Updated: 7/7/06; 4:10:47 PM.
Connectivity: Spike Hall's RU Weblog
News, clips, comments on knowledge, knowledge-making, education, weblogging, philosophy, systems and ecology.

 Sunday, December 22, 2002

Summary: After thinking about content management of a weblog from the risk management angle ... was also stimulated by J Walker to view blogging from the the ethical angle as well [which would be a consequence of a writer's remembrance of the public venue which is traversed by any weblog]. In her archives Jill Walker evaluates a set of principles [from Rebecca Blood full details here]. These are important considerations.

weblog ethics

I wrote a few days ago that when my daughter starts using the web, I want her to learn to protect her anonymity and to not feel obliged to tell the truth. Rebecca Blood's six rules of blogging ethics (excerpted from The Weblog Handbook on her website) remind me that that's not quite right. Rebecca's rules are:

1. Publish as fact only that which you believe to be true.

2. If material exists online, link to it when you reference it.

3. Publicly correct any misinformation.

4. Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry.

5. Disclose any conflict of interest.

6. Note questionable and biased sources.

These are good rules, though perhaps not applicable to all kinds of blogs. I've written about rule 2 before, and like it, though it can be taken to ridiculous extremes. I'm less happy about rule 4. Yes, it makes sense to have nice trustworthy archives. Ted Nelson would love this rule: in Xanadu (a hypertext system he's been arguing for since the 60s) every version of every document would be permanently available. But I like being able to edit blog posts after they've been published, and you know what? I think most people do. Online newspapers do. After-editing (is that the correct English term? Etterredigering in Norwegian; it means that editing and proof reading is done continuously after the initial online publication) has become standard in online journalism, certainly according to Terje Rasmussen. Jouke Kleerebezem made it explicit for a while, though he's removed the tagline now - it still says "launch-and-learn publishing" but it also used to say "corrections are generally made within 36 hours". [Update 09:41: Torill replies. I'll ditto everything she says. (Well, in in that post, anyway ;) Kids safety is separate from blogging. Btw, Rebecca does add to the "don't change" rule in the full text - she has lots of comments to each rule - she writes that incorrect information should be fixed or marked as incorrect.] posted: 2/11/02 23:13 |archived

This brings to the fore the [how frequent?] conflict between weblog-as-public-statement and weblog-as-knowledge-acquisition device. For me, with my investment in knowledge-making as supported by klogging, it surfaces the conflict between the responsibilities that apply to the blogger because s/he is communicating in public versus the experience of forming knowledge via the agency of a publiclly scrutinized learning process which occurs within the envelope of a [series of] weblog entry(ies).

Summary: There's more than one reason for having a place to store first draft weblog entries. In an earlier entry I noted some developmental reasons for creating a strictly private and a sort-of private category for weblog storage. In this entry I add 'risk management' to the uses of the strictly private category.

In Did Your Blog Cost You Your Job?. Scott Johnson [using material from a Washington Post article] provides anecdotal support for thoughtful weblogging.


One woman, a Web designer who asked that her name not be used, said she lost her job because of what she wrote on her Web log.

She was summoned to her supervisor's office to discuss the narratives -- often derogatory -- that she'd written about her company and co-workers. Although it doesn't say so on her Web site, the blog is mostly fiction, consisting of veiled references and often composites of people, she said.

After the meeting, she thought she'd succeeded in escaping with merely a slap on the wrist. "We talked about it and resolved things, and I was never going to talk about work on my Web site again," she said. "I was under the impression everything was okay."

Two days later, she was fired. "I was shocked that they would take it seriously," she said, "and that little old me with this little old Web site would cause such a stir."  [_Go_]

Makes you realize why some folks choose to blog anonymously.

[The FuzzyStuff: aaBlog_ScottOnBlogging]

What seems to have escaped the now fired employee is that, unlike a paper journal entry, a weblog entry is available for reading by the entire web-literate world. It is publication of a one person newspaper. Given that, it follows that the weblogger must be careful a)to publish the truth and b) to avoid publishing unintended offense. Also, the weblogger should not be surprised that publishing intended offense (harsh criticism via 'rant' can be read that way) results in painful rebuttal.

In the same Washington post article, the author, Jennier Balderama, adds that

The same law that relates to publishing in the offline world, generally speaking, applies to material posted publicly on a Web log, legal and human resources experts said. Posting information or opinions on the Internet is not much different from publishing in a newspaper, and if the information is defamatory, compromises trade secrets, or violates copyright or trademark regulations, the publisher could face legal claims and monetary damages.

Authors generally are obligated to publish as facts only what they believe to be true. But stating opinions can be tricky, especially when those views relate to workplace issues, said Bret Fausett, a Los Angeles-based lawyer.

--"The Internet creates a veil of separation between you and other people," said Gregory Alan Rutchik, managing partner at the Arts and Technology Group, a San Francisco firm specializing in copyright and publishing law. "Don't be misled by the fact that you're sitting in a room, behind a locked door, at your computer. There's ways to find out who you are."   [_Go_]

Implication: If you have items that you must write now --- write them in your NPRT (not ready for prime time) category ( In Radio I've created an unpublished category called 'Notes'). Review your entry later. By this means you will give yourself the room to rethink and reword before publishing via your public categories. This would also give you the time to find worthwhile links and to choose consistent and useful live topics categories (M. Mower) to apply to your entry.

Finally, as Scott says, one has the option of setting up an anonymous or pseudonymous weblog for publishing thoughts that "need to be said" but which will be likely to offend powerful parties.

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Spike Hall is an Emeritus Professor of Education and Special Education at Drake University. He teaches most of his classes online. He writes in Des Moines, Iowa.


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