Before you read this, understand that I am neither a lawyer nor a philosopher, and the information here should not be construed as expert. Weigh it on its own merit. I’m just someone who likes to think about stuff.
I got up early this morning to respond to a comment I received many days ago, replying to my September 26 article, Code of Information Ethics. The author wrote:
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m wondering about the last point: Be Accountable. Does this imply that blogs shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be anonymous? So many of the educational blogs I read are written under pseudonyms, obviously to hide the identities of teachers who donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t feel like they can voice their opinions otherwise. It seems that it would be more tempting for a person to shirk the first three points of the SPJ Code of Ethics if they knew they could not be identified. Just something that has been on my mind as my school faces two lawsuits stemming from teachersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ (unrecorded) in-class comments, while I write a (very printable) blog with my name on it.
Coincidentally, the one e-mail that I read during a brief scan of what was pouring in from 7:00 PM last night, was a report from Andy Carvin on the Delaware Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday, that anonymity should be protected. Carvin goes on to report in the WWWEDU posting that…
(the court) determined that the statements in question weren’t construed as defamation because online forums and blogs are less credible than online content posted by mainstream media outlets.
You can read Andy Carvin’s (his real name) complete analysis of the ruling in his recent blog article Online Anonymity at the Expense of Blog Credibility?
I fully understand the author who questioned the place of anonymity within the context of the Student & Teacher Information Code of Ethics, which was adapted from the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. To consider this question, I think that we’re going to have to do something that we’re going to have to do a lot of in the coming years — think about things differently.
Several days ago, I was delivering a workshop on contemporary literacy. At the end of one of the discussions, someone asked, “Does this mean the end of expertise?” I suggested that the new information environment may not mean the end of expertise, but it may mean the end of credentialed expertise (with obvious exceptions).
First of all, we receive credentials and diplomas based on containers of information. We read the right books, attend the right lectures, write the right papers, and are evaluated by the right experts, who have read the right… and we become credentialed experts. Increasingly, though, so much of the information is out there for the taking, flowing independent of containers, that people can make themselves an expert on their own efforts to research, reflect, share, and respond — and serve.
Admittedly, the world is a whole lot more complicated by exceptions than I imply. But my point is that it is in our interest to pay much more attention to the information, and concern ourselves less with its authorship. In a time of rapid change, the best ideas and solutions may not wait for people who have followed the maze of containers, but from the free thinker who has mined the free flow of information, reflected, shared, and responded.
All this is to say that having the documented name of the author is not as important as the reader’s responsibility to weight the information’s value in terms of the goals we are trying to accomplish and within the context of a code of ethics (is the information true, reliable, harmful, etc.). We are responsible for our actions, and our actions are increasingly based on the information that we use. It is the readers responsibility to assure that the information they act on is true, and the degree of responsibility is in direct relation to the consequences of the action.
As teachers, it is our responsibility to turn all of this into common sense. But common sense is rarely intrinsic. It is common sense not to aim a bow with a notched arrow at other people. But that common sense comes from a knowledge of the killing power of a bow and arrow. We must teach our students the power that information carries to build and to destroy, so that it becomes their common sense to:
- Seek out information that can be relied on, not just that which agrees with our own world view
- Always ask questions about the answers that we find
- Be responsible for our actions and the information that drives our actions
- Love and protect the truth
Finally, we do not have the luxury of perfect freedom. We, here in the U.S., have a Bill of Rights. But we live in a time when many would weaken this aspect of our constitution. In addition, the Bill of Rights protects us from government action, not from those who have economic power over us, our employers. So as long as we must struggle in our efforts toward enlightened self fulfillment, then we should have to the right do so anonymously, so long as we do so responsibly.