Friday, December 28, 2007

Blogging and Marketing in Japan and the U.S.

In a New York Times article published yesterday, blogging is touted as a “low-cost, high return marketing tool” for small businesses and certain guidelines like transparency and frequent updates are laid out.

Wal Mart and its PR firm Edelman came under fire in October when it was revealed that two bloggers writing positively about Wal Mart stores across the U.S. were actually hired to promote the company.

An article in Free Internet Press compares America’s “abrasive self-promotion” with Japan’s “conformist culture” which the article claims is apparent in the blogosphere. The article refers to Junko Kenetsuna, who reviews restaurants in her blog, “I had my lunch”:

In all the blog entries she has composed at home and in cybercafes over the years, Kenetsuna has never written a discouraging word - not a single critical reference to bad food, lousy service or rip-off prices, she said. Such harshness, in her view, would be improper and offensive.

"If I think the food stinks, I don't write it," said Kenetsuna, 43, who makes a living writing advertising copy for a weekly newspaper for female office workers in Tokyo.
"There is a part of me that feels sorry for the restaurant, if it were to lose business because of what I write," she said. "I don't want to influence the diners."

Although politeness is generally considered ethical, isn’t honest criticism more important for customer reviews? Is self-censoring negativity about another company more or less transparent than self-promoting oneself under a guise?

There’s a similar dilemma posed by blogs hosting advertisements. Japanese venture capitalist Joichi Ito recently began an online marketing tool in which bloggers choose the advertisements that appear on their sites. According to Business Week:
[AdButterfly] aims to put marketers directly in touch with bloggers. Like Google's (GOOG) AdSense and other similar services, AdButterfly relies on complex algorithms that automatically place ads on relevant Web sites run by bloggers who sign up. Marketers can also manually search for blogs whose subject matter is a good fit with the brand or products they're advertising.

AdButterfly, unlike AdSense and other rivals, gives bloggers the final say on the ads that appear and also allows blog owners to comment next to the advertisement. Ito believes this to be more “authentic” than “sly behind-the-scenes marketing techniques.” But the article also warns against filtering ads:
There are, of course, drawbacks to advertising on blogs, which don't have the long reach of mass media. And analysts worry that AdButterfly muddies the divide between paid-for endorsements and grassroots buzz. Not all bloggers are likely to come clean when there's a conflict of interest. "This model is both unique and murky," says Pete Blackshaw, executive vice-president of market researcher Nielsen Online Strategic Services. "My guess is that a set of informal rules will emerge."

Business Week says that despite the potential threat of bloggers running advertisements for companies they dislike just so they can criticize them, this has not yet happened on AdButterfly. This may be due to the “conformist culture” or the fact that the service is only used by about 2,000 Japanese bloggers as of yet.

With the growing trend of merging marketing with blogging, what role will cultural differences play? Japanese and English are the two most-used languages in the blogosphere and users of the two languages appear to have different marketing approaches.

Will Americans, who are supposedly more self-promotional and less averse to offending, abuse Japanese advertising tools? What sort of guidelines for online marketing might help bridge the alleged cultural divide?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Online at 30,000 Feet

On this blog, we have explored the codes of Internet conduct in various environments--in a free country, in an oppressive state, or in a family plagued by abuse. How does one conduct one's self on the Internet while in the air?

Some airlines such as Qantas and AirFrance are exploring various online services on their flights. See AP article "Airborne Internet might bring turbulence."

These services could potentially bring etiquette, openness, and freedom of speech issues into these close quarters. But like the Internet in general, the result will very much depend on whether customers can self regulate.

AirFrance is going to try out new services before they start to regulate:

AirFrance, which plans to start allowing cellular calls through OnAir within months, said it would see how people use such services before crafting rules.

"Are you going to reach your wife to tell her what you did the entire day or just tell her, 'Can you pick me up at the airport?'" Air France spokeswoman Marina Tymen said, adding that passengers might tell the airline that data services fulfill all their needs.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Citizen Curators" at the Met

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post all reported today on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibition “Blog.mode: addressing fashion.”

From the WSJ:

Fashion criticism has long been the exclusive realm of an insular band of journalists who traveled the big runway shows in Paris, Milan and New York and seemed to speak their own esoteric language. But the Met's new exhibit, "Blog.mode Addressing Fashion," is inviting anyone with an Internet connection to critique the clothes on display. With its new blog,, which went up this week, the august museum is also acknowledging that traditional fashion criticism is over.
WSJ quotes designer Hussein Chalayan: "At the end of the day when you have a critic write about your work, it is just one person who is supposed to be an expert," he says. "Why is this taken more seriously [than a blogger]?"

The Washington Post is more critical of what it fears may become a trend in “citizen curating”:
Museums need to be attuned to the communities they serve and should strive to attract as wide an audience as possible. Museums don't own culture, but they sort through it, rank it and attempt to make some sense of it. Theirs aren't the only valid points of view, but they are especially valued because they're the result of research, dispassionate analysis and intellectual curiosity.

Should your next-door neighbor's opinion of Rei Kawakubo sit side-by-side with the point of view of the Costume Institute's curator? Should they be given similar weight?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Direct Dial Democracy

Worried about a bill under consideration in Congress? Think twice before emailing your rep. As Garrett Graff noted recently, these abundant virtual missives tend to provoke only an auto-reply. In the real world where scarcity and effort influence value, real letters and telephone calls are holding their own. Enter Committee Caller. This automatic calling service dials all the congresspeople on a committee of your choosing, one right after the other without hanging you up. It was developed by Fred Benenson, a student in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University.

Committee Caller is a new project, so there's obvious room for improvement. I'd like the site to display the Congressional calendar, perhaps even link to C-SPAN in some capacity. A connection to the biographies and voting records of the Members of Congress would also be useful, maybe in connection with a wiki like Congresspedia. And perhaps version 2.0 can replace the robotic narrator with a celebrity voice-over. (If James Earl Jones is busy I nominate Monica Lewinsky.) Overall, though, Committee Caller seems like a necessary innovation for the motherland.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Is Using Facebook as Data Source Ethical?

A team of researchers from Harvard and UCLA are monitoring the activity of an entire East Coast college’s Facebook activity, reports the IHT today. Scholars are examining the ways in which people connect with one another. But, partly to keep the data clean, the Facebook users do not know they are being watched. Is this kind of study ethical?

One problem is that Facebook is not necessarily representative of the population at large. The IHT article notes that: "Eszter Hargittai, a professor at Northwestern, found in a study that Hispanic students were significantly less likely to use Facebook, and much more likely to use MySpace. White, Asian and Asian-American students, the study found, were much more likely to use Facebook and significantly less likely to use MySpace."

In my mind, this sampling issue came up the other day during Garrett Graff's talk here at the Carnegie Council on his new book “The First Campaign” (listen to his talk here). Graff was talking about how the 2008 U.S. presidential elections will be the first campaign in which technology as both the medium and the message will determine the outcome. But doesn’t that also beg the obvious question:

Won’t those who are more technology-savvy therefore have relatively more influence in the political arena?

A sample bias may also occur in that people who are engaged in politics online might be peculiar in a certain way. Do these people have more time on their hands than do others? It reminds me of a polling data problem: Polls draw from surveys conducted over the phone… What kind of person answers the phone call from a stranger? Related, the people answering the phone surveys are probably the mirror of the techo-savvy since the surveys can only legally be done on land-line phones—something many of the savvy netizens gave up altogether for mobile services.

