Improving trust in blogs

There is a very interesting story in the New York Times about the alleged bombing plot; it’s been linked to lots, including by Bruce Schneier – it is available here. Well, except if you’re based in the UK. The NYT are using something like GeoIP to track requests and filtering out pageviews from the United Kingdom as the material contained within the article may prejudice the upcoming trial of the suspects who have so far been charged. It’s certainly an interesting article, and can be found through various ways (anonymising proxies, for example, or by finding a website that is syndicating the content without a location filter).

Now I could share this with the rest of you and post direct links to the material, or even reproduce it here, but it would certainly raise thorny issues, morally and legally; I could theoretically be liable for a contempt of court charge, if it were deemed likely that it would reach a potential juror and influence them; the NYT’s lawyers certainly thought it a possibility with them, and it could well be with some of the bigger blogs. And of course it’s not just I who faces this issue but every other blogger out there, and it’s not just this case but many others too. In the past, where media outlets were large and few in number this is not an issue but in the internet and blogging age it becomes hard to track infringements and even harder to prove it might prejudice a trial.

This is the sort of stick with which the mainstream media love to beat the blogosphere with; to at least allay some of these fears, some sort of self-regulation would be an important first line of defence against making sure such slips do not occur. I’m not the only blogger to realise this of course, and there have been a few attempts to produce some sort of blogging code of conduct, but as you’d expect, there are a variety of standards, and there does not seem to me to be much of a collective effort to adhere to a common standard. What’s needed is some sort of minimum set of principles we could all agree on; given how much freedom of speech has been vigorously defended in the UK blogosphere lately, I’m sure the respect for a fair trial can also be appreciated. Some sort of simple hallmark of quality to blog by, with a pleasing little “FairBlog” logo you can easily slap on to your sidebar, to mark yourself as an ethical blogger, would be beneficial; given a large enough take-up, it perhaps would help in improving blogs’ low standing in the public’s trust at the moment. Anyone else agree?

6 thoughts on “Improving trust in blogs

  1. Problem with any code of conduct for blogging is that most bloggers could happily blog for a lifetime without ever seeing it unless it was pushed by the likes of Word Press Blogger and so on.

    Also the traditional media sources have no interest in presenting a story saying “bloggers respect sub judice rules” the story is in the abberation so it only takes the one or two to ruin the reputation of bloggers at large.

  2. Who/how would it be enforced? The Wikipedia community has a hard enough time getting those articles accurate and within WP quality control guidelines (and fails, often)… If you try to enforce that through the blogosphere… then what?

    If there was a governing body, how would you protect them from idiot flamers and trolls who just decided they were fed up that your blog was getting more hits than their blogs, so they’re going to accuse of you some breach of ethics which couldn’t be disproved without someone swinging by your house…?

    Don’t think it’d work. You might get something that said “I try to be ethical”, and you could write that ‘code of conduct’ and design the badge. Why not? You have enough readers, it might even spread a little.

    Or; better yet – write a personality profiling quiz. (1) Do you republish other people’s content as your own – yes/no/sometimes, (2) Do you invent sources when you can’t find a suitable supporting fact – etc. And you could then label people as different kinds of bloggers, perhaps relating that demarcation to different types of cheese.

    Or you could write a parser that gauged the ethical nature of their blog based on some algorithmic definition, like the xHTML verifier but for good values.

    Just a couple of random thoughts… I’ll stop now

  3. I honestly don’t think a code of conduct of sorts is necessary. If anything, it would roughly equate self-censorship – which is exactly what some people hostile to the blogsphere would like to see. Sooner or later, people will be able to distinguish the BS from the genuinely believable blogs. Like all forms of media, blogs will evolve on their own account, and I actually feel that the lack of commercial interest makes blogs a far more reliable source of information than, say, television news.

    Take the whole issue of terrorism. If there is anyone I don’t trust on this, it’s the so-called “mainstream” media (even the BBC, who have clearly lost what little spine they had left after the Hutton debacle and are now toeing the government line like the little lapdogs that they are). Their ceaseless panic mongering over Muslims being the enemy within and whatnot (“We reveal the true extent of the threat of homegrown terrorism!”) is sickening.

    Where was it that this recent foiled terror plot was actually discussed objectively, without the whole “DOOM GLOOM WE ARE ALL GONNA DIE”-bullshit attached to it? It was in blogs like this one. Who was it who pointed out that, erm, actually, the entire thing was scientifically unfeasible and the plot probably would have failed anyway, hence there being no need to panic the way people did? A scientific blog called the Register. Is there any place within the media, bar, perhaps, Newsnight, for progressives and leftists to have a genuine “voice”? Certainly not. If anything needs to reflect on itself and self-regulate, it’s the media. Fuck what idiots like Janet Street Porter have to say.

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