Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Ethics on Blogs
With the MPRE looming, I can't help but pause a minute to think about the ethical implications of blogging. The question unavoidably overlaps with questions of identity and speech on the Web, but at its heart, it's a question of human interaction. There's a saying: if you don't have anything nice to say, say it on a blog. Ok, so maybe I just made that up, but it seems apropos. Blogs can serve as legitimate and beneficial forums for critical commentary - imagine what Sinclair Lewis could have done with a blog - but they can undoubtedly go too far as well. Take the story of advertising executive Paul Tilley, for example. Tilley committed suicide just days after coming under fire on an anonymous industry blog. The harshest criticism was apparently in the comments, which adds an extra layer of complexity. Even if we were to restrict the content on blogs, would we then also restrict the comments? It's a pretty dangerous path to go down. Friends and family claim Tilley's suicide and the blog coverage are unrelated, but many disagree. One commentator in the Times offered this chilling indictment: "Are there ethics in blogs? Should people have the right to publicly and anonymously criticize and attack the private lives of private people simply for entertainment?" It seems safe to say that the tone of the question assumes a certain answer. Nonetheless, it's important for those of us who believe blogs are beneficial to social welfare to remember that they can have harmful consequences.