Another problem with the Facebook study is that the subjects have not given the researchers permission to study them. Feelings are mixed on this issue reports the IHT:

Most researchers acknowledge these limits, yet they are still eager to plumb the site's vast amount of data. The site's users have mixed feelings about being put under the microscope. Katherine Kimmel, 22, a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, said she found it "fascinating that professors are using something that started solely as a fun social networking tool for entertainment," and she suggested yet another study: how people fill out Facebook's "relationship status" box. "You're not really dating until you put it on Facebook," she said.

But Derrick Clifton, 19, a student at Pomona College in California, said, "I don't feel like academic research has a place on a Web site like Facebook." He added that if it was going to happen, professors should ask students' permission.

Clearly the data would be skewed if the subjects knew they were being studied. If the identify of the particular subjects is withheld in the research findings, it would seem OK. But that is very difficult to do, as researchers discovered last year after AOL made available the search queries of 650,000 users. From the New York Times:

Although the 650,000 AOL users were not personally identified in the data, the logs contained enough information to discern an individual’s identity in some cases.

AOL quickly withdrew the data from its research Web site, but not before it had been downloaded, reposted and made searchable at a number of Web sites. And on Monday, the company dismissed Abdur Chowdhury, the researcher who posted the data, along with another employee. Maureen Govern, AOL’s chief technology officer, resigned.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Democratizing Market Forces

Friday’s Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece by Randall Rothenberg on Facebook Beacon and Facebook’s decision to allow users to opt-out of the advertising program. From the Facebook website:

Facebook Beacon enables your brand or business to gain access to viral distribution within Facebook. Stories of a user's engagement with your site may be displayed in his or her profile and in News Feed. These stories will act as a word-of-mouth promotion for your business and may be seen by friends who are also likely to be interested in your product.
While this may be great for business, and also allows Internet services to remain free to the public, it caused an uproar among users whose Christmas gifts were revealed to recipients via Facebook's News Feed, and when businesses failed to ask permission or even issue a warning before transferring information about purchases made with an email address different from that associated with the Facebook account.

A group of 50,000 signed a petition created by calling for Facebook to add privacy features that allow users to opt-out--and it worked. Rothenberg used a term coined by Bob Garfield, co-host of NPR's On the Media, to describe the phenomenon: “Listenomics,” according to Garfield, means “the herd will be heard.”

Rothenberg goes on to offer an explanation:
Why does the herd have such a powerful voice? Because the technologies that enable people to network to their 10,000 closest colleagues, build a blog or launch a global digital video network are now built into personal computers or available gratis on the Web.
A blogger on expands on the economics part of the equation:
Yes, social media marketing needs to be monetized either directly or indirectly. When the dust settles any marketing organization must remembers its most valuable asset is its community members. Social media is driven by people banded together to form communities, not by technology or informal networks. When community is sacrificed for dollars, organizations lose both. No community equals no transactions.
Just how important of a factor is economics compared to the power of the Internet to mobilize? Will "listenomics" be as effective in politics as it is in business? has another petition demanding that Congress not grant immunity to the telecom industry for its role in illegal wiretapping. Will that matter if companies like AT&T and Verizon are donating tens of thousands of dollars to Senators?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Knol Thyself: The Utility of Wikipedia Rival

A fascinating debate has emerged about the future of Wikipedia and Google’s rival project that promotes bylined knols (or units of knowledge). This is from Google’s blog introducing the concept:

A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read. The goal is for knols to cover all topics, from scientific concepts, to medical information, from geographical and historical, to entertainment, from product information, to how-to-fix-it instructions. Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors. We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line. Anyone will be free to write. For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject. Competition of ideas is a good thing.

A quick blog search shows many people predicting the “death knol” for Wikipedia. Others warn that we shouldn’t leap to conclusions since other Google products such as Froogle and Google Apps have failed to kill their rivals.

But Google has a lot going for it in this project. As one blogger said, the Wikipedia rival would allow Google to control the three levels of the searching experience: the front door (Google), the search results, and now the content you get when you click on those results. Google would have the money and power to promote its own units of knowledge and with the use of advertising could create a stronger business model than could Wikipedia.

We have debated the utility of anonymity extensively in our blog. Many have suggested that anonymous postings allow people to express themselves or inform the public without jeopardizing their own security. Theoretically, this use of the anonymous post works as long as the topic is not an ad hominem attack. But the weakness of Wikipedia is that anonymous editors post, modify, and even delete whole entries without much accountability.

Google would seek to avoid this pitfall by allowing as many entries as the market produces and let the market decide (through) ranking which entry is best. It better uses the power of the invisible hand.

One thing I have not seen the bloggers talk about yet though:

Beyond the business model, another huge strength of Google’s approach is that it more closely resembles a traditional encyclopedia and in that way becomes more useful in the classroom and citations. If you have credible authors writing bylined posts, you get credible information.

Many teachers and professors have told me that they have banned Wikipedia from the classroom, homework assignments, and paper citations. If Google gives space to acknowledged experts, it is actually eating into the market of encyclopedias. It is spreading knowledge. And when someone asks you where you learned a piece of information, you would no longer have to say meekly, Wikipedia. You could name an expert.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Wiki Rival: Transparency

Google is in the process of developing a rival to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that allows users to post entries with handles, effectively giving them a degree of anonymity when they post. On the upside, that means someone with intimate knowledge of a subject might be able to contribute even if that person has sensitivities about doing so in public. But Wikipedia also allows anonymous editors to change or delete entries.

It seems that the Google rival service would do away with both of these aspects. First, the service would promote bylined entries:

Google asserts that the Web's development so far has neglected the importance of the bylined author.

"We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content," wrote Udi Manber, vice president of engineering, on the official Google blog.

Second, the entries would not be edited by other users but would rather accumulate. The most credible entries would emerge from Google’s search technology:

Entries can't be edited or revised by other people, in contrast to Wikipedia. However, other readers will be able to rank and review others' entries, which will then be interpreted by Google's search engine when displaying results.

According to the New York Times article "Google Develops Wikipedia Rival," Google’s project is in the beta phase. Google has a long way to catch up to Wikipedia in this area. Can they do it?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

In an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, former NBC correspondent David Hazinski offers a sharp rebuke to proponents of "citizen journalism."

The premise of citizen journalism is that regular people can now collect information and pictures with video cameras and cellphones, and distribute words and images over the Internet. Advocates argue that the acts of collecting and distributing makes these people "journalists." This is like saying someone who carries a scalpel is a "citizen surgeon" or someone who can read a law book is a "citizen lawyer." Tools are merely that. Education, skills and stanandards are what really make people into trusted professionals. Information without journalistic standards is called gossip.

I guess the question is: Is that true? Should journalism schools offer certification, as Hazinski suggests, to citizen journalists? Is too much information necessarily always bad? Must news be passed through the filters of giant media conglomerates before it is offered for consumption?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Merging Citizen and Professional Journalism

PRI’s The World reported last night on trends in global news coverage, questioning whether or not foreign bureaus are necessary in the information age. (According to a report by Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center, the number of foreign correspondents at U.S. newspapers fell 25% between 2002 and 2006.)

