Do Bloggers Share An Ethical Code?

According to a recent study published in the June 2009 edition of the New Media & Society journal entitled doing-the-right-thing-online-a-survey-of-bloggers-beliefs-and-practices, bloggers share a group of ethical principals. This first large-scale survey of blogging ethics identified four underlying ethical principles important to bloggers: truth telling, accountability, minimizing harm and attribution.

Truth-telling involves honesty, fairness and completeness in reporting. Accountability involves being answerable to the public, bearing the consequences of one’s actions and revealing conflicts of interest. The ethical principle of minimizing harm (done to others) underlies issues involving privacy, confidentiality, reputational harm, consideration of others’ feelings, and respecting diversity and underprivileged groups. Attribution involves issues such as avoiding plagiarism, honoring intellectual property rights and giving sources proper credit.

Among bloggers, the study found that attribution was most valued (with truth-telling a close second), and accountability least valued. The strong value placed on attribution may be due to the fact that, in blogging, attribution serves a community building function. Accountability was valued and practiced least, possibly because most bloggers surveyed did not believe that people could sue them for blog content. (The freedom from defamation lawsuits may be changing, however, at least in New Jersey. The star-ledger newspaper recently reported that a judge in Freehold ruled that a blogger was not covered by the shield laws that protect newspaper reporters and can be sued for defamation.)

To be frank, the conclusion that bloggers share any type of ethical code or common blogging principals seems a bit far-fetched, given the extremely large and diverse population of active bloggers who have, at best, only informal connections with each other. (The blog tracking site Technorati was tracking about 113 million blogs in 2008.) Do readers believe that bloggers share an ethical code?