We librarians are all about free speech. But the First Amendment won’t make you less of a chump for kiss-and-tell blogging, and it won’t expunge the stain to your professionalism for knowingly crossing the line between private and public.
Karen refers to a New York Times article in today’s magazine section about indiscretion in blogging. The examples the author cited were pretty extreme. A woman who wrote about her sexcapades (for money) with a DC higher-up. A woman who remained anonymous, but had no problem disclosing the names of bad dates and how they performed in bed. A man who disclosed every little dirty secret about his family and his lovers with no concern for whether or not he embarrassed them or hurt their careers. These people are the sort who love the attention; who love an audience. But Karen writes about the little slips bloggers sometimes make in telling a bit too much about a friend or a supervisor or someone else who didn’t know that their conversation or actions were going to be splashed up in front of a worldwide audience. These are mistakes anyone can make, but they can end up being tremendously detrimental to your friendships or your career.
I think the idea of a blog as a diary is a misnomer. A diary, at least as we think of it in the 20th century, is something you write about your daily life in, but it is usually private. It’s one thing to write personal or insulting things about your friends, family, and co-workers in a book that no one else will read. It’s another to write it in a book that the entire world can read just by clicking on your website.
Yes, you have the right in a personal blog to write about whatever you want. If you want to complain about your employers, your boyfriend, or your sex life, you’re free to do so. If you want to name names and humiliate or hurt people, you can do that too. But just because you can do it doesn’t make it any less wrong. And it may mean that you become a pariah to your friends and your colleagues, because they can never trust that anything they say to you will not end up on your blog hours later. I may be the sort of person who isn’t embarrassed about self-disclosing, but I know that I would feel horribly betrayed if someone wrote things about me that I’d done or said them in confidence. And that’s why I would never do the same to anyone else.
I don’t think we need a Blogging Code of Ethics to know that it is wrong to invade the privacy of others and disclose things about other people. No one who writes these tell-all blogs is so stupid to think that what they do isn’t hurtful. They just don’t care. Personally, I don’t understand the desire to blog every dirty little detail about one’s life. Maybe that’s because my married life just isn’t all that exciting, but in my wild teenage years, I did plenty of stupid things I’d be embarrassed to tell anyone but my husband about now. And if I had blogged about my experiences back then, I would by now be mortified that people knew about it. But it isn’t for us to create a Code of Ethics. If we think such self-disclosure is wrong, we just shouldn’t read the blogs that do so. There is nothing an AW hates more than not having an audience. As the author of the NY Times article (a law professor at George Washington University) writes:
If suing unscrupulous bloggers isn’t a realistic option for most people, shaming them might be. ”Maybe it shouldn’t be the victim who bears the burden of punishing the person who does wrong; maybe the blogging community should take responsibility,” said Lawrence Lessig, the cyberspace scholar who blogs at Lessig.org. ”In my blog, when people make rude and inappropriate comments, people say, ‘Don’t feed the troll in blog space,’ and that’s a good response — the community shaming the person who is misbehaving.”
In cyberspace, sometimes the best thing we can do to express moral outrage is to turn the other way. To ignore it.