So far, we’ve touched on some of these in Blog Exercises: The Don’ts of Blogging, Blog Exercise: Taking a Risk With What You Blog About, Blog Exercises: Comments and The Blog Bullies, and Blog Exercises: Quoting and Blockquotes.
The basic policies required to be on your site are copyright, disclosure, comments, privacy, and liability. I’ll cover each as we go forward with these Blog Exercises, helping you to understand each one and offer examples of these policies from other blogs and websites.
If your site is considered a commercial, business, non-profit, or “open to the public” site such as a government agency, you are required in some countries to have one or more of these policies on your site. Know the laws for your region, and cover all your bases with these basic policies.
Policies may be featured separately on individual web pages (called Pages in WordPress, not posts) or all on the same web page on your site, typically titled “Legal” or “Policies.” It depends upon how many policies you need, policy points, and how verbose you are with your policies.
I’d like to begin this process of setting or updating your site policies by considering your code of ethics and practices as a blogger. By understanding where you stand when it comes to your own moral and ethical values regarding your blogging efforts will help you choose which legal policies you need on your site, and how to frame them.
Blogger’s Rights and Code of Ethics
In the early days of blogging, several people developed Blogger’s Rights and Blogger’s Code of Ethics, guidelines for bloggers to blog by. Many bloggers continue to publish their own versions as an introduction to their site policies, setting the tone for how their site works.
There is much debate over ethics when it comes to the concept of blogger integrity. Many believe bloggers should have the same code of ethics across the board, and be subject to the same rules as a professional journalist, working hard for the sake of truth and transparency, defending and protecting the innocent, fighting for the rights of free speech. Others think even journalists have given up any ethics for the sake of ratings and career advancement, so why should bloggers care?
Charlene Li of Forrester published this famous Blogger’s Code of Ethics specifically for corporate blogging but it applies across the board as is used as a foundation by many bloggers and companies.
- I will tell the truth.
- I will write deliberately and with accuracy.
- I will acknowledge and correct mistakes promptly.
- I will preserve the original post, using notations to show where I have made changes so as to maintain the integrity of my publishing.
- I will never delete a post.
- I will not delete comments unless they are spam or off-topic.
- I will reply to emails and comments when appropriate, and do so promptly.
- I will strive for high quality with every post – including basic spell checking.
- I will stay on topic.
- I will disagree with other opinions respectfully.
- I will link to online references and original source materials directly.
- I will disclose conflicts of interest.
- I will keep private issues and topics private, since discussing private issues would jeopardize my personal and work relationships.
In one of the early books on weblogs, Rebecca Blood wrote “The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice On Creating And Maintaining Your Blog” covering these points on blog ethics:
- Publish as fact only that which you believe to be true.
- If material exists online, link to it when you reference it.
- Publicly correct any misinformation.
- Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry.
- Disclose any conflict of interest.
- Note questionable and biased sources.
I agree with all of Blood’s points except number 4. Blood explains:
Post deliberately. If you invest each entry with intent, you will ensure your personal and professional integrity.
Changing or deleting entries destroys the integrity of the network. The Web is designed to be connected; indeed, the weblog permalink is an invitation for others to link. Anyone who comments on or cites a document on the Web relies on that document (or entry) to remain unchanged.
While I agree that you should post deliberately and with vested interest in the longevity and integrity of your published work, it’s your site and you have the right to edit and change anything you wish, including removing posts. Don’t worry, the integrity of the web will survive, but I do like the attitude of timeless writing, which I encourage in my students.
“A Bloggers’ Code of Ethics” by CyberJournalist.net is well written and specific, holding up even ten years later. It is based upon the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, and here are some excerpts from the code.
- Never plagiarize.
- Identify and link to sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
- Make certain that Weblog entries, quotations, headlines, photos and all other content do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
- Never distort the content of photos without disclosing what has been changed. Image enhancement is only acceptable for for technical clarity. Label montages and photo illustrations.
- Never publish information they know is inaccurate — and if publishing questionable information, make it clear it’s in doubt.
- Distinguish between advocacy, commentary and factual information. Even advocacy writing and commentary should not misrepresent fact or context.
- Distinguish factual information and commentary from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
Ethical bloggers treat sources and subjects as human beings deserving of respect. Bloggers should:
- Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by Weblog content. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
- Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
- Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of information is not a license for arrogance.
- Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
- Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
- Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects, victims of sex crimes and criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
Robert Scoble took an irreverent but healthy tone with his “Corporate Weblog Manifesto” back in 2003, which I summarize here:
- Tell the truth.
- Post fast on good news or bad.
- Use a human voice.
- Make sure you support the latest software/web/human standards.