Given increased attention to global issues post-9/11, some attribute the closures to the corporate media’s alleged desire to place profits over quality reporting. The program highlighted the Hot Zone, an “experiment” by Yahoo! News in which a single photojournalist, Kevin Sites, “will deliver stories via a five-fingered multimedia platform of text, photography, video, audio, and interactive chat - all available on one website.” Sites travels the world with the goal of covering every armed conflict in one year.

While sending a single person out into the field is notably cheaper than operating entire bureaus, many, including John Schidlovsky from Johns Hopkins University’s International Reporting Project, are skeptical:

We’re missing depth. One reason the American media failed in its job of covering the lead up to the war in Iraq miserably was partly because we didn’t have enough good correspondents who were out there telling the American people what was really going on in the Middle East.

The World highlighted another project, France 24’s The Observers, which has professional journalists and editors gathering, editing, and verifying content on the web submitted by citizens around the world, which is then broadcast as news.

The Shorenstein Center recently published a discussion paper on “Journalism without Journalists,” in which Michael Maier, former Sagan Fellow at the Center, comments on the integration of citizen journalism and open source media into mainstream press:

I would definitely consider bloggers--who dedicated themselves to unconditional freedom early on--to be outside the media. And I hope they are able to stay there, so that their minds can remain open and their speech remain truly free. Several attempts have been made to integrate bloggers into old institutions in order to inject fresh air, but it was not the traditional media that changed through these efforts. Rather, the bloggers lost their spicy language and became tame to please their old-news bosses. The blog as a truly independent, stand-alone format should be kept alive in all it’s uniqueness. [sic]

Bloggers are descendants of the European “Pamphletistes” who in the Age of Enlightenment wrote excessive and unrestrained polemics. The old media would be wise to encourage bloggers to stay independent, but building some kind of connection may be beneficial—the anarchy and irreverence of the blog world invigorates journalism tremendously.

You can see France 24’s editors debate the merit of professionally edited blog content as journalism here.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Corporate Bloggers Launch "Blog Council"

A group of big corporate bloggers has formed a Blog Council to "help corporate blogging efforts become more successful." Their press release indicates a little about their mission and method:

The Blog Council exists as a forum for executives to meet one another in a private, vendor-free environment and share tactics, offer advice based on past experience, and develop standards-based best practices as a model for other corporate blogs.

And here are a couple interesting excerpts from the FAQ:
7. Is this an ethics organization?
Our purpose is to help our members develop effective policies and learn from each other. Teaching ethical best practices will be a core part of our program. The Blog Council is a community, not a trade association, so we don't set or enforce polices [sic].

8. Are you trying to 'regulate' or 'police' the blogosphere?
Absolutely not. The Blog Council is a peer community where we learn from each other. We have no intention of creating policy or regulating anyone. The opposite is actually the case ... we help companies learn to work with the existing standards of blog ethics set by the free and open blogosphere.

It being a brand new initiative these are probably QWFAO (Questions We Frequently Ask Ourselves), so I'd like to see them define their terms a little further. A Google search for the exact phrase "existing standards of blog ethics" gave me zero results. A search for "free and open blogosphere" yielded six results, one of which is a fascinating article on "The cost of ethics: Influence peddling in the blogosphere" by J. D. Lasica in Online Journalism Review from the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication. That article was a lucky find because it mentions the Word of Mouth Marketing Association's Ethics Code, and WOMMA was founded by Andy Sernovitz, the guy who's also behind Blog Council.

For further reading, here's a Technorati page collecting the blog buzz on the Blog Council. There's definitely some skepticism floating around about why this initiative is proceeding mostly behind closed doors, and if that's even useful for the participants given the messy, public, interactive nature of blogging. But I guess that strategy is not so farfetched in light of the sensitive proprietary information that companies deal with and the uncertainty some must feel when opening up to blogs.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

China's "Mental Firewall"

Today’s Wall Street Journal reported on bloggers in China and touched on two important issues discussed previously on the Ethical Blogger: trust and credibility on the Internet in China and the blogger Zola’s influential corruption coverage. The main emphasis of today’s WSJ article, however, was on the role of self-censorship, rather than government controls, as a hurdle to free speech on the Internet:

China’s 162 million Internet users are a largely young and wealthy set who typically aren’t engaged in politics. Most don’t seem intent on accessing the sort of content that would upset the authorities. They are busy amassing virtual weapons in online games and posting photos to blogs.

But when content does get political, the government doesn’t have to do all the censoring itself…

China’s Confucian values teach respect for authority and the subordination of the individual to the family and state. In China’s rigid education system, young people rarely are encouraged to express their opinions. And people have learned to keep quiet as political orthodoxies changed with the wind over the decades, with leaders coming into power, then falling out of favor as new regimes installed themselves. Finding yourself on the wrong side could lead to punishment, including exile and jail.

The Chinese government has made it very clear to the public that the tradition of harsh punishment for dissidence extends into cyberspace. In addition to placing rigid barriers to market entry on Internet companies, making it difficult for independent Internet service and content providers to compete with State controlled entities, the Chinese government has laid out rigid regulations for companies and individual Internet users to follow. Companies that skirt the rules can be subject to fines of up to RMB 50,000, closure of sites, and revocation of business licenses, while in extreme cases, individual cyberdissidents have been sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. This alone has deterred a number of Internet users from pushing their limits.

In some instances the line between self-censorship and government censorship is blurred. A May 2006 New York Times article entitled “As Chinese Students Go Online, Little Sister Is Watching spotlights Hu Yingying, a student at Shanghai Normal University who monitors the university’s discussion boards and steers conversation away from politics or other sensitive topics:

Part traffic cop, part informer, part discussion moderator — and all without the knowledge of her fellow students — Ms. Hu is a small part of a huge national effort to sanitize the Internet. For years China has had its Internet police, reportedly as many as 50,000 state agents who troll online, blocking Web sites, erasing commentary and arresting people for what is deemed anti-Communist Party or antisocial speech.

But Ms. Hu, one of 500 students at her university's newly bolstered, student-run Internet monitoring group, is a cog in a different kind of force, an ostensibly all-volunteer one that the Chinese government is mobilizing to help it manage the monumental task of censoring the Web.

These tactics haven’t completely eliminated sensitive political discussion. Cyberdissidents in China use email spamming techniques to dispense information. Li Hongkuan, who goes by the alias Richard Long, began sending a newsletter called VIP Reference News out to roughly 250,000 people in via email. His newsletter is actually a banned website, but Li is able to provide his otherwise unavailable information to the masses because email recipients can claim that it was unsolicited and avoid punishment (although some suppliers of email addresses were jailed). Other modern communications tools like text messaging have been crucial to organizing protests, and since cell phone use is more widespread than the Internet in China’s rural areas, this may for now be a better tool for disseminating information and mobilizing the masses.

