I know there’s mostly porn on the Internet, but has the rest of it gone to crap, too?

by cindybrugge

Just so you know, I’ve never done well with ethics. It’s not because I’m a bad person, who thinks that we should just do whatever we want. In fact, I’ve been known to be a bit of a goody-two-shoes. However, I commonly find it simple to see both sides of a situation and reason out why each side is entitled to its opinion. I can find a logical reason to justify some of the most questionable acts. However, there is one area, that even I concede, could use some boundaries and it is the World Wide Web.

Online ethics have been a source of debate and intrigue, since the invention of the Internet.  From the beginning, individuals have questioned how best to police human interaction in a virtual landscape.  Over time, officials have instigated laws to reign over the web, but what remains are large grey areas that don’t fall into illegal bounds.

Many professionals tried to break down the black and white immediately. One 1994 issue of the American Journalism Review included a sidebar with online tips for journalists. One such tip claims that private emails written to the reporter should be considered on the record, unless there was a prior agreement.

This advice would seem obvious to most reporters today, 20 years later. With time, we’ve grown more comfortable in these areas, but in the meantime more questions have arisen.

Should journalists or public relations professionals incorporate social media into their writing? Should they take social media at its word and assume that quotes posted on a wall originated from the user? If so, is their name correct? Is there a certain way to grant attribution? These are basic questions when considering how easy it is to snag a quote from a social media site and they barely skim the surface.

With the invention of blogging, the Internet has introduced a whole new medium to spread information quickly. Bloggers get away with bypassing substantiated facts, while touting extreme ideas with no authority. Anyone can be a blogger and legally talk about whatever they would like. Nothing separates Brad Pitt and your 12-year-old brother from writing a film blog. No blogger is required to provide any credibility before they begin typing away. (Says the blogger, who is only a college student.)  This has led to a mass entrance of questionable content. As a result, the public has begun to pull much of its information from unreliable sources. There is no accountability to govern the content, and surprisingly, there are few places to find information about online media ethics.

Out of this void, public relations and media professionals would devour a book on online media ethics. It might strike up entire university courses for journalism students or at least supplement journalism ethics courses.

After doing some research, I found that this idea has been somewhat explored.  Cecilia Friend and Jane Singer released a book in 2007, called Online Journalism Ethics. From what I saw, this book does not seem well known and has little reader potential. Disregarding its horrible cover and summary, it has grown irrelevant with time. Over half a decade old, it is hardly able to provide a comprehensive guidebook to the emerging media that grows exponentially.

Louisiana State University recognized this issue and created its own solution. Each semester, a media ethics course in its Manship School of Mass Communication requires its students to compile a pocket-sized book with useful tips and guidelines to an ethical online presence. The book covers issues ranging from transparency to photos and art to plagiarism. The manual isn’t for sale and (from what I have found) can only be requested by contacting Dean Jerry Ceppos, who teaches the course. I haven’t read it yet, but I appreciate the method they have taken to address this difficult topic. By creating the annual manual, they override the risk of outdated information.

I really appreciate their efforts to make a more ethically minded profession. With cyber-bullies and complete lies flooding the “news,” it’s nice to know that some people out there still care for the common decency of the Internet.

Ethics-integrity

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