Code of Ethics for Bloggers, Social Media and Content Creators

As an Online Content Creator – whether it be as a blogger, a video blogger, a podcaster, a microblogger or a general social media participant – you are an important part of the wider public knowledge creation and discussion. This role carries with it a responsibility to be fair, honest and respectful not only toward your fellow members of society but also toward fact. The content you create today will more than likely outlast both the content’s relevance and your own lifetime and it is of vital importance that it be a truthful representation of the topic at hand not only for those who access it today but for those who access it in the distant future. Above all else your job as a Content Creator is to present fact as fact and opinion as opinion. To this end I have created a Blogger and Content Creator’s Code of Ethics that outlines the ethical guidelines any and all Content Creators should go by when publishing material of any sort for public consumption. The Blogger and Content Creator’s Code of Ethics is closely based on the Code of Ethics for the Norwegian Press published by the Norwegian Press Association and adhered to by all members of the Norwegian press.

This is a work in progress. Please submit your comments, questions, suggestions and edits in the comments below and I will apply them as time allows.

Short Version

1. It is your right to voice your opinion. Freedom of Speech, Information, Publication and Expression are basic elements of a democracy. As a Content Creator it is your obligation to use and protect these rights at all times.

2. Be critical of everything, even your self. As a Content Creator you are part of the creation of free knowledge creation and discussion. It is your obligation to shed critical light on what goes on in society as well as how Content Creators, including your self, are presenting these events.

3. Use your power to protect. As a Content Creator you can shine a light on injustices and neglect perpetrated on individuals and groups. Use this power wisely.

4. Tell the truth at all times. With great power comes great responsibility. Words and images are powerful weapons that should be used with the utmost care. When publishing content, present the facts as they are, even if you disagree with them.

5. Present your opinion as your opinion. Your opinion and interpretation of events is important and should be shared but must never be confused with hard facts or data. When voicing your own or someone else’s opinion or interpretation, always state it as such. Never present opinion, interpretation or conjecture as fact.

6. State your allegiances to stay independent. To preserve your own trustworthiness and integrity as a Content Creator, always state any relation, financial, personal, political or otherwise, to the subject or topic you are presenting. Bias, even if it is only perceived as such, immediately discredits your account unless you warn of it first. In simple terms; if you have a political affiliation that colours your judgment, say so; if you are employed by or received money from the subject you are covering, say so; if you were given gifts or preferential treatment in return for a positive review or commentary, say so. By stating these facts of allegiance your opinions gain informational value that would otherwise be lost in suspicion of bias.

7. Reveal your sources unless doing so can harm your sources. Always reveal your sources to ensure transparency unless doing so may put the source in harms way. In ensuring transparency you lend credibility to your own content as well as provide others to further pursue the facts of the matter.

8. Be critical of your sources and seek independent verification. Even if you are ethical and unbiased there is no guarantee your sources are. Before presenting information as fact, always check your source’s credibility and seek independent verification of these facts. If none can be found, state so clearly.

9. Always give credit where credit is due. Give proper attribution when using, quoting or basing your content on the work of others. In other words present quotes as quotes, link to original articles, give photo and illustration credit to the original creator etc.

10. Always preserve the intended meaning of a given statement. When quoting or paraphrasing a statement always ensure that the intended meaning is communicated. Never edit or change a statement in such a way that the intended meaning is changed.

11. Give your opponent a chance to respond. The very foundation of an open discussion is to give either side an opportunity to voice their opinion. Always provide an opportunity for your opponent to present the case of the opposing side.

12. Admit and correct your mistakes immediately. When an inaccuracy or error in your content is discovered by you or someone else, correct it immediately and announce that you have done so to ensure that those who base their opinions and other content creation on the incorrect information have a chance to make corrections as well. It is your duty to uphold the truth and present fact even if that means admitting you were wrong.

Long Version

1. The Role of the Bloggers and Online Content Creators in Society

1.1. Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Information and Freedom of Content Creation, Publication and Expression, whether in print, in hypertext, in audio or video are basic elements of a democracy. The ability to produce and distribute independent content is among the most important rights in a democratic society.

1.2. Content Creators have important functions in that they carry information, debate and critical commentary on current affairs. Content Creators are particularly responsible for allowing different and independent views to be expressed.

1.3. Content Creators shall protect the freedom of speech, the freedom of Content Creation and the principle of access to any and all information that pertains to the public. They cannot yield to any pressure from anybody who might want to prevent open debates, the free flow of information and free access to sources. Agreements concerning exclusive event reporting shall not preclude independent news reporting.

1.4. It is the right of any Content Creator to carry information on what goes on in society and to uncover and disclose matters, which ought to be subjected to criticism. It is a Content Creator obligation to shed critical light on how Content Creators including individuals, the established press, media in general and themselves exercise their role.

1.5. As citizens and members of a free and democratic society Content Creators have an obligation to to protect individuals and groups against injustices or neglect, committed by public authorities and institutions, private concerns, or others.

2. Integrity and Responsibility

2.1. The Content Creator carries personal and full responsibility for the material contained in the publication, no matter the form.

