views will take care of themselves.
5. Become a good citizen of the blogging community. Visit and comment on other blogs. This just makes good sense to get better at your craft. But it is also a real service to other bloggers who have bared their souls, raised an important question, or written something they hope will be helpful or funny. We all write to be read by others and those of us who do this are probably the best attuned to others. Just avoid something I saw the other day, a commenter who turned their comment into a blog post. Brief, complimentary, with maybe a genuine question or insight the blog raised for you is best.
Generally I’ve found the blogging world far more thoughtful, ethical, and sensitive than the Facebook world which can be incredibly mean and snarky and seems to just reinforce the fault lines of our society. I hope we can keep it that way. We are all “tenders of the commons”.