So perhaps blogs don’t provide complete insight into the spectrum of controversial activities going on in authoritarian regimes, as dissidents may be finding it more beneficial to spread their influence through multiple communications outlets.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Baghdad Fabulists, Left and Right

In August, covered the conservative mil- and political bloggers' outrage by the possibility that Army private Scott Beauchamp, who had been sending dispatches to the New Republic, had actually fabricated his horrific and vivid accounts of life as a soldier in Iraq. Since then, Scott has supposedly recanted his statements; then not recanted; then admitted to simply wanting to 'use his experiences to enhance his writing and provide legitimacy to his work possibly becoming the next Hemingway'. Since then the New Republic has come under intense scrutiny from conservative bloggers, calling a clear violation of ethical reporting of the war; how could a publication with the credibility such as TNR fail to do an adequate fact-check before publishing Beauchamp's dispatches? With multiple accusations of censorship, editor Franklin Foer recently published a 14-page long explanation of the events as understood by those involved at TNR (including, somewhat famously, Beauchamp's wife):

In the New Republic case, Foer acknowledged a key "mistake" in checking on whether Beauchamp lied or exaggerated in writing that U.S. soldiers had made fun of a disfigured woman, run over dogs for sport and played with an Iraqi child's skeletal remains. Foer said Beauchamp's wife, Elspeth Reeve, then a researcher at the magazine, was assigned "a large role" in checking the story. While Reeve acted in good faith, he said, "there was a clear conflict of interest."
Ultimately, TNR concludes with the following:
When I [Foer] last spoke with Beauchamp in early November, he continued to stand by his stories. Unfortunately, the standards of this magazine require more than that. And, in light of the evidence available to us, after months of intensive re-reporting, we cannot be confident that the events in his pieces occurred in exactly the manner that he described them. Without that essential confidence, we cannot stand by these stories.
After going through such intense public (and online) criticism, TNR may have just had its day: reports are coming in that the same thing is happening over at the National Review Online. The NRO's editor Kathryn Jean Lopez is declaring that this is hardly the same situation as TNR's case of the 'Baghdad Fabulist'. Though the story over at NRO seems yet to be over (despite Lopez's claims), one uncomfortable admission from Lopez seems to be making some waves in the blogging community:
As one of our sources put it: “The Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate about enemies is alive and well among pro-American Lebanese Christians as much as it is with the likes of Hamas.” While Smith vouches for his sources, we cannot independently verify what they told him. That’s why we’re revisiting the posts in question and warning readers to take them with a grain of salt.
If Smith was too trusting of his sources, that is a journalistic faux pas of an entirely different sort. It does not, contrary to some bloggers’ claims, make him a fabulist.
Yikes! Is how they write it over at New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer. And Jeff Bercovici over at Portfolio also seems to find this defense troubling, if not altogether racist:

So that's what happened! Here's Smith, doing his job like a good reporter, when along come those Arabs with their "Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate" and trip him up. Gotcha. If only he'd remembered this, NRO-approved simple rule of thumb: Unlike everybody else, Arabs lie!

Oh, and as for that "doing his job" part, that's only true if you define his job as "sneaking into Hezbollah bases and stealing their property, thereby endangering all Western reporters in the region."

I'm curious to know what will happen with this particular case with the NRO, post-TNR debacle. For all of Beauchamp's horrific statements with regard to what he saw and did, TNR initially granted him the freedom to say what he wanted to say without casting judgment upon the content of his own views or stories. But with the NRO, it seems as if the support for Smith goes beyond what TNR did for Beauchamp, venturing into a sticky territory lined with institutionally-based racism. Given conservative bloggers backlash at TNR, I'll be interested to see how leftist bloggers respond to the NRO, for when asked by the New York Times if he was experiencing any joy over the NRO's own troubles, Foer had responded: "I have a feeling of how difficult this situation must be for them, and I wish them luck in resolving it."

Monday, December 3, 2007

South African Journalist Fired for Blogging

South African journalist Llewellyn Kriel was fired from the newspaper Sowetan last Thursday after blogging about the company's mismanagement on Thought Leader. The official reasoning was that Kriel disclosed confidential information about Sowetan, which the company sent out in an email to employees. Others, Kriel included, viewed the decision as an infringement on freedom of expression. Journalist Arthur Goldstuck quotes Kriel:

“Here is an organisation whose entire existence is premised on freedom of expression. It’s an organisation that continually calls on private and public institutions to account for their behaviour. Yet, they don’t want to be measured by that yardstick.

“If a company is putting out a moratorium on new appointments, surely this is something you can argue is in the public interest to be known? Nothing in the email, and nothing in the way it was distributed, gave any indication of sensitivity or confidentiality at all.”

Sowetan published an article just a week earlier on employees' constitutional right to criticize their employer's management practices.

Andrew Trench ponders what the case may signal for the future of intellectual property rights:

WiIl we see employment contracts in media restricting staff from blogging without the permission of their employer, much like freelance writing clauses which are pretty standard in contracts these days?

What if a staff writer developed a popular blog independently within their own time and was able to sell advertising to generate income from it? How would this be dealt with?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Social Networking for the Socially Exclusive

Are you a high net-worth individual that just can't find a place online to connect with people you feel comfortable with? Feeling unfulfilled by the stodgier trappings of wealth and privilege? Want to get in on the social networking phenomenon, but just don't want to mix and mingle with the nouveau riche? Rest assured, there IS a place for you.

There are several, in fact. As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, "a new crop of social networking sites has taken aim at the rich, seeking to create exclusive Web communities of like-moneyed friends."

Interested parties should apply to the Diamond Lounge and A Small World. But be warned, the barriers to entry are high. And as with many social networking sites, members find much to complain about.

One member recently posted the question: "Is it just me, but lately I see people on ASW who really shouldn't be there. Who invites these people? We should be selective who to invite. What about quality control?" Another member wrote: "In the real world, we are each discerning about who we make friends with, who we socialize with. There is no reason why when we come online we should have to socialize with truck drivers etc. from hick parts of the USA."
What was it Groucho Marx said about membership in these types of clubs?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Iranian blogger in bow-wow row

Under some interpretations of Islamic law, dogs are considered unclean animals. (N.B.: As with many aspects of the Holy Quran, there is considerable, complex debate over this. You can read examples here, here and here.)

A story first appeared in The Guardian on November 20 revealing the use of bomb-sniffing security dogs by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's security detail. Now, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is reporting that Iranian blogger Reza Valizadeh is being detained by authorities after blogging about the purchase of 4 German dogs by the president's security staff.

Arash Kamangir reports on that Valizadeh is being held on charges of "acting against public security as well as disruption of public opinion."

From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report:

Valizadeh's arrest comes two days after dozens of Iranian journalists and intellectuals issued a statement to protest the jailing of journalists who are critical of the Iranian government.

One of the signatories, journalist Issa Saharkhiz, told Radio Farda on November 26 that a government crackdown on journalists has intensified in recent months. "There are some who are sitting and thinking of ways to fill up Iran's prisons. Unfortunately, we now see this not only in Tehran but also in the provinces," Saharkhiz said.

Saharkhiz added that journalists and media workers have lost their jobs as a result, and society has been limited to a "single voice."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Grand Old Party's lookin' for somebody who can lead...

So begins the first video to introduce the Republican candidates at last night's CNN/YouTube debate. Poring through just under five thousand submissions (4,926 in all) to YouTube, journalists in CNN's political unit pared down the numbers until they hit 34. (and given all the banter over the Boston Red Sox, maybe that has some significance. hmm.) Meaning, roughly, that just under 1% of the videos were going to be seen by the candidates. Or, unless after doing an extensive and exhaustive search on YouTube, anybody who watched the debate. (CNN reportedly pulled many of the videos from the public for review.)