2.2. All Content Creators must guard their own integrity and credibility in order to be free to act independently of any persons or groups who – for ideological, economic or other reasons – might want to exercise an influence over editorial matters.

2.3. When accepting commissions or offices, financial support, gifts, preferential treatment or employment that create or could be perceived as creating conflicts of interest or bias in relation to content creation it is the obligation of the Content Creator to make such relations known in such a way that those who access the content are aware of potential conflicts or biases. Be open on matters that could influence the Content Creator’s credibility as an independent observer.

2.4. Reject any attempt to break down the clear distinction between advertisements and independent, unbiased content. Advertisements intended to imitate or exploit an editorial product, should be turned down, as should advertisements undermining trust in the Content Creator’s integrity and the independence of Content Creators in general.

2.5. Never promise editorial favours in return for advertisements. As an Independent Content Creator all materials should be published as a result of editorial considerations alone. See to it that the vital distinction between independent content creation and commercial communication is being maintained when publishing web links.

2.6. When sponsorship or relationships to the subject matter affect content creation, the Content Creator is no longer an independent observer but an active participant in the subject matter. This must be communicated to those that access the content in a clear and objective manner.

3. Content Creator Conduct and Relations with the Sources

3.1. The source of information must, as a rule, be identified, unless this conflicts with source protection or consideration for a third party.

3.2. Be critical in the choice of sources, and make sure that the information provided is correct. It is good press practice to aim for diversity and relevance in the choice of sources. If anonymous sources are used, or the publication is offered exclusivity, especially stringent requirements must be imposed on the critical evaluation of the sources. Particular caution should be exercised when dealing with information from anonymous sources, information from sources offering exclusivity, and information provided from sources in return for payment.

3.3. The Content Creator should always clarify the terms on which an interview is being carried out. This also pertains to adjacent research.

3.4. The protection of sources is a basic principle in a free society and is a prerequisite for the ability of the Content Creators to fulfil their duties towards society and ensure the access to essential information.

3.5. Do not divulge the name of a person who has provided information on a confidential basis, unless consent has been explicitly given by the person concerned.

3.6. In consideration of the sources and the independence of Content Creators, unpublished material as a main rule should not be divulged to third parties.

3.7. It is the duty of Content Creators to report the intended meaning in quotes from an interview. Direct quotes must be accurate and interpretations must be stated as such.

3.8. Changes of a given statement should be limited to corrections of factual errors. The intended meaning of given statements must be communicated as intended by the source.

3.9. Proceed tactfully in journalistic research. In particular show consideration for people who cannot be expected to be aware of the effect that their statements may have. Never abuse the emotions or feeling of other people, their ignorance or their lack of judgment. Remember that people in shock or grief are more vulnerable than others.

4. Publication Rules

4.1. Make plain what is factual information and what is comment.

4.2. Always respect a person’s character and identity, privacy, race, nationality and belief. Never draw attention to personal or private aspects if they are irrelevant.

4.3. Make sure that headlines, introductions and leads do not go beyond what is being related in the text.

4.4. Always reveal your source when the information is quoted from or based on other content creators including the general media.

4.5. In particular avoid presumption of guilt in crime and court reporting. Make it evident that the question of guilt, whether relating to somebody under suspicion, reported, accused or charged, has not been decided until the sentence has legal efficacy. It is a part of good press conduct to report the final result of court proceedings, which have been reported earlier.

4.6. Always consider how reports on accidents and crime may affect the victims and next-of-kin of both victims and the accused. Do not identify victims or missing persons unless next-of-kin have been informed. Show consideration towards people in grief or at times of shock.

4.7. Be cautious in the use of names and photographs and other clear identifiers of persons in referring to contentious or punishable matters. Special caution should be exercised when reporting cases at the early stage of investigation, cases concerning young offenders and cases in which an identifying report may place an unreasonable burden on a third party. Identification must be founded on a legitimate need for information. It may, for instance, be legitimate to identify someone where there is imminent danger of assault on defenceless individuals, in the case of serious and repeated crimes, if the identity or social position of the subject is patently relevant to the case being reported on, or where identification protects the innocent from exposure to unjustified suspicion.

4.8. Reporting on children, it is considered good press conduct to assess the implications that media focusing could cause in each case. This also pertains when the person in charge or parent, has agreed to exposure. As a general rule the identity of children should not be disclosed in reports on family disputes or cases under consideration by the childcare authorities or by the courts.

4.9. When using photos, graphics, illustrations, video, audio or any other type of content always credit the original creator.

4.10. Exercise caution when using photos in any other context than the original.

4.11. Protect the credibility of the journalistic photograph. Photos used as documentation must not be altered in a way that creates a false impression. Manipulated photos can only be accepted as illustrations if it is evident that it in actual fact is a picture collage.

4.12. The use of pictures must comply with the same requirements of caution as for a written or oral presentation.

4.13. Incorrect information must be corrected and, when called for, an apology given, as soon as possible.

4.14. Those who have been subjected to strong accusations shall, if possible, have the opportunity to simultaneous reply as regards factual information. Debates, criticism and dissemination of news must not be hampered by parties being unwilling to make comments or take part in the debate.

