Monday, November 04, 2002

Internet use, anonymity and the ethics of blogs.
Jill has a couple of posts this week about children and internet use, which she ties into internet and particularly blogging ethics. In her first post she writes about teaching her daughter how to protect her anonymity, lie if she has to in order to do so, and in the second she talks about blog ethics. I find that these are two different issues, and should not be confused.

To tell children not to give out information online goes along the line of never taking candy from a stranger or never entering their cars or houses. Children need to learn how to distinguish between these different situations. We teach children to be polite, and refusing to answer a question is impolite, but we still don't want them to tell perfect strangers where they live. This is a situation where a child has to use his or her own judgement, and they ought to know that they are not comitting a horrible offense and will be yelled at at home if they don't tell that nice lady their home address and refuse to let her drive them home from school. To operate with an anonymous email address online, to sign with a nick-name and to misdirect if they are asked about home addresses or other information that can be used to track them: what school are you in, what class, what is the name of your teacher, who else are in that class, what band do you play in - the list is long - is a safety measure.

If they start a blog and publish to the net, that is a different can of worms entirely. Not that I feel all information in a blog needs to be correct. A little hint in the description of the blog that "this is my private playground, and the things I write here are things I know and things I make up" will be enough to establish the context for the mixture of fiction, dreams and misinterpretations which often comprises childrens' perception of reality. I would however insist to my children that if they start a blog, they make such things clear to the reader.

A weblog connected to my work is a different thing again. In this blog, as Jill in hers, I need to be correct. I am occasionally - well, frequently - personal about the information here, but it is still correct. If I find that I have not been correct, I have the power to edit, and I can exercize it, just as the editor of a newspaper can. First edition holds so much information - in the fifth edition the paper is totally changed. Remember the day the Swedish Prime Minister Oluf Palme was killed? I guess not that many do, it was way back in the easter of 1986. Anyway: Bergens Tidende, the largest newspaper in western Norway, came out with six different editions that day, from the first where they had a little note saying Oluf Palme had been shot, to the sixth which had pictures and several pages dedicated to the shooting. In this case several less sensational subjects were supressed for the sake of the shooting, and thrown out of the paper without mercy and with no excuses made.

A paper newspaper has different restrictions from a blog, of course, but the point I want to make is that at times we, the editors of our blogs, need to make editorial decisions. If I have been an idiot and given out false information, rather than leaving it there to be found by search-engines, to be pointed to by links and generally stay around to add to the misinformation of the world, I find it ethical to remove it. It might also be ethical to leave in its place an announcement that "in this post I had posted incorrect information about so-and-so, but having seen the error of my ways I have altered the post, and I am very sorry for the inconvenience," but misinformation is not something that needs to be kept for posterity. What might be interesting is how come this information turned out wrong, but that's if you do research on memes, in which case I suspect you have enough material anyway.

Most of all I want to make it clear that I am not a publishing house, and this is not the product of an organisation. I have made no promise to the public that I will say nothing but the truth, and I don't ask for anything in return from my readers. I don't take your money and sell you crap, I receive your attention and occasionally add something to the way people think about information, media, games - but I am not the fourth power of the state. Let's keep this in proportion - this is just a blog, I am just one human being and while I might worry about my blog archives, I don't think of them as my memorial.

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