Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Transparency for the Blogosphere?

Clearly anonymity has its place in the blogosphere and Web 2.0. In my opinion, anonymity is most justified when the author is writing in a country in which the government doesn’t represent the citizens. In other words, the politically oppressed or censored are justified in writing anonymously.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, writers who spread rumors about political candidates in democracies are much less justified in writing anonymously. Whenever possible, I sign my name to the comments I post on a blog. People, some sponsored by political money, spreading rumors about candidates is thought to be one of the most egregious ethical violations on the Internet. Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, agrees.

We launched the Ethical Blogger Project in part because we anticipated the viciousness of the political debate to increase to unprecedented levels as the 2008 U.S. Presidential elections approach. We use the word “blog” broadly to cover participatory media on the Internet. Also, if we can remind bloggers and the Web 2.0 community in general to behave decently, we can stave off government regulation of the Internet. In other words, let’s try to avoid a situation in which a few bad apples spoil the Web for everyone.

It looks like our premise was correct. Wired magazine reports that candidates are already under attack on YouTube. See “Hillary Clinton Faces a Viral-Video 'Truth-Boating'” by Sarah Lai Stirland. The article reports on a video, titled “The Shocking Video Hillary Does NOT Want You To See!” circulating around the Internet that charges that the Democratic frontrunner “underreported campaign contributions to the Federal Election Commission.” The video is complete with dark, scary music at appropriate moments and is presented in interview style—Peter Paul, the video’s creator, interviews himself.

The Wired article describes the “colorful past” of the video’s creator: “He was convicted of scamming Fidel Castro in the late 1970s, and later of traveling with a fake identity. Most recently he pleaded guilty in 2005 to manipulating the stock price of his internet company Stan Lee Media, which he co-founded with the famous comic-book king.”

Republican candidates aren’t safe from attack on the Internet either. As the article mentions, Rudolf Giuliani has been criticized by firefighters and others. Should we be looking into the political contributions made by the firefighters’ families? If there is a political agenda, does it disqualify their views?

The credibility, motive, and accountability of sources of information on the Internet are the issues here. Thanks to the Wired article, we know more about the background of the author of the Hillary video. But what about authors that remain anonymous? And to what degree should we check the background of a blogger or author on Web 2.0? What can we learn from journalism? A newspaper reader might assume that the newspaper company vets its writers, but should we worry about the motives or backgrounds of journalists?

A more credible blogger should get more traffic, thereby creating a virtuous cycle of increasing the influence of his or her blog. The Ethical Blogger Project also hopes to showcase ethical bloggers so that they might act as an example for others.


Dirk Gently said...

In my opinion, anonymity is most justified when the author is writing in a country in which the government doesn’t represent the citizens.

i agree. that's why, as a liberal living in the states, i generally post anonymously.

Joe said...

Publishing under a pseudonym is an old tradition in the US, going back to the Federalist Papers, which were published under the name Publius.

Also, governments aren't the only entities that a writer needs to fear; speech that offends business can make it difficult to make a living.

There's a distinction between publishing consistently under the same pseudonym, and writing anonymously. Over time, the person writing under a pseudonym develops a reputation, good or bad. Because we don't know the person, we might not know about what motivates the writing, but we can judge the writing on its own terms as either credible, or not.

For example, if someone writing under a psuedonym makes a persuasive case that candidate A is a crook, and produces evidence for this, does it really matter if she is an employee of candiate B, or merely a concerned member of the public? A is still a crook.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Can you explain why you removed my comment? It was not obscene. Why was it so objectionable as to require deletion?

You call deleting comments that disagree with you "transparency?" You call that "ethical blogging?"

Evan O'Neil said...

Jacques, Au contraire, mon frere. I deleted your comment not because of what you said but how you said it. Language that is literally below the belt is inappropriate here.

Anonymous said...

if a person, by virtue of his/her profession, would be retaliated against due to a comment on a blog, anonymous comments would be warranted. You don't have to live in China or Belarus to lose your job over a blog or blog comment. Anonymous comments are fine if the person uses the same pen name consistently.

¡El Gato Negro! said...

Are joo seriously suggesting an equivalence between a video produced by a convicted identity thief and confessed stock manipulator, and criticism levelled at Giuliani by New York Firefirghters?

Thees ees some new definition of "ethical" of wheech I was previously unaware.

Should we be looking into the political contributions made by the firefighters’ families? If there is a political agenda, does it disqualify their views?

Sr. Stewart, thees passage ees almost precious, coming, as eet does, on the heels of some of the most reprehensible actions ever taken by the "righty" blogs.

Sr. Stewart, my advice to joo ees to educate jourself on the topic of la blogósfera.


grithlough said...

Over the years I have found that I've shared a name with other people in the schools I've attended, a famous comedian, a transvestite in one of the apartment complexes I've lived in, an attorney in the last town I lived in and also a gentleman who owned some prime riverfront property that people were looking to buy, some other guy who bought a car from the dealership I bought my last car at, someone who owes back taxes to the county I now live in, roughly 40 people (state-wide) who used the bank I used in college. . .

If I use my name in a post, is it somehow less anonymous? Should any of the folks who share the name worry about it?