How many times have you asked yourself if what you are reading on a blog is trustworthy? And what makes the blog trustworthy? The number of people who linked to this blogger? The number of votes the blog gets on Techmeme? Would it make things better if the blogger is transparent about his methods of getting news and state that he follows a code of ethics?
In the world of the Internet where anyone can assume any identity and anyone can manipulate digital information, it is increasingly harder to tell if a blogger is telling the truth. This all boils down to trust in the integrity of the blogger, which first and for most, must be build by adopting a code of ethics similar to that the SPJ code of ethics or the PRSA code of ethics.
1) Firstly, the blogosphere is gaining a strong presence in the field of mainstream journalism and shaping how journalism functions. Hence bloggers should also associate themselves with the way journalism work by adopting the code of ethics. The blogosphere’s sphere of influence can be seen in how almost every major newspaper such as The New York Times, The Seattle-PI, and the Washington Post have a blog section, and many people are turning to the blogosphere for news and political updates. The blogosphere also helped in breaking news and exposing unscrupulous methods of organizations to the public. In the light of wiki-journalism, and collaborative investigative journalism, bloggers have gained importance in how news are created. If reporters are going to use the information provided by the bloggers, these information must be credible and methods of acquiring them be transparent for all to see. Hence, it is necessary for the bloggers to adopt a similar code of ethics to ensure that the final output (published article) is pieced together with reliable information.
2) If blogs are shown in the public domain, it is necessary for the information to be true. When a piece of information goes public, there is a unspoken assumption that it is true. For example, when a poster advertising an event is posted in public places, the readers will trust that the information is true. Similarly, when a blog is in the public domain, it is under the same assumption that it is true. Although the Internet makes it easy to fake information and identity, people often have the assumption that a news and political blog is true because of the nature of its content. And the assumption that it has to be true is further accentuated by the fact that it is a political blog put on public. Furthermore, to put content for all to see shows that the blogger is confident that his content is accurate and able to withstand public scrutiny. Therefore, the assumption that all things on the public domain is true will mean that the blogger has to be accurate and ethical in his reporting. It would be easier for the blogger to remain accurate and ethical if he adopts a code of ethics that help guide his reporting.
3) Contrary to arguments that adopting a code of ethics may restrict what bloggers want to say via the blogosphere and going against the idea of free expression, having a code of ethics will give the blogger the liberty to express within a workable boundary. Often times, bloggers aren’t aware of what their rights are, what they can do or not do. They end up self-censoring themselves, and as a result, create a boundary within a boundary. With knowledge of the guidelines, they can exercise informed freedom.
Also, one must note that the extent of the freedom of expression varies from a personal blog to a political/news blog. The nature of the content carries different weight and influence and consequences. Like it or not, there is a limit on the amount of freedom of expression we can have on our political blog. For instance, you can rant about how much you hate your day and everyone around you without giving solid evidence. However, if you rant about how the government is inefficient and are corrupted, you need to prove it with evidence before you can freely express this statement. Hence, by virtue of the nature of the content on a political/news blog, there are restrictions on the bloggers’ freedom of expression.
With bloggers becoming more influential in the journalism field, the public will need to know if the bloggers are trustworthy. Thus, it is necessary for bloggers to adopt a code of ethics that increases their credibility and public trust. Furthermore, whatever is in the public domain is assumed to be true. Bloggers can also be informed about the framework in which they can operate within, thus reducing self-censorship. Public trust is often hard to build and maintain, but easy to tear down. Hence, adopting a code of ethics help draw the public closer to the blogosphere, and also serves as a reminder to the blogger to have integrity in his work. No one needs to be taught how to be ethical, but they need to be reminded of it.
Hence, go ahead, and start selecting certain codes that you want to operate by, and post them on your blog for all to see. Not only will you gain trust from your readers, soon, you may be getting a faithful group of followers who are hungry for truth, which you have promised to provide them in your code of ethics.