Monday, February 11, 2008

Legal and Ethical Issues Or Free Speech

I was having a discussion with my friend, Mike Schilling who has been a journalist, a political science teacher and a state legislator. The discussion was about legal and ethical issues that relate to blogging.

Mike wrote:

Bloggers have the freedom to be irresponsible, deceitful and libelous. They have the freedom to be egotistical ranters, spewing anger, resentment, bigotry and slander. And the worst part of all is that they are not required to identify themselves or their level of expertise, or lack of it, as the case may be.

Hiding behind anonymity should be cause for serious skepticism about the veracity of any blog.

But if the blogger's goal is to be taken seriously as an advocate for change in the eyes of people of rational readers and people of reasonable intelligence, the bloggers must also seek the truth in order to have the credibility that goes with the power of persuasion. And seeking the truth means getting the facts and getting them right, an obligation to accuracy, and a sense of fairness and balance; a skill for explaining, analyzing and interpreting, of weaving meaning into opinion in a measured way.

Unfortunately, there is a large audience of people who are vulnerable to irresponsible words, thoughts, fabrications and confabulations when viewed in the perceived status and authority of an Internet site.. And if public opinion becomes more largely shaped by this kind of information, then the making of public policy on that basis will be even worse than it is now.

One of the most surprising things I learned in my years in the Missouri Legislature is how often public policy is created with hardly any facts, evidence or logic to support it. Instead, it is structured on resentment, prejudice, baseless propaganda, and deceit.

Meanwhile, an interesting discussion on just about the same topic is occurring over at Fat Jack's Place

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