Electronic Beat: Internet Ethics and Speech

Compiled by Jason Morrison

Last updated 28 Oct 1999

The following links send you to sites I’ve found useful in my search for a system of ethics for the internet. The plan is to eventually compare this ethical system or series of systems with those used by journalists. Because of the structure of the net, it may prove useful to define three different groups for which systems of ethics may be written:

  1. Users (who view web pages, purchase products, etc.),
  2. Publishers (who create and maintain web pages, write articles, and sell products),
  3. and Governing Bodies (who maintain domain names, national governments, and other groups in a position to enhance/alter the flow of information between the above).

The third category seems to have the most rigorous ethical systems devised, not by members of that category but usually by watchdog-type organizations and free speech organizations. In short, those with a vested interest in the actions of members of category three.

Category one, on the other hand, is a bit less interesting. Most of what I’ve found so far are lists of ‘netiquette’ dos and don’ts. Still, there may very well be something more out there, and I will continue to look.

I have yet to find much in category two, but I believe that is because most web publishers approach their work as and extension of their current profession, i.e. journalists, advertisers, scholars, etc. It is also interesting to note that because of the ease of publishing on the web, John Q. User from category one may also have a homepage placing him in category two as well. The lines between one and two are often blurred by the nature of the medium.

Please note: the links within each category are not organized by relevancy. I do not guarantee the veracity of the information contained in any of these sites.

1. Users

Netiquette Home Page (albion.com) — very comprehensive, but typically newbie-oriented, netiquette resource. Includes the entire book Netiquette by Virginia Shea.

The Net: User Guidelines and Netiquette — Seems to be Florida Atlantic University’s netiquette page. Contains guidelines for FTP, Newsgroups, etc. in addition to the web, but isn’t very interesting.

“Scientology v. the Internet,” The Skeptics Society — Very old, but very interesting look at Scientology’s actions against users of a Usenet newsgroup. Brings up ethical use issues.

2. Publishers

“Ethics in Journalism,” Society of Professional Journalists Includes the SPJ Code of Ethics, a well established guide journalists should follow.

Books: Computer Aided Research – Information Malpractice (Poynter Online) — decent rundown of opportunities for error in electronic database based reporting.

Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility — This site, from Grate Britain, has information pertaining to category three as well. It is an excellent resource–has links to many professional ethics systems and a wealth of scholarly publications and other periodicals. Though their own commentary is not incredible, the site is impressively comprehensive.

Search Engine Watch — This site could be said to be aimed at the standards and practices of a specific type of internet content provider: search engines. Has info on how much of the web each covers and how well they do it, as well as updates on new technology, pay listings, etc.

Center for New Media — Part of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Very little on ethics, but they do have some interesting prototypes–new ways of doing journalism on the web.

Cyberwire Dispatch — Though it seems to have ceased publication in February, 1998, this site gathered and released some very well written articles about the net, written primarily by professional journalists. No longer up to date, it contains a great deal of context for net ethical issues.

Professional Presence Network — Perhaps the best site for category two yet. Has its own code of ethics for net publishers which seems very comprehensive and interesting.

HateWatch : An Educational Resource Combating Online Bigotry — Perhaps more concerned with morals than ethics (?), hatewatch is one of the authorities on hate groups and movements on the web.

3. Governing Bodies

Computer Science Professionals for Social Responsibility — Very good, comprehensive site, includes a set of seven principles.

Electronic Privacy Information Center — Concerned with privacy, free speech, and cryptography.

Global Internet Liberty Campaign — coalition of other rights groups, GILC is slightly more concerned with speech than privacy.

Digital Future Coalition — Organization for the establishment of intellectual property/fair use rights and practices.

Database Data Site — Property/use site, with big players signed on to its mission statement, follows specific bills in Congress.

World Intellectual Property Organization (United Nations agency) — a sort of world authority on property/fair use. Includes the Standing Committee on Information Technology (SCIT).

EFFweb – The Electronic Frontier Foundation — Group responsible for the blue ribbon internet free speech campaign. They provide updates, releases and commentary, usually on legislation dealing with online speech, privacy, etc. Some of the best commentary around, but few links.

Worthwhile Periodicals

Salon.com — Web based magazine with very complete coverage of a number of net issues and cultural issues.

The New York Times on the Web — We all know what the NYT is. The often have links to related sites in articles, though usually official sites (government, corporate, etc).

FEED Magazine — Their technology section sometimes covers internet ethical concerns. This site, though it takes some getting used to, also has a wealth of discussion.

Slashdot — Very up-to-date, very tech savvy publication. Not a magazine, but a magazine-styled message board for those on the cutting edge. May contain tons of info on different ethical concerns, but some of it may turn out to be inaccurate.

Sites of Some Interest

“An Atlas of Cyberspace,” Cyber-Geography Research — Though not concerned with ethics, really, this site gives interesting perspectives on the growth and organization of the web, along with some beautiful images.

Ethics Updates Home Page — This seems to be a very comprehensive site with resources on the entire field of ethics. Because it is not internet-specific, it may or may not apply to this study.

HotBot Directory/ Computers & Internet/ Ethics — HotBot is one of the few engines/directories with a section specific to this subject. Duplicates many of the links here.

Rhodes Philosophy Internet Resources — Very large directory of philosophy sites online, though not directy usefull for this investigation.

The Project

This started as a journal-style project for The News and the Net, a course at Ohio Wesleyan University. The more I looked, the more interesting the state of ethics on the web seemed. In journalism, just as in law and medicine, there are written systems of ethics. The net competes with and complements traditional journalism–is there any system of ethics for those distributing information through it?

This is a project attempting to answer that question and then compare it to the accepted system of ethics in journalism. The first step is research, and since this is a project about the web, the research is primarily on the web. This is also an experiment–usually no one gives out lists of their sources before they write a paper.