Wednesday, November 02, 2005

STAYING OUT OF TROUBLE: Ethics and etiquette rules for conflict resolution bloggers

How ADR bloggers can stay on the right side of etiquette and ethics rulesYesterday I posted about the benefits of blogging for ADR professionals. What’s not to like about a marketing and communication tool that’s absolutely free and rewards you generously for your efforts?

That's the message that Robert Ambrogi, Dina Beach Lynch, and I are hoping to get across at tomorrow's Annual Regional Conference for the New England Chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution as part of the workshop we're leading on blogging.

However, while basically anyone with an Internet connection and a computer can publish a blog, maintaining a blog is serious business. It requires a commitment of time and a willingness to blog regularly. It demands a high level of personal integrity (actually no different from what our own ethical rules demand of us as practitioners), since honesty and credibility count just as much on the Internet as they do in face-to-face interactions.

Creating an authentic and compelling voice is critical to any blogger’s success. As blogger T.L. Pakii Pierce observed on his blog “Blogging for Fun and Profit”, blogging’s effectiveness depends upon the blogger’s ability to build relationship with his or her readers:



Blogs will amplify your message and your reach in a powerful way and at near zero cost when compared to other means of reaching a market with your message. But the price of relationship is the need to continually connect with your market and develop your social network in order to build an authentic and authoritative voice that can be trusted.

Those are wise words indeed.

Staying authentic and real is important. But there are other concerns bloggers should pay attention to. Blogging can land you in all kinds of trouble, and bloggers have been known to lose their jobs because of something they posted, incurred the wrath of other bloggers by failing to observe proper webiquette, or risked violating copyright laws.

To help you stay on the right side of the law (and on the good side of your fellow bloggers) as you begin your adventures in blogging, I offer the following suggestions to my friends in the ADR community (and when in doubt, consult an attorney—this is not intended to be legal advice—I’m speaking as a blogger, not a lawyer):

ETHICAL ISSUES

As practitioners know, model standards abound which define for us the boundaries of appropriate conduct. Be aware that blogging may be considered a form of commercial speech or advertising, so rules for ADR practitioners regarding advertising and solicitation could well apply.

If you are a member of another profession as well, such as the law, you should consult with the standards of conduct for that profession, too, since those codes of conduct may come into play for you as well.

In addition, although there is (yet) no formal blogger code of ethics, some people have made the case that as citizen journalists, responsible bloggers should conduct themselves within an ethical framework. CyberJournalist.net has proposed a “Bloggers’ Code of Ethics” which emphasizes honesty and accountability.

You should definitely read what Rebecca Blood has to say on the subject of blogger ethics. Click here for her insights. (For those of you who haven’t yet heard of her, if blogging had a Mount Rushmore, Rebecca Blood’s face would be carved into it. An influential figure in the blogosphere, Rebecca was an early pioneer of blogging.)

SHOW ME THE MONEY

A few months ago my local paper, the Boston Globe, reported on a practice among bloggers who hawk products or services for businesses without disclosing to their readers that they’re getting paid for doing so. Bloggers need to understand the risks they run when they do this—including the possibility of losing the trust of readers if the compensation comes to light.

My advice to you? Don’t do this.

STAYING OUT OF COURT

Generally speaking, blogging is a safe activity but not without its risks. Blogging could conceivably get you fired from your job, sued for violating defamation or copyright laws, or even subpoenaed to reveal your news sources. To keep you out of trouble, there's help available online for bloggers.

One of the best resources for bloggers and other citizen journalists is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). EFF publishes a Legal Guide for Bloggers.

Another great resource can be found at the excellent Reporters Without Borders web site, which offers for downloading in PDF format its Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents.

DON’T STEAL THIS BLOG

In addition to staying out of legal trouble, you also want to stay on the good side of your fellow bloggers and your readers, too. There are some basic etiquette rules that responsible bloggers should observe.

Based on my own experience, I would say that at the top on your list of things to avoid is taking credit for someone else’s ideas. The same rules apply to blogging as they did to your college term papers: don’t plagiarize. Someone did this to me, and, boy, did it make me mad. Bloggers work hard to research and write their posts, and they don’t appreciate it when someone else tries to take the credit for their efforts.

In addition, I can’t overemphasize how important it is to do the following before posting: 1) check your facts; 2) correct any grammar and spelling mistakes; and, most importantly, 3) make sure all the links in your post work--please don’t frustrate your readers by including expired or malfunctioning links.

Finally, if another blogger says something nice about your blog, send them an e-mail personally thanking them. Better yet, if you can, return the favor, and blog about them.

Your mother will be proud.

KEEP IT CLEAN

One of the scourges of the blogging world is the rise of the “splog”, a spam blog created to promote the author’s other web sites and draw visitors.

As this article from the Wall Street Journal explains,


Spammers have created millions of Web logs to promote everything from gambling Web sites to pornography. The spam blogs -- known as “splogs” -- often contain gibberish, and are full of links to other Web sites spammers are trying to promote. Because search engines like those of Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. base their rankings of Web sites, in part, on how many other Web sites link to them, the splogs can help artificially inflate a site's popularity. Some of the phony blogs also carry advertisements, which generate a few cents for the splog's owner each time they are clicked on.
(Thanks to the blog beSpacific for the links on splogging.)

I am embarrassed to say that I have actually encountered some mediation splogs out there. All I can say is: don’t. Do your part to keep the Internet litter-free.

SPREAD THE NEWS

Finally, if you do decide to launch a blog, don’t keep it under your hat. Tell the world. Me, included. I’ve been maintaining a kind of informal census of ADR-related blogs, so let me know so I can add you to my list. And join the ADR Web Ring, maintained by myself and my pal and fellow blogger Dina Beach Lynch, to increase your blog’s visibility on the web.

Anyway, best of luck--hope to see you around the bloggerhood!