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Web ethics: how media morals transfer to the web

Everyone who has an internet connection is a potential producer of content.

The diffuse and largely anonymous nature of the internet doesn’t mean that publishing content online is exempt from a code of ethics, however. 

Granted, there are no guidelines for ethical web publishing, and it’s quite difficult to police reappropriation online.

As there is no defined set of web ethics, Nett has decided to create some guidelines adapted from the Australian Journalists Association Code of Ethics:

1. Write honestly and accurately. Disclose all essential facts

This applies word for word when writing for print and web. The greater your readership, the more likely it is that any inaccuracy, unfairness, or crucial, concealed facts will be identified and taken to task.

2. Don’t discriminate between readers based on race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc.

This should be a given. If you’re writing for the web, either as a journalist, as an employee at an agency, or as a business owner trying to better your site, it is both immoral to discriminate on the basis of the above and pretty stupid: it’s entirely possible that in doing so, you’ll alienate a portion of your visitors.

3. Attribute information to its source.

Disclose all sources. Quoting from unattributed sources is a bad idea. If you’ve left it unattributed deliberately, anyone can put your copy through Google to discover where you got it from. If your source has requested anonymity, consider their motives given your site’s audience. Does it compromise them at all?

4. Personal interest, beliefs, commitments, or benefits should not undermine your accuracy.

Obviously, as a small business owner updating a website, there is a considerable degree of personal interest involved. Once again, transparency is very important in the information you communicate via your business’ portal. Accuracy is essential-intentional inaccuracies that are often easily unraveled with a simple Google search.

5. Do your utmost to ensure disclosure of any direct or indirect payment made for interviews, pictures, information, or stories.

This point draws attention to a particularly touchy point. Recently Los Angeles celebrity Kim Kardashian was vilified for tweeting about how much she loved a local salad bar chain. This expression of approval wouldn’t have been an issue if she hadn’t been employed by the salad bar to be the star of an extensive marketing campaign to promote their new products. Kardashian denied that she had been paid for the tweets, although it was rumored that she received $10,000 for each mention of the business.

It’s vital to disclose any potentially compromising motivations when writing online. If you disclose that an article is sponsored, readers may not be as receptive to its message, but your site and business will not be taken to task for dishonesty by online communities.

6. Use fair, responsible, and honest means to obtain material. Present pictures and sounds that are true and accurate. Do not plagiarise.

If you happen to have sourced aspects of the content on your site from elsewhere on the net, it’s vital that you attribute the source and link to it directly. Plagiarism is rampant online, and it’s just as looked down upon as in print or academic publishing circles. As a rule of thumb, if you’re copying/pasting content, then you should only reproduce the first paragraph before linking to the original source URL.

Mostly, it’s just commonsense. If you do find that your content could compromise these guidelines, then do the right thing and attribute it properly, disclose all interests, and link to sources. Your customers will respect you for it. #

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