Recently I’ve had cause to think about abusive blogging. As a result, I’ve come up with a few simple rules that people can follow to avoid seeming like total jerks.

  1. Respect others’ privacy. Don’t post information or narrative about other identifiable people without prior permission.
  2. Be particularly careful when posting about people who don’t have their own weblogs. Such people have no forum to correct errors or present their own perspective other than through you; you owe it to them not to misrepresent things that happened.
  3. Don’t post email without permission. Even though this rule has been well known for over twenty years, the frequency with which it is violated by the ever-increasing tide of newbies has led some people to believe it’s a relic that no longer applies to the modern Internet. Those people are wrong. Email is still private communication, and should be treated as such. Offering to remove it after the fact is no substitute for asking for permission (which is often granted, in my experience) before.
  4. Even if you feel justified in ignoring any of the above rules, at least notify the person affected that you have done so. Maybe you can skip this if you’re absolutely sure that they read your weblog frequently, but even then notification can’t hurt. People that you write about deserve an opportunity to see what you wrote, determine how they feel about it, and possibly respond. “Stealth attacks” where you try to get in the last word on a subject by the simple expedient of not letting the other person know a response might be called for are a slimy tactic.
  5. If somebody objects to your discourtesy, at least try to consider the validity of their objection before treating it as an opportunity to toot your own horn some more, counterattack, etc.

I admit that I haven’t always been good about following these rules myself. As I said, I’ve recently had the issue of online-writing etiquette brought to my attention – by an individual whose tendency to break every one of these rules on a constant basis betrays a level of self-absorption and contempt for other’s sensibilities that should preclude him from participating in polite society. Having had my eyes opened in this way, though, and not wishing to seem in any way similar to that person, I’ll try to be a little bit more careful about what I write in the future.