Thursday, September 15, 2005

On Linking Ethics

I went to Steven Taylor's brown bag symposium on blogging on Wednesday. Though the event itself was interesting, as usual the good stuff came after.

Dr. Taylor, Scott Gosnell (of Pro's and Con's, and the recently-outed Knight's Blog) and I went for lunch. It was particularly welcome for me, because I had previously known Gosnell only as a philogram. Naturally, much of the conversation was about blogging and gossiping about blogs and other bloggers.

[Let me just say, as an aside, that if you use the word "blog" too frequently in a sentence, it looks asinine, regardless of the content.

Anyway, I mentioned that I had wanted to ask about the ethics of linking and comments, which led to a pretty interesting discussion of all that. I've previously written about the ethics of "open threads," which turns out to have been irrelevant since I receive all sorts of comments, but rarely in open threads.]

How much culpability does a blogger have for the content of the sites on his blogroll? We all seemed to agree that the culpability is limited, since we all link to sites that have content with which we disagree. Sometimes the sites are excessively profane, or act as occasional fora for hateful ideas, or are theologically questionable. For example, linking to my own site I have Jewish blogs, evangelical blogs, Catholic blogs, and witchcraft blogs. They can't all be "endorsing" my religious writings per se (which are mostly about esoteric things like the nature of the Fall).

On the other hand, we can't say we have no culpability. For example, what if I blogrolled a porn site? Wouldn't that link imply endorsement? To give a slightly different example, I once started to write an entry about David Duke's website (which I will not link to here). I eventually abandoned the entry because it ended up being more of a facile screed against European anti-Semitism, but what if I had linked to the site? Even though I am denigrating the site, that act of linking raises its profile through search engines.

It's going to take a lot more thought on my part, but I think I need to develop ethic guidelines for linking. Some sites with which I have reciprical links might have to be removed from my blogroll ... or maybe I'll leave them all in.

Anyway, I would like to invite comment from other bloggers on how they view the issue of the ethics of linking.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting question, since I just witnessed a big controversy having to do with this topic in another corner of the blogospher.

    To condense the drama: a bunch of bloggers decided they didn't like what in their view is an offensive, though satirical, blog. They decided that, though they didn't link to this blog themselves, they linked to people who did. Since people often do a lot of clicking around blog links, there was the possibility that people could still get to this offensive blog through their own blogs. So they decided to delink the blogs that linked to the other blog, but didn't tell the bloggers they had delinked. Eventually, one of the delinked wondered where his link had gone, emailed, and found out. A big brouhaha ensued. Personally, I think delinking a blog just because you don't like the blogs some of THEM link to is a bit silly and rather pointless. You click around enough and you can get to offensive material from the most whitebread blog imaginable.

    One possible objection to a blanket policy of not linking to sites you think are offensive is that, if you DO end up talking about them in your blog, then it's kinda unfair to not provide a link so that people can see 1) you're not making your stuff up and 2) make up their own minds. Let's say you delink a site on evolution because you're a proponent of Intelligent Design. (For the sake of argument, you're so committed to ID you actuall think of the evolution content as offensive.) Yet then you go on to say that these evolutionist bloggers are all wrong and do a point-by-point refutation. Well, if you don't provide a link to the blog(s) you're refuting, the suspicion of maniupulation and distortion could be heavy. If people don't know who you're battling, it makes the whole exercise a bit pointless.

    Also, what about links through comments. Lets say you delinked my site. Would you also ban me from commenting? Because you people could get to my blog through my blog. Would that be fair? Should we ONