Your online ethics

A former colleague who has veered into professing wrote this week to ask if I could send her some comments on ethics issues in online editing. So I dashed off a few quick remarks along the lines of the following.

Wait for the question at the end.

You don't get a pass from ethics or common standards of accuracy and decency just because you're writing fast for the Internet.

The reader is entitled to know how you know what you say. Anything not from direct personal experience has to be sourced. You are also obligated to check out your sources to make sure that you're not, say, repeating something from the Onion as a straight story, or from some wacko conspiracy site, or a premature report of Justin Bieber’s death.

By all means link to your sources so your reader can make independent judgments, but do a little vetting on your own first.

You have to be accurate; and when you are not, you have to correct and apologize for the error. Silently correcting typographical errors is fine, but mistakes in statements of fact ought to be acknowledged plainly and fixed.

Paradoxically, owning up to your errors enhances your credibility.

When you have a stake in the subject—you're writing about someone you know personally, or reviewing a book written by a friend, or advocating for some organization with which you have an affiliation or a financial interest, for example—say so. Transparency should be more than a buzzword.

Quotations should be the words the person uttered, subject to the conventions of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and the like. You can paraphrase, use partial quotes and ellipses, or interpolate bracketed material, but you are not to reword the speaker's utterances.

And if you are quoting text, quote it verbatim.

You do not get to take quoted matter out of context and distort its intended meaning to score some point.

The main ethical principles to be followed are the same ones your teachers told you in elementary school: Don't copy. Don't tell lies.

Got that? Now here’s the question. You can consider it to be rhetorical, or you can take advantage of the comments function to answer it:

What in online ethics is different from print ethics?



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