Everywhere you look these days, bloggers are writing policies and rulebooks. For themselves, for others, for everyone. With calls for accountability, integrity, consistency, appropriateness, and ethical behavior, it seems that every blogger I know is publishing their own set of guidelines for blogging.
Feh. A pox on all their rules, that's what I say.
How many of us have published rules to govern how we talk to our friends? I'd be horrified if a friend had to consult his or her published personal policy statement before saying something to me (or correcting a misstatement, for that matter).
In his wonderful essay "A Group is Its Own Worst Enemy," Clay Shirky talks about persistent patterns in online groups:
In the political realm, we would call these kinds of crises a constitutional crisis. It's what happens when the tension between the individual and the group, and the rights and responsibilities of individuals and groups, gets so serious that something has to be done. And the worst crisis is the first crisis, because it's not just "We need to have some rules." It's also "We need to have some rules for making some rules." And this is what we see over and over again in large and long-lived social software systems. Constitutions are a necessary component of large, long-lived, heterogenous groups.
I buy Clay's argument. Except for one thing--I'm not sure I think of (or want to think of) webloggers as a "group," any more than I want to think of "writers" or "poets" or "programmers" as a group. My weblog is simply a tool that allows me to publish thoughts, questions, and ideas online. It's not an application for citizenship in "Blogaria" or "Blogistan" or any of the other geographic metaphors people use to describe the diverse collection of self-published websites that blogs have enabled.
I don't want a rulebook. I have my own sense of right and wrong in my head, and I use it to guide my writing. I pulled a post--once. It was something I wrote about my personal life, and though it was oblique in its references, it hurt someone I care very much about. Leaving it online would have compounded that hurt by extending the number of people who read it. So I pulled it a few hours after it went online. Expunged it from my archives entirely. Asked the one person who'd linked to it to remove the link. It never made it into any republished versions of my RSS feed, so for all intents and purposes it's been "disappeared."
Was that unethical? According to most of "ethical blogging guidelines" I've seen out there, it would be considered as such. But I know I did the right thing, and that's really all that matters to me. I'm rather glad I hadn't written public rules for myself that would have caused me to rethink or regret (or worse, not take) that action.
David Weinberger has written about the concept of "leeway," and it's that concept that I see missing from most of what I see. He also spoke at Supernova this year about the problem with making social relationships explicit. He said "When I make trust explicit, I kill trust." (When was the last time you said to someone "I trust you explicitly"?)
Jonathon Delacour writes that "I've never set out to 'deceive' anyone, though in retrospect it would have been infinitely better to have made it explicit much earlier that my interests (and my writing) were shifting from writing conventional weblog entries to telling stories. I regret that I didn't. Take this, then, as a belated announcement."
I rather wish he hadn't done that. The explicitness of his "ethical guidelines" and his announced direction for his writing somehow diminish for me the experience of reading his blog. That makes me sad.
I don't know whether the current flurry of calls for accountability will snowball, or simply die away. I hope for the latter, but I'm braced for the former. Don't be looking for any published guidelines here, though. You'll have to trust me implicitly, or not trust me at all.
(For more reading on this topic, I suggest taking a look at what Jonathon Delacour, Jill Walker, Mark Pilgrim, Chuck Tryon, Shelley Powers, and Dave Winer have to say on the topic. I know I've missed some--feel free to add your own "ethical guidelines" or "personal posting policy" link to the comments here.)