My blogging pal Peggy sent me a link to a new survey you may find interesting – the survey, published in the journal New Media Society, takes a look at how bloggers handle their own ethical beliefs and practices.
Researchers at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore created a web survey related to the ethical ideals and ethical practices of bloggers, then sent said survey off to 1224 international bloggers with active, text-based blogs to find out more. The survey looks at both bloggers who blog for personal reasons and at bloggers who blog for clients.
While the opinions of just 1224 bloggers is in no way comprehensive (Technorati tracked around 113 million blogs in 2008) it’s still interesting to read what these bloggers think. Blogs are often viewed as a form of citizen journalism, BUT one open to anyone with Internet access. Because blogs continue to grow in both popularity and consumer influence, many think that bloggers should adhere to an ethics code, one much like the standard code followed by other journalists. Of course as bloggers we don’t have a set code, but what the research found is that bloggers do follow codes of their own making.
According to the survey:
There are four major underlying ethical principles important to bloggers: truth telling, accountability, minimizing harm and attribution.
Issues related to the above four principles included:
- Truth telling = honesty, fairness and completeness in reporting.
- Accountability = being answerable to the public, bearing the consequences of one’s actions and revealing conflicts of interest.
- Minimizing harm = privacy, confidentiality, reputational harm, consideration of others’ feelings, and respecting diversity and underprivileged groups.
- Attribution = avoiding plagiarism, honoring intellectual property rights and giving sources proper credit.
Bloggers who blog for personal reasons valued attribution most, followed by (in order of importance) minimizing harm, truth telling and accountability.
Non-personal bloggers (i.e. you’re blogging for clients) valued both attribution and truth-telling most, followed by minimizing harm, then accountability.
What I found most interesting:
Both personal and non-personal bloggers value attribution most and accountability the least. However when it came to actually practicing attribution, non-personal bloggers do a better job. Personal bloggers tended to try and minimize harm more than they practiced attribution. The researcher note that maybe non-personal bloggers are better at practicing attribution because of credibility. When you’re working (blogging) for someone else, citing sources and placing links is way more credible and one way that bloggers can make readers take their content seriously. What I found surprising about this is that many personal bloggers I know are using their personal blogs as vehicles for something else. Not all of course, but many personal bloggers use their blogs as a gateway to becoming a working blogger or writer so you’d think they’d want to look credible.
Accountability was valued and practiced least by both groups of bloggers. The researchers state that this might be because bloggers feel safe behind their blogs i.e. maybe they think that they can’t be sued for content (which is false, you can be sued for content). The researchers further note that perhaps bloggers don’t place as much value or risk on failed online relationships as they might face-to-face relationships.
Personally had I taken the survey I also would have placed the same high value on attribution and truth-telling that other non-personal blogger did. However unlike the bloggers surveyed I think accountability is more important than minimizing harm. Minimizing harm is for sure important, and obviously I don’t think we should ever reveal confidences that we’ve signed off on. I also don’t think we should slam others just for laughs or fail to consider others feelings, but when it comes down to it, I think it’s more important to be honest than to avoid hurting feelings.
All in all though an interesting survey and I like that it highlights values that bloggers should be considering. It’s a nice reminder of how we should best act in order to keep clients, readers, and other bloggers happy, or at least trusting us.
The best thing IMO is to actively practice all four ideals – but just for kicks where do you stand on these values. There’s truth telling, accountability, minimizing harm and attribution; which do you value most AND which are you actually practicing the most?
Read the research online – Doing the right thing online: a survey of bloggers’ ethical beliefs and practices