4.15. Those who have been the subject of an attack shall have the chance to reply at the earliest opportunity, unless the attack and criticism are part of a running exchange of views. Any reply should be of reasonable length, be pertinent to the matter and seemly in its form. The reply can be refused if the party in question has rejected, without an objective reason, an offer of presenting a contemporaneous rejoinder on the same issue. Replies and contributions to the debate should not be accompanied by polemic editorial comment.

4.16. Beware that digital publication pointers and links could bring you to other electronic media that do not comply with the Ethical Code. See to it that links to other media or publications are clearly marked. It is considered good press conduct to inform the users of interactive services on how the publication registers you, and possibly exploits your use of the services.

26 comments:

  1. Very impressive set of ethics you’ve laid out. It’s simply tragic to think about the amount of bloggers out there who take advantage of the power at their hands.

  2. I appreciate your very detailed code of ethics, I think it is important to understand these ethical standards when blogging. It is so important to always tell the truth and make sure your opinions are portrayed as opinions and not as fact. It is also necessary to give credit where credit needs to be given, I feel that many people out there take advantage of this. I am a beginning blogger and I will share this list with all my peers, thank you!

  3. A question that I have is: how can we protect content against the online ad revolution. Advertising has boomed and re-invented itself with online media. So much that it is starting to invade content (for instance, advertisers giving products to bloggers of their interest they detect as “influencers” so they talk about them in their blogs, behavioral targetting, etc). Is there a code of ethics in place for this?

    1. That’s one of the things this code of ethics is meant to deal with. If bloggers and other content creators are up front about when they are paid for reviews or given free samples or other frills, the reader will at least know that there may be some bias there.

  4. Pingback: 2xiherveybay
  5. Morten,
    I have just discovered your site today and I really like it. I was drawn to this page, because as an American, this type of ethics manifesto is nearly nonexistent across American sites. It is unfortunate that this is similarly the case with the largest international media conglomerates that pervade our TVs and radios as well.

    That said, there are many Americans, such as myself, that value and applaud such a clearly defined code of conduct. Again, unfortunately, our voice is equally as small as the capital we have to broadcast our message as compared to the few who seem to control most of the world’s capital.

    Regardless, and in an attempt to echo your sentiment, would you mind if I copied and pasted your code of ethics into my pages’ HTML? I would comb through line by line and perhaps edit where necessary for my specific geographic and cultural differences. But, I would like to pattern a code of ethics off of yours, post it loud and proud, and do my best to stay true to it.

    I have only recently, started an avocation of web development and I love it. I am learning WordPress and landed here as a result of a register_sidebar() function search in Google. I look forward to beefing up my ethical declarations as you have. This is something very important to me as I hone my style of web development.

    Thank you for your service to the open source community and society in general!
    Matt W

  6. This is a very interesting set of ethics. I wonder how many people agree or disagree with any of the statements you have made. I believe that everyone has there own code of ethics, some more conservative than others. I believe in today’s society, a lot of people do not like to hear the opinions of others, but the same people can sit down to read a blog and write disrespectful things. I believe that it is rare to see one person respect another persons view. If a person were to take a look at a lot of the articles that come out on yahoo.com, the comments would be full of vulgar statements. Racist comments seem to be a default mechanism for a lot of people. People that would disrespect someone because he/she has chosen to write about what they think is against any code of ethics. I love this article, and I wish I came upon it sooner.

  7. Some bloggers recently have been debating what, if any, ethics the Weblog community should follow. Since not all bloggers are journalists and the Weblog form is more casual, they argue they shouldn’t be expected to follow the same ethics codes journalists are. But responsible bloggers should recognize that they are publishing words publicly, and therefore have certain ethical obligations to their readers, the people they write about, and society in general.

  8. Because I am a shameless skimmer I don’t know if someone else asked you this but May I reprint your code of ethics on my site and of course give you credit …..since that would be ethical:)

  9. In recent years social media has become a major part of our everyday lives. For many it’s how we communicate with friends and family, look up information, or catch up on the news. How can we be so sure to trust what we read and see on the web. I mean, why shouldn’t you believe the article that mentions Obama running for a 3rd term. It’s untrue stories that make people so untrusting of the the information they find on the internet.

    I think that the Ethics you have taken the time to research and post are great for content creators and bloggers to go by. If you aren’t ethical and honest in your postings why would everyone else be?

    To keep your positive credibility as a blogger and writer on the internet it is important that you report accurate information. A quote found on the NPR website sums it up really well, “Above all, proceed with caution, especially when news is breaking and accounts vary widely about what is happening. Reach out to other sources for confirmation.” (NPR.org).

    Keep up the great work in setting the standards high for others in your industry.

    Works Cited
    Social media. (n.d.). NPR Ethics Handbook. Retrieved July 26, 2014, from http://ethics.npr.org/tag/social-media/

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