- Have a thick skin.
- Don’t ignore Slashdot [or current hot tech reporting site].
- Talk to the grassroots first.
- If you screw up, acknowledge it.
- Underpromise and over deliver.
- If Doc Searls says it or writes it, believe it.
- Know the information gatekeepers.
- Never change the URL of your weblog.
- If your life is in turmoil and/or you’re unhappy, don’t write.
- If you don’t have the answers, say so.
- Never lie.
- Never hide information.
- If you have information that might get you in a lawsuit, see a lawyer before posting, but do it fast.
- Link to your competitors and say nice things about them.
- BOGU (Bend Over and Grease Up) – translated: Treat everyone fairly and as equals, and keep them all happy.
- Be the authority on your product/company.
- Know who is talking about you.
The Blogger Code of Ethics by Blog Marketing Academy is simple and easy-to-remember:
- Be thankful.
- Be and act kind.
- Be and act generous.
- Help people.
- Be honest.
- Be transparent.
- Only sell what is in absolute best interest of the customer.
- Don’t require approval or praise.
Intel’s Social Media Guidelines breaks their official guidelines for participating in blogging and social media for their company into three “Rules of Engagement.” They are disclose, use common sense, and protect. A favorite part of the policy for me is their section on protect.
Don’t slam the competition (or Intel): Play nice. Anything you publish must be true and not misleading, and all claims must be substantiated and approved. Product benchmarks must be approved for external posting by the appropriate product benchmarking team.
Don’t overshare: Be careful out there—once you hit “share,” you usually can’t get it back. Plus being judicious will help make your content more crisp and audience-relevant.
Their subtitle for the section on common sense states, “Remember that professional, straightforward, and appropriate communication is best.”
Resources and References on Blogger Rights and Responsibilities
Here are articles discussing blogger rights and responsibilities, liabilities, policies, ethics, and corporate blogging policies to help you learn more.
- Lessons Learned…Cisco Updates Policy on Employee Blogging
- Empowered – Blogging Policy Examples – Forrester
- Blogging and Social Media Policy Sample – About Human Resources
- Real Lawyers Have Blogs : Law Blogs, Social Media, Twitter
- Enterprise: List of 40 Social Media Staff Guidelines » Laurel Papworth @SilkCharm
- @jspepper: Blogs and Libel – or Damn, NKK!
- U.S. Court Declares Bloggers Second Class Citizens, Not Part of Media – Problogservice
- Three Simple Rules About Blogging Ethics and Money – Problogservice
- Blogger Code of Ethics They Should Have Like Professional Journalists
- Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Online ethics and the bloggers’ code revealed – Eureka Alert – SAGE Publications UK
- How to Handle Employee Blogging | Inc.com
- Lessons Learned From Google Blogger Who Got Fired – Information Week
- Creating a Corporate Blogging Policy? Here’s Six Areas to Consider | Mack Collier.com
- PoliticalPaula.com : A Blogger’s Code Of Ethics
- Ethical Guidance for Today’s Public Relations Practitioners from PRSA
- Rebecca Blood :: The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice On Creating And Maintaining Your Blog :: Excerpt :: Blog Ethics
- NewPR Wiki – Resources – Blogging Policy (collection of blogging and social media policies)
- NewPR Wiki – Resources – Legal Problems (collection of links and resources on legal issues associated with blogging)
- No Protection for Bloggers – Wired
The following are examples of blogging policies. These may or may not specifically apply to your blog but serve as good examples.
- The Code « Food Blog Code of Ethics
- NevOn: Codes and policies to blog by
- Rhetorica Blogging and Comment Policy
- Blog Terms and Conditions Policy – Sample Blog Terms and Conditions Policy
- BBC – Editorial Guidelines and Policies
- Blogger.com – Content policy
- IBM Social Computing Guidelines
- Intel Social Media Guidelines
- About Seattle.gov – Policies and Planning – Legislation, Policies and Standards
- Society of Professional Journalists: SPJ Code of Ethics
- Blog Policies and Guidelines – Cancerwise – Cancer blog from MD Anderson Cancer Center
- Suffolk University – Blogging Guidelines
Your blog exercise is to write your Blogger’s Rights and Responsibilities or Code of Ethics policy.
You do not have to publish it, but if you do, create a Page called Policies or Legal and add this to it, or add it as a subPage to your Policies Page.
Or blog your rights and code and ask your readers for their input. Put a link to the post on your About, Policies, or Legal Page so others may read it in the future, if necessary.
If you blog this topic, remember to include a hat tip link back to this post to create a trackback, or leave a properly formed link in the comments so participants can check out your blog exercise task.