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Friday, December 7, 2007

Blogging Ethics: Of Bad Blogging Practices, Blog Libel and Cyber Bullying

I started to blog when I saw that blogs can enrich humans – both the mind and the pocket. The attractive part was how you can monetize your blog; blogging to riches, everyone says. But as in everything else in life there are two sides to everything: the Good and the Bad. Guess blogging is no exception. There in blogosphere, slowly but surely, things negative began unfolding, from mild but irresponsible paid reviews, blog libels to cyber bullying and its tragic consequence.

It is good to be kept informed of these matters so that one would not stumble into dangerous territory.

Cyber bullying

It is observed that although online bullying especially involving teenagers may be mild but some say it is on the rise. It is raising concerns especially on the heels of a widely publicised case in Missouri that led to the suicide death of a 13-year-old girl, Megan Meier, in October 2006. What’s troubling is that it is a story of an internet hoax, a blog impersonation it seems, that ended in a tragic teen suicide.

According to a 3rd December 2007 report on eSchool

“Last month, officials in the Missouri town of Dardenne Prairie made internet harassment a misdemeanor, in the wake of public outrage over the suicide of a 13-year-old resident there last year.

The parents of Megan Meier claim their daughter, who had been treated for depression, committed suicide after a teenage boy who flirted with her on MySpace abruptly ended their friendship, telling her he heard she was mean. The story gained national prominence when it was revealed the boy never existed—it was a prank allegedly started by a mother in the girl’s neighborhood.”

The twist to the story was that the teenage boy, Josh, never existed; he was created by the mother of one of Megan’s former friends who live down the street. The hoax was created by the 47 year mother, Lori Drew, who by now has earned every vilest label a mom can ever have. The even bizarre twist to this is that this most hated mom in the world has allegedly set up a blog meganhaditcoming recently to explain her actions, causing another outpouring of rage and venom.

Problem is, people are not sure if this blog is a fake. Looks like another blog impersonation because I would like to believe that no mother in her right mind would go publish a blog after the fact and remain remorseless. It just baffles the mind. But then again, we don’t know what a human mind, worse an insane mind at that, is capable of doing.

A scary thought now crosses my mind: Blogs can actually become powerful, it can kill.

Blog Libel

In Malaysia, blogsites owned by Malaysians are being investigated by the authorities. The Dewan Rakyat (literally "People's Hall") or House of Representatives which is the lower House of the Parliament of Malaysia in its 5th December 2007 sitting discussed the issue of blog libel. The House was informed that the “Malaysian Government takes a serious view of blogs which twist facts and pose a threat to public order” (as reported widely in local dailies the following day). House members were also updated of an arrest made in connection with the investigation by local police of five cases of alleged libel involving blogs. As reported, Malaysian “bloggers who abused their blogsites to disseminate libel or twist facts can be subjected to action under the Sedition Act 1948, Penal Code and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998”.

‘Twist facts’? What if the bloggers were merely untwisting twisted facts? Okay, enough of that one. I’d like to say more …but suffice to say, as long as one doesn’t ‘disseminate libel and twist facts’, I guess one is safe.

Paid Review Dilemma, Blogging Ethics, Blog Etiquette

Doing paid reviews has become a tricky area for bloggers. Who doesn’t want to get paid and get freebies? But it’s hard after that to remain totally objective and be critical of the hand that feeds you. In the travel industry, with so many offers of freebies or free travel junkets, it is easy to see why many said that the judgment of travel bloggers who accept freebies are compromised. Problogger posts an a good article blogging-ethics-and-sponsored-reviews by Melissa Petri who talked about staying ethical despite the dilemma.

On blog etiquette, sueblimely wrote quite a bit on what she call ‘Betiquette’ about the relevant behaviour in attracting and maintaining readers, which is worth reading. But I particularly like the excellent and sharp pointers Chris from Blog-Op gave on blog etiquette posted on destyonline :

  • Never, ever steal content, period.
  • Don’t be afraid to give credit - Even if another blogger only gave you the basic idea for your 4000 word original post, it doesn’t hurt to link back.
  • Link often, but only when relevant. Don’t feel you have to get hitched onto a link train if you don’t want to.
  • Don’t write for Google, write for humans.
  • Don’t hotlink images.
  • Never write in a comment, what you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.
  • Don’t accuse another blogger of anything without rock hard evidence.
  • Don’t use the email address you gather for comments, for spam purposes - A personal message is fine, but when I get a ‘Dear friend - please Digg my blog’ generic type email it gets marked as spam and deleted.
  • Treat others as you like to be treated.

I listed Chris’ pointers in total as I intend to keep them here as refresher for me to visit every now and then, to keep on the straight and narrow, in blogging at least.


Shawn said...

During my writtings on the Project: I, Blogger series, I found that, in general, most people say that their behavior online is mearly an extension of the normal offline behavior.

That's what they say, but what they do, as evidenced by those adults driving a teen to suicide, is usually a different kettle of fish. Being faceless or hiding behind an avatar or handle gives people the freedom, for good or bad, to do and say what they want.

Thanks for the link to the Project: I, Blogger series. I would appreciate your thoughts on the topic in the comments.


Aljo said...

Hi Desty,

Yes, I too agree that most people's behaviour online is an extension of their normal offline behaviour. I believe that one's writing and action online will reflect a degree of one's innermost feelings, thoughts and even personal traits, no matter how much one tries to buffer it or tries to present another facade. Some personal traits will somehow slip through the words in one's writings online.

Given that, and now given a medium (i.e., blog) whereby one can safely hide behind, one can then fully use this freedom, and abuse it, to pursue one’s agenda. If a person has abusive tendencies offline, then knowing that he can be anonymous online, and thus safe from any legal repercussions or otherwise, that person will fully unleash his abusive nature online.

I appreciate your Project: I, Blogger series; I thought it is a great way to tug at bloggers’ conscience online. At one point, you talked about failure in your subsequent series. I don’t think it is failure. It’s merely lack of response. Why lack of response? Well…conscience is something not everyone likes to come face to face with or come clean with.