Thursday, July 05, 2007

Buzzwording 'ethical' to death

The blogosphere’s buzzword of the day seems to be “ethical.” The word is being tossed around, perhaps kicked around, in posts every day. It seems to me, much of the time it is being used by one blogger to bash/scoff at another blogger for being something less than an “ethical blogger.”

However, the way the terms “ethical blogger” and “blogging ethics” are being used by bloggers to attack other bloggers they simply don’t like is not only getting quite tiresome, it is stretching the meaning out of the words.

Moreover, from what I’ve seen, the bloggers who are using this buzzword approach in their posts the most are the very ones who must know that any serious discussion of obnoxious behavior in the blogosphere -- mostly meaning deliberate dishonesty and incivility -- will shine a bad light on them.

So, is all the cheap sarcasm about so-and-so being an “ethical blogger,” or NOT, really about ethics? Or, is it more about trying/campaigning to pound the meaning out of certain words that make some of the most obstreperous of Virginia’s political bloggers feel rather uncomfortable?


David Mastio said...

To even have a discussion of which bloggers are ethical, we'd have to have some kind of agreement on what ethical blogging is. I see no signs of that either within or across partisan lines.

Here's my idea for rule 1:

Since the most widely shared value of blogging is an interest in unfettered free speech, efforts to silence other bloggers are unethical.

Such efforts could include:
1) Contacting the employer of another blogger (as I believe Slant has mentioned before ...)

2) I'd be interested in hearing what others would put in this category ...

Harry Landers said...

Sorry, but I'm not sure that I'm buying rule #1. Is it ethical if somebody is blogging on their employer's time? If they're doing so without the employer's permission, it seems to me that they're stealing from their employer. If you witness somebody stealing, isn't it ethical to take actions to stop the theft?

David Mastio said...


That's the lamo justification put out by those who run tattling to employers. Funnily enough, you never see a conservative calling a conservative's employer or vice versa. (unless its primary season)

Now why is that? Because people who say, "I am just concerned about the potential theft of employer's time" are lying. It is called rationalizing.

Also, thanks for proving my point that since we can't agree on what a definition of ethical blogging is, discussing who ethical bloggers are is kinda loopy.

Harry Landers said...

Somehow I get the sense that "lamo justification" and "tattling" are not indications of a serious discussion on ethics. But, I will say that just because a couple of amateurs don't do a very good job of finding consensus on this issue doesn't mean that a serious effort to set ethical standards among bloggers couldn't bear fruit.

The fact is that there are individuals who spend their careers studying, teaching and lecturing on ethics. I had the opportunity to attend a business ethics seminar conducted by David Schmidt of Fairfield University's Dolan School of Business recently. If Virginia bloggers were interested in guidance on how to make ethical judgements, they could certainly engage a non-partisan professional to offer assistance. I suspect that won't happen, as too many bloggers seem content to use their own situational ethics to justify their partisan interests.

F.T. Rea said...

Dave, Harry,

By heaping foolishness, exaggeration, prevarication, malice, dime-dropping, name-calling, and utter boorishness into a big pile, and then putting a sign over the pile that says “Unethical Blogging,” what have you done? Other than blurring the meaning of “ethics,” to the point it loses its meaning, what has been accomplished?

Most of the outrageously obnoxious behavior by political bloggers has had more to do with bad manners, everyday pettiness and playing team-ball, than it does ethics. Yes, there are some bloggers who wouldn’t know the truth if they stepped in it. They are hopeless and I don’t care about what they do, or how popular they are.

For the most part, honest people who believe in playing fair aren’t going to be dishonest bloggers.

Just as dishonest people who blog bring their twisted ways with them. Based on my experience, I doubt a bloggers code of ethics would do much to curb them.

They should be shunned.

Thus, my efforts to distance myself from the bad actors of the blogosphere hasn't been and won’t be focused on carving out a bipartisan bloggers list of "unethical" things to avoid doing.

Why would the ethical standards that we choose to apply to the blogosphere be any different than those in any other field of endeavor?

David Mastio said...

I mostly agree with you, but one thing an ethical code does is help those who have their heart in the right place but think they are in a grey area stay on the better path.

I know it has been useful to me in journalism where sometimes the situations are not something a regular person has thought through before.

F.T. Rea said...


You have a good point. Making things plain is usually a good idea. It’s not that I want to stifle the conversation, or say that a generally agreed upon list of political blogger sins -- venial and mortal -- wouldn’t be useful.

It could be.

What I am saying is that so many of the posts about blogging ethics are mostly a matter of one blogger accusing another of being less than ethical because the accuser is pissed off. Bloggers are being called “unethical” merely for using salty language, as if ethics and good taste are the same thing.

Then again, standards change, even in the lofty fourth estate. There was a time when respectable newspapers didn’t routinely reprint press releases, verbatim, as if they had gathered that “news.” There was a time when quotes in a story needed a real name with them, in order to get in print, etc. I’ll stop there, but I could go on.

The point being that what may have once been a code of journalism ethics, or rules, seems to have become an optional matter to a lot of publishers these days.

So, maybe in a world of shifting mores, it would be worthwhile to have a bloggers code of ethics. It’s just not something I choose to put my shoulder behind.