With more than two thousand more entries for the Republican debate than for the Democrats' debate in July, are Republicans just that much more YouTube savvy than the Democrats, or is this model really allowing citizens to get the issues most important to them out in the open? Is this kind of user-generated video debate the best way to spark activism and interest in politics? And is it actually working?

The New York Times's blog coverage of the presidential race did a nice job of explaining the "behind-the-scenes" action when it came to deciding what videos got picked. An interview with CNN Washington bureau chief and one of the executive producers of the debate David Bohrman revealed that a lot of careful reviewing and editorial decisions went into selecting the final videos. In a similar article on Broadcasting & Cable, despite the perhaps more democratic flavor of selecting the debate questions, the focus remained on:

"... a serious debate, a Republican debate," Bohrman added. "We're going to weed out the obvious sort of Democratic gotcha grenades that are there to just be disruptive. The campaigns were all nervous that there'd be this leftist Web Democratic sense of the questions, and we're going to weed that part out."
In the aftermath of the debate, viewer responses haven't been too kind. In a post this morning on The Caucus (at NYT), Amanda Huber who describes herself as a "Democrat who often votes Republican" said:

I missed the first hour of debate, and so I watched the analysis afterward to hear some of what I missed. What I heard was that there were no questions about education, health care, Iran or energy! What? The Democrats talked at length about several of these subjects. What is CNN doing?

Are the Democrats getting the meaty, hardball questions that the candidates can use to really define themselves, and the Republicans get a bunch of nonsense questions that they will essentially all agree on?

And "Hank" responded to the above-mentioned collection of viewers' impressions, offering a somewhat more exasperated take:
Anderson Cooper was better than Wolf Blitzer but the questions and questioners CNN chose to show were cartoonish, silly and stereotyped. A guy with the Confederate flag in his bedroom? Come on! A guy brandishing a rifle and making a mock threat asking about gun control? Give me a break! An arrogant question about the bible? Oy! If these people truly represent the base of the Republican Party then they are in even worse trouble than anyone thought. Why not choose questioners who are normal, serious and thoughtful and who represent most of America, not the goofballs who populate YouTube and the internet.
Janis Hotham via the Huffington Post had a few good insights yesterday before the debate aired:
With 5000 questions and only 40 being picked to air during the debate, are we getting a fair representation of what people really want to ask? A quick scroll of YouTube's feature site for the upcoming debate shows mostly males sitting in front of their computers with questions about the national debt, social security, and what the role of government should be in the years to come. Bohrman said so-called "lobbying questions" about gay marriage and abortion won't be considered, despite the bickering between candidates about their nuanced and past positions on those issues. What does that leave?

It will be interesting to see if this debate that marries classic questions with more new media, and whether that will stay true to CNN's vision of a "serious" Republican debate. Of course, it's much easier to craft that kind of debate when you have 5000 nearly identical questions at your hands.

In theory, and to some extent in practice, the sheer number of videos submitted is a positive; people want to be involved, want to raise awareness for the issues they find important. To easily produce and upload for free a video message to the next potential president (and have it be answered on national TV, no less) is appealing, exciting. For me, personally, the jury is still out. At the end of the day, the 'average Joe' image that these debates try to promote is misleading. You can access all of the used videos from both debates on the YouTube YouChoose '08 website, but where is the breakdown for all of the videos submitted? Of the more than 99% of videos that we aren't seeing, what are the issues that are coming up most? What are 'the people' talking about, concerned about? What aren't we seeing and why not?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tales from the online darkside

The AP is reporting that as many as one in three children in the US have been a victim of what is being called cyberbullying. This comes hard on the heels of the much publicized case of Megan Meier, a 13 year-old from suburban St. Louis who committed suicide last year after believing that a boyfriend she met on MySpace had broken up with her. The boyfriend was later revealed to have been a hoax creation of Meier's 47 year-old neighbor Lori Drew. The story received widespread coverage in the national media. Local authorities declined to charge Ms. Drew with any crime, but the local Board of Alderman chose this week to pass an ordinance making online harassment punishable with up to 90 days in jail.

On a related noted, I noticed a story on the Blogging Ethics newscrawl installed this week on the lower right hand corner of this page by Devin Stewart. This from OKC Friday, which bills itself as "the Newspaper for Oklahoma's Trendsetters":

A Village woman’s nasty blog posting was met with real life threats that led to Village Police sending out a metro-wide notice regarding a potentially dangerous person. On Oct. 17, a woman called police to report receiving threatening email messages. According to reports, the woman suspected the messages came from another woman who had been involved with the caller’s ex-husband. She told police she had written bad things about the other woman on her MySpace page and, although she did not name names in the posting, thought the subject of the postings had somehow found them and knew they were about her.
You can read the rest here.

Two examples of the anonymous world of the internet spilling over into the "real world" with tragic consequences. Have you been bullied online? Do you consider this a tolerable byproduct of the freedom of expression that the internet provides?

Ethical Blogging vs. Email

We all know what a hassle it is to wade through hundreds of pieces a spam every week in your inbox just to keep up with your legitimate email correspondence. A Wall Street Journal article yesterday titled “Email’s Friendly Fire” has identified “colleague spam,” email from your coworkers who always press the “reply all” button. The article goes on to offer some solutions in the form of email sorting technology such as ClearContext.

Are we witnessing the death of email? Can blogs help out?

I always suspected the day would come when email would begin to die. First, with the wave of spam growing every year, legitimate email gets lost in the tide. There was an excellent article in the New Yorker in August describing this phenomenon called “Damn Spam: The losing war on junk e-mail”:

As the Web evolves into an increasingly essential part of American life, the sheer volume of spam grows exponentially every year, and so, it would appear, do the sophisticated methods used to send it. Nearly two million e-mails are dispatched every second, a hundred and seventy-one billion messages a day. Most of those messages have something to sell.

Second, corporate spam filters aren’t always accurate in identifying which emails are spam and which are not. I have witnessed several cases in which spam filters have gone berserk in the past few weeks inside my office and at the offices of others. The bottom line is: When you hit that “send” button on email, you can’t be so sure the recipient will get it, open it, and read it. Finally, the addressee can always claim, “I never got your email.”

Why not shift the responsibility on the readers by posting everything on blogs? Indeed, as you know, one of the origins of the blog in its current form was from an ah-ha moment: People emailing to one another discovered that the discussion thread amounted to something of value and thought the discussion could be posted publicly. Many corporations are trying out internal blogs as ways to share ideas and innovations, thus reducing the amount of “colleague spam,” I would hope—assuming their idea was more than “Brownies in the kitchen.”

Essentially communication is diversifying at a rapid pace. Chad Lorenz of Slate magazine declared “The Death of Email” just a few weeks ago. We communicators are hedging against the risk that email may not be infallible. Twitter, Facebook, text messaging, and blogs, I would argue amount to a communications potpourri. The great thing about blogs (and Facebook for that matter) is that you can see your post as soon as it goes online. “I didn’t get the message” can be a thing of the past if people trust the integrity of their message to be viewed by the public.

Perhaps a transparent blog posting in lieu of a secretive email message could save people from becoming victims of embarrassing gossip or other affairs. For private matters, it might be best to make a phone call or do what's sometimes called "Facebook in the flesh."

Blogger Garrett Graff to Speak at Carnegie Council

Hey Ethical Bloggers,

One more announcement: For those of you living in the New York City area, the Carnegie Council would like to invite you to a Dec. 6 evening talk by Garrett Graff, the first blogger to be admitted to cover a White House press briefing.

To attend, please sign up here. (There is a fee to attend.)

Here is the information:

The Carnegie Council presents:

A discussion of “The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House”


Garrett M. Graff

Thursday, December 6, 2007
5:30pm – 7:00pm
Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
Merrill House
170 East 64th Street
New York, NY 10065-7478

The emergence of the Web as a political tool has shaken up the campaign process, leaving front-runners vulnerable right up until Election Day. How will the two major parties take advantage of this new technology? And how instrumental will technology be in deciding the outcome of the 2008 Presidential campaign?

Garrett M. Graff is editor-at-large at Washingtonian Magazine and covers media and politics. He was also the founding editor of’s Fishbowl D.C. (, a blog that covers the media and journalism in Washington. As the first blogger admitted to cover a White House press briefing, he is a frequent speaker on blogging and the intersection of politics and technology. He served as deputy national press secretary on Howard Dean's presidential campaign and, beginning in 1997, was then-Governor Dean's first webmaster.

Presentations begin at 5:30 PM, followed by a question-and-answer session at 6:00 PM and a reception from 6:30 to 7:00 PM.

NYU Center Joins Ethical Blogger Project

Dear Ethical Bloggers,

As you may have noticed, New York University’s Center for Global Affairs joined the roster of institutions participating in the Ethical Blogger Project. We are seeking additional institutions worldwide, so if you have suggestions, please let us know. Please send ideas to Devin Stewart at the Carnegie Council or post them on this blog. The plan is to convene meetings around the world to engage publics in every region on this topic over the course of the next two years.

We are very encouraged that a part of the NYU community, with its global reach and superb academic reputation in law, media, business, and international relations has joined us.

Here is the announcement:

NYU’s Center for Global Affairs (CGA) is pleased to join the Ethical Blogger Project, a collaboration created by Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Demos—The Think Tank for Everyday Democracy, and Oxford University's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Launched in the heart of lower Manhattan in 2004 on a tradition of global affairs education begun in 1984, the Center for Global Affairs at NYU facilitates change by educating and inspiring its community to become global citizens capable of identifying and implementing solutions to pressing global challenges. Through rigorous graduate and non–degree programs and provocative public events, the CGA prepares global citizens who will be at home–and thus be effective agents of change–in diverse environments around the world.

“We founded the Center for Global Affairs on the principle that ‘global’ and ‘international’ are different in important ways,” says Vera Jelinek, CGA divisional dean. “Understanding these differences informs our mission of creating global citizens and demands that we engage our community in a deep and meaningful examination of ethics at every level. The Ethical Blogger Project focuses a critical spotlight on ethics and new media and is a perfect fit for our students and our mission. We are delighted to engage in this exciting project with such outstanding peer institutions.”

For more information on the Center for Global Affairs, please visit the site or call 212.992.8380.

November 27, 2007
New York University
New York, NY

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Convention Blogger Corps

Democrats and Republicans will both make more room for bloggers at their respective conventions next year. "The Democrats are starting a state blogger corps, with credentials going to 56 blogs, one from each state plus the territories," reports Katharine Q. Seelye in the New York Times. Many other bloggers will also get credentials for the DNC in Denver, and hundreds more are expected in the mix of convention-goers.

The presence of more bloggers is itself part of the narrative, feeding into the media's love of self-analysis. Seelye writes that we will see "more stories by the media about the media covering the media." The whole endeavor will be a great test case for the effects that blogs have on our political perceptions. Imagine the snapshot mosaic of all the bloggers' comments on a particular speech. Will they align or diverge? Which details will prove salient?

The Colorado blogosphere has teamed up with to host an adjunct blogger hangout across the street from the convention. Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas put in a plug for the alternative location, citing the security nightmare as a deterrent to convention access. Blogging from a safe distance is indicative of the state of fear in America. During the 2004 RNC, midtown Manhattan was a ghost town populated mostly by police. Echoes of FDR's first inaugural address seem pretty relevant.

Monday, November 26, 2007

UK tells MySpace generation: You might regret that hearfelt blog confession

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is the UK's independent authority set up to promote access to official information and to protect personal information. On Friday, the ICO released the results of a survey whose findings suggest that teenagers are recklessly posting personal information, photos, diaries and blog comments on social networking sites, blogs and personal web pages. These posts, the agency warns, may come back to haunt teenagers:

As many as four and a half million young people (71%) would not want a college, university or potential employer to conduct an internet search on them unless they could first remove content from social networking sites, according to new research by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). But almost six in 10 have never considered that what they put online now might be permanent and could be accessed years into the future.

In this case, young people are defined as 14-21 years old.

David Smith, Deputy Commissioner for the ICO, said: "Many young people are posting content online without thinking about the electronic footprint they leave behind. The cost to a person’s future can be very high if something undesirable is found by the increasing number of education institutions and employers using the internet as a tool to vet potential students or employees."
An argument in favor of anonymity perhaps? (Devin Stewart has written extensively on the debate over online anonymity. You can join the conversation here.)

The ICO has launched a new site to help UK teens safely navigate the online space? Will it work? Could government possibly know more than teenagers about social networking? Does the internet make it easier for teens to make foolish choices? Haven't parents always worried that kids will make tragic mistakes in their teenage years and "Throw their life away?"

You tell me. Just be careful what you write........

Photo by Annie in Beziers under terms of Creative Commons.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Is Lurking Ethical?

Hey Ethical Bloggers,

I added a Google newsfeed below and called it Ethical Blogger News. An interesting essay showed up from the New York Times: "In Defense of Lurking" (on the Web). Here is Virginia Heffernan's argument:

Which brings me to my lurking problem. I can’t tell whether lurking is a devious violation of Web ethics or a return to luxurious nonparticipatory reading. I do know it seems indulgent. When I lurk, I relax, fall silent, become a cosseted 19th-century baroness whose electronic servants bring her funny pictures and distracting tales. I have no responsibilities. I’m entirely on intake.

In participatory media, is it OK to sit on the sidelines? Is lurking ethical?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Diplomatic Blogging

Last week it was announced that the State Department’s new Digital Outreach Team has entered the blogosphere to counter misperceptions about U.S. foreign policy in the Arab world, with plans to expand into Persian and Urdu blogs as well.

According to an article that appeared in Reuters today:

The Digital Outreach Team's job is to spring into action when they see bloggers on Arabic-language sites maligning the U.S. and casting aspersions on U.S. policies.

Duncan MacInnis, the man in charge of the team, described it as "an initiative to counter ideological support for terrorism."

Government bloggers "speak the language and idiom of the region, know the cultural reference points and are often able to converse informally and frankly rather than adopt the usually more formal persona of a U.S. government spokesman," he said.

"This is a major departure from our previous ways of conducting public diplomacy. It requires both creativity and a new set of skills."

A Washington Post article from earlier this week touched on the anonymity issue:

Even though the State Department employees were not going into hard-core terrorist sites, the worry, MacInnes said, was that after identifying themselves and using their own names, "we would be, in the parlance of the Internet, 'flamed' when we come on" -- meaning their entries would be subjected to intense attacks.

They were not, and there were such posts as, "We don't like your policies but we're sure glad you're here talking to us about it," MacInnes said. As a result, State is expanding the team to six speakers of Arabic, two of Persian and one of Urdu.
As well as moderating:
“Because blogging tends to be a very informal, chatty way of working," MacInnes said, "it is actually very dangerous to blog." So State has a senior experienced officer, who served in Iraq, acting as supervisor and discussing each posting before it goes up.
But it doesn’t talk about how the Digital Outreach Team ensures that others know who their true members are. Someone posing as Condoleezza Rice for a TV or newspaper interview would easily be found out- it may not be that easy on the blogosphere.

This counterterrrorism tactic further illustrates how powerful blogs have become and brings up issues of blogging ethics with potentially high stakes.

Blogalization and its Discontents

A recent commenter travelling by the name I, Candyman, took sophisticated umbrage at my use of the term "blogosphere" to describe the imagined online community of weblogs, wikis and other such media that comprise our object of study.

"Oh wow. Every time I read the word 'blogosphere', a little part of my soul dies," he wrote.

Ever since, I have been toying with the idea of a new post titled "Blogosphere," comprising nothing more than an infinite repetition of the word "blogosphere" separated by double spaces. (Just to see what would happen.)

Instead, I give you an entirely new, evocative and likely annoying word-scramble for the Candymen of the world to seethe at: Blogalization.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Syria blocks access to Facebook

In my last post, I mentioned the wonderful site Global Voices Online -- a sort of clearinghouse for international blogs. The site "aggregates, curates, and amplifies the global conversation online – shining light on places and people other media often ignore."

And fair play to them.

At the top of Global Voices tonight is this post from Amira Al Hussaini, detailing the censorship in Syria of the social networking site Facebook. (Access to Google's Blogger, which hosts The Ethical Blogger, is also blocked in Syria.) Hussaini links us to the Syrian blogger Golaniya, who claims to be "neither an 'Arab' nor a 'Syrian', not even a 'female'." She blogs "for the right to be a citizen."

What follows is bold, brave and truly inspiring.

...recently there has been a cultural awakening [in Syria]; people are starting to organize their interests in concerts, galleries, conferences, plays, screenings…etc. and Facebook is facilitating the process which is very hard to do in an inactive militarily controlled society. There are no cultural institutions in Syria, no private independent NGOs, no civic institutions, who represent the populations except the government? Syrian Facebookers are trying now to represent themselves. Those who cannot be activists in a "real" Syria can be one in a virtual Syria. Facebook is becoming a tool to bring together these very individuals to promote their socially, religiously and politically prohibited thoughts. We are not talking about blocking of a social networking tool, we are talking about blocking an awareness networking tool, a chance to express, to finally speak and do something about it. It's high time to demand our right to seek ALL and ANY information regardless of its source, we have the mind to decide for ourselves what we should/should not read or believe.We have the right to organize ourselves and activate our numb citizenship. We want to be socially and politically active. We want to campaign for human rights, we want to be civilians instead of abstract "Syrians," instead of mere Muslims and Christians. We want to engage in building our nation. We don’t want to be permitted to act; we want to be voluntarily and spontaneously acting. We want to be doers and actors. We want Syria uncensored!

As we discourse here on the appropriate use of profanity and anonymity in fora such as this, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that freedom of expression remains out of reach in some corners of the globe.

As Ian Bremmer points out so eloquently in his book The J Curve, authoritarian regimes rely heavily on state control of the media to keep the citizenry in the dark.

...the slightest influence on their citizens from the outside could push the most rigid...states toward instability. If half the people of North Korea saw 20 minutes of CNN (or of al Jazeera for that matter), they would realize how egregiously their government lies to them about life beyond the walls. That realization would provoke widespread social upheaval. The slightest improvement in the ability of a country’s citizens to communicate with one another—the introduction of telephones, email, or text-messaging into an authoritarian state—can likewise undermine the state’s monopoly on information.

No doubt the Syrian regime feels mortally threatened by the latent power of sites such as Facebook. It is not hard to see how easily the political opposition in Syria (such as it is) could leverage these sites, both at home and abroad, to destabilize the government of Bashar al-Assad. Even the lowliest technology (think of the role of the cassette tape in the Iranian revolution of 1979) can conceivably be employed to illuminate "life behind the walls."

We should acknowledge and commend the brave struggle of dissidents such as Golaniya.

Blog Ethics du Jour

In their article Searching for the Ethical Blogger, Devin Stewart and Matthew Hennessey ask a key question that this blog and its related project hope to explore: "Which ethical standard should govern the blogosphere? Is it necessary to choose, or can multiple codes coexist?"

Perhaps a boiled down code of basic principles is possible, but would it cover the spiciness of the blogosphere or just reheat the well-worn sole of free speech? Personally I'm pitching my hat with multiple codes. I think it's the practical and democratic option, more in step with Internet culture, and more ethical. At the Carnegie Council we sometimes look at ethics as the expansion of choice, and I think that's a solid footing from which to evaluate blog behavior and collect resources and thinking on the topic.

Multiple codes is practical first of all because of diversity. Blogs are owned and authored by too many people from too many different countries for too many different purposes to make applicability or enforcement of a single code possible or desirable. It's ethical because it's something people opt for, not something imposed upon them.

From that starting point we can start to piece together some of the structure of what an á la carte code of blog ethics might entail.

APPETIZERS (Your opening choices)
Anonymous and Pseudonymous Blogging: Very tasty option under repressive regimes.
Transparency: This clear soup lets everyone know who you are, what you're an expert on, why they should care, and how they can contact you in case something unpalatable happens.

MAIN DISHES (You could skip this course, but it's best not to.)
No illegal content or activity: libel, child pornography, trafficking delicious endangered species, etc.
Disclosure: If you're blogging about sensitive information, do you have a conflict of interest?

DESSERTS (Tasty but not necessary)
Comments Policy: Moderated or unmoderated? What is allowed, what is deleted?
Copyright Policy: Are you using traditional copyright or sharing your work with the Creative Commons?
Your Blog's Ethics: Share the recipe! If you've chosen certain principles, post them prominently.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

More on Anonymity

We are fortunate to have sparked quite a lively debate on this blog. We got a lot of love from Google. Last week our magazine Policy Innovations was accepted by Google as a news source and Google's Blogger named The Ethical Blogger a "blog of note," triggering a flood of traffic and comments.

One of the biggest areas of debate so far has been about the utility of anonymous postings. I originally called for general transparency in the blogosphere here and mused on the counter intuitive credibility an anonymous blogger can have in oppressive environments, such as in China. We also had a touching comment from a teacher in the New York school system who was sanctioned for writing an op-ed, using a professional email address. Here is an excerpt:

I hate the feeling that in this country, a supposedly free country, that people must hide behind anonymous names.

I, too, hate the namecalling and animosity I read in debate. We can disagree without bashing the person; we can converse without rude language.

This is a topic I care about personally and professionally. How can students learn to debate and converse when all around them they see venomous attacks and language not worthy of intelligent thought?
This is a complicated case, as they all are, because this teacher tried to do the right thing but was caught in school system politics. I am not sure if this advice is applicable, but Tim O'Reilly has discussed anonymity quite a bit on his blog thread on developing a Blogger's Code of Conduct.

One of his codes of conduct is to connect privately before we respond publicly: "When we encounter conflicts and misrepresentation in the blogosphere, we make every effort to talk privately and directly to the person(s) involved--or find an intermediary who can do so--before we publish any posts or comments about the issue."

From the lessons he learned so far, he notes on anonymity:
Another place where we clearly erred in the first draft is in the suggestion that anonymity should be forbidden, as there are most certainly contexts where anonymity is incredibly valuable. (Some that come to mind include whistleblowing, political dissent, or even general discussion where someone might not want to confuse their personal opinions of those of an organization to which they belong. As one commenter remarked, it might even be useful for a shy person to whom anonymity gives a bit of courage.)

Like the New York Times Public Editor (read Matthew Hennessey's post on this topic here), O'Reilly concludes that civility is therefore of utmost importance:
But I believe that civility is catching, and so is uncivility. If it's tolerated, it gets worse. There is no one blogging community, just like there is no one community in a big city. But as Sara Winge, our VP of Corporate Communications pointed out, it's not an accident that "Civil" is also the first two syllables of "civilization." What's more, when an exchange of ideas turns into an exchange of insults, everyone loses.
Without civility, a few bad apples ruin the Internet for everyone.

Student bloggers monitor Hong Kong elections

Rebecca MacKinnon is a former journalist and co-founder of the international citizen's media community Global Voices Online. Currently she is Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Hong Kong. Her blog is called Rconversation. As I write this Sunday, her students are spread out around the city monitoring local district council elections in Hong Kong. You can follow events as they unfold at the blog MacKinnon set up for her young citizen journalists. Click here for MacKinnon's real-time aggregation of other local blogger's observations on the election. MacKinnon:

Quite a number of my students' stories have quoted pro-democratic candidates complaining that the pro-China camp has better resources to reach out to the grassroots, while pro-China candidates have questioned who is more "democratic"
than whom...
She offers a link to an english translation of a thought-provoking blog post by Jasper Tsang Yok-sing titled Democracy in Need of Emergency Help:
"Democracy needs emergency help"? This is a risible slogan. In an open, fair and just election, it is a victory for democracy no matter who wins. It is a basic concept in the believe [sic] of the people and democracy. The people who need emergency cannot be democrats, for they can only be those people who wave the flag of "democracy" but are unwilling to do the practical work to gain the support of the voters.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Blogosphere 101 for Grandma and Grandpa

This weekend, Parade magazine introduces millions of behind-the-curve Americans for the first time to the web technology that is changing politics. For many, this will be an eye-opening first encounter with YouTube, MySpace and Google. A good many still won't get it. It's a generational thing.

You know Parade as the floppy little insert that falls out of your Sunday paper and offers middle-of-the-road profiles of mainstream celebrities like Keri Russell, Drew Carey and Lucy Liu. Official circulation: 32 million. Estimated Weekly Readership: 71 million. Hardly small potatoes. Here's the opening paragraph of "You Have the Power," by Michael Scherer:

In this new Internet age, democracy means much more than a trip to the polls. Every day at personal computers across the nation, people are speaking back to their politicians—posting essays and videos that will be seen by thousands, organizing their neighbors and delving deep into the issues they care about on their own terms.
While this will hardly seem like breaking news (or required reading) to denizens of the blogosphere, it will certainly clarify a few things for some members of the so-called "old school." It should be noted that in 2004 the 65-74 year-old voter cohort was the most active in terms of turnout -- nearly 75 per cent voted.

Is it safe to assume that most of the online politicking so characteristic of this election cycle is geared toward relatively young, web-savvy voters? Yet, less than half of 18-24 year-olds voted in the last presidential election.

Are the candidates wasting their time online? Shouldn't they be courting the editors of Parade rather than Ariana Huffington or Andrew Sullivan?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

China's Citizen Journalists Check Government Corruption

An article that appeared yesterday in AsiaMedia reports on the third annual China Blogger Conference, with an interesting note on how blogging has helped counter the country's corruption:

After [Zola, a panelist and blogger,] investigated and wrote in April about a couple who refused to accept a below-market price from a real estate development company, traditional Chinese media outlets and overseas press such as The New York Times and Time magazine's The China Blog picked up the story. The issue wasn't only about a big company's business practices, but also about the local government's collusion with businesses in the name of economic growth. According to a Washington Post report, with nationwide media attention, local officials worked to reach a compromise; the developers increased their offer with a ground-floor apartment affording space for the couple's restaurant business and $120,000. The couple accepted. Beijing Youth Daily's weekly tabloid, yWeekend, celebrated the incident as the "birth of citizen journalism."

Zola, who goes by Zhou Muguang when he’s not blogging, has been contacted by other Chinese citizens battling eviction orders all over the country, according to Reuters. Given that traditional media outlets are barred from reporting on high-profile corruption cases, bloggers may be the only hope for those whose land is seized by developers in collusion with local governments.

The Reuters article notes other instances when citizen journalists have stepped in, like demonstrations and disasters. But it also reports that the less rigid restrictions on the Internet have given journalists and impostors an avenue for exploitation:
Authorities jailed four men in October who tried to blackmail a local official by threatening to write incriminating information about government abuse of power in land usage.

In January, a local reporter for a Beijing-based newspaper was beaten to death by hired thugs during an investigation into an unlicensed coal mine in Shanxi province. Officials there said he lacked accreditation and suggested he may have been seeking payoffs in return for not reporting problems at the mine.

Devin Stewart wrote previously about a survey which found that the credibility of Internet media in China is actually derived from its anonymity. At what point will impostors and blackmailers impede the work of sometimes anonymous citizen journalists trying to cover sensitive issues, and what sort of regulations could prevent this?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Blogging Under Martial Law

BusinessWeek reported yesterday on the Internet's role in informing the public of the state of Pakistan after General Musharraf enforced Martial Law on November 5th and in mobilizing citizens in opposition:
A complete blackout of cable television—the most pervasive medium in Pakistan—radio, and the Urdu press had blocked images from public view, but word spread. The students decided to participate in the protests.

That's when the blogging began. On Nov. 5, the Emergency Times (and an attendant wiki, appeared. It declared itself "an independent Pakistani student initiative against injustice and oppression," which gave readers a regular update and comments on the emergency, and student activities against it across Pakistan. It announced that there would be a protest by LUMS students on Nov. 7 at 2 p.m., as also at FAST-NU, a technical university in Lahore.

Other protests were organized using Facebook, not just in Pakistan but around the globe, which you can track on Teeth Maestro, a blog that shifted to “crisis mode” after Martial Law was instated. The website also publishes updates on in-country demonstrations and tips for protesters, submitted by readers via Blackberry and email.

With thousands of lawyers and human rights activists in jail and media outlets being pressured to abide by a new "code of ethics," the current situation is a perfect example of how the lines between citizen and professional journalism are becoming blurred. The New York Times recently appealed to Pakistani citizens to submit eyewitness accounts of blocked protests via text, video, or photographs.

Last week Dr. Awab Alvi, who formerly ran Teeth Maestro, warned fellow bloggers of the dangers they may face in light of this power:


Other bloggers have decided to remain anonymous, fearing their opposition movement may be hampered by leakages of information in the press.

With any media coverage of conflict or civil unrest come ethical questions: Should reporters risk their lives to get accurate information to the public? Under what circumstances can unnamed sources be used and trusted?

The situation in Pakistan suggests that bloggers too now have to ask these same questions of themselves.