... And I'm really not surprised. Ethics came up last year at Sorenson, and at Martinsville, so why shouldn't it come up again? Frankly, it is a big issue.
This time, however, instead of focusing on "Oh, gosh, we all need to blog ethically, and [shaking finger] bad BAD anonymous bloggers/commenters!" we actually heard a reason to blog ethically.
Yes, this post will be a very different "round up" than what I've done in the past. At Martinsville in particular, I gave a detailed account of who was there, what they said, and how they came across. I'm not going to to that for Blogs United in Hampton Roads, because I think it would miss the main point: ethics.
Part of the reason - which has been mentioned before - to blog ethically is that it makes people more likely to read you. If you can give a well-considered opinion, dig up a carefully researched story, put several seemingly unrelated facts together in a new and intriguing way, or conduct an intelligent and civil debate (or all of the above, hopefully!), you are far more likely to get a broad readership. If all you post is invective, ad hominem, childish Photoshop, and dubious rumors, people may read you, but your influence is likely to be low.
Yes, we all know that - even if we do confess in the depths of our hearts our occasional desire for a good, filthy snark-attack - but that's really rather selfish, isn't it? (Hm, oh, yes, I'm sure we bloggers can all confess to ego and pride as some of our hidden sins!)
When we descend to uncivil and false attacks, we often drive citizens away from participating in the civic arena, as well as away from the voting booth.
OK, that's a reason I can get behind! After all, I'm only a small-time blogger, and only "famous" (!!!) by association rather than on my own merit.
So, I like that as a reason to blog ethically.
But... What *IS* "Ethical Blogging," and how do we all get onboard the ethical train?
Frankly, I think it's almost an impossible question to answer and definitely it's fairly impossible to solve.
The reason it's hard question to answer is that we all have different ways of looking at things, and different lines we will or won't cross. For instance, Greg Letiecq over at Black Velvet Bruce Li frequently courts controversy. At Martinsville last year, he said something like, "...if no one goes out and hits the limits, then no one ever knows where the limits are. If no one exercises their rights, those rights tend to vanish."
Greg goes out and pushes those limits, whereas that is very much not my style. Our boundaries are different when talking about ethical blogging. (I'd also like to make it clear that this is certainly not a ping on Greg: I think he's a fantastic blogger, and he really digs in to get the story and back it up with facts. Me, I'm much more comfortable in a more non-controversial atmosphere, generally. )
So, I don't think there's much chance of codifying any set of "Rules for Ethical Blogging." Yes, I'd like to see us all swear to tell the truth, be courteous and respectful in discussion, leave candidates' families alone, etc., but there's no way - short of (God forbid!) regulation, which is certainly unacceptable! - we would ever be able to enforce those rules.
And this leads me to the aspect of all of us getting on board the ethics train.
Honey, I hate to be so cynical (and on a Sunday, too!), but I think Hell will freeze over before that happens. There will, unfortunately, always be someone who slips up in irritation and starts a blog-war. There will always be someone who makes an honest mistake which is blown out of proportion. There will always be those who just love to get down in the dirt and try to smear as many people as they possibly can, without regard to honesty and decency.
It's human nature, and it's inescapable.
The only thing that might work - the only thing - is for each blogger to moderate and control himself. I cannot force JohnnyAcrossTheWeb to adhere to a set of standards which he doesn't already hold inside his spirit. JanieNextBlogOver can't make me act like she wants me to, because I'm an independent person (OK, OK, I'm stubborn!) and I just might think to ask who died and made her God?
I can't pull your Internet connection, I can't hold a gun to your head, and I can't threaten you so that you "behave like a good little blogger."
For all the pleas I heard, from blogger and elected official alike, for ethical and courteous blogging, *I* know it won't happen until we raise our personal standards first - and let the market marginalize the dross in the 'sphere.
The only one who can change your behavior is you.
The only one who can change my behavior is me.
It's called "personal responsibility," "integrity," and "honor," folks.
And it must be imposed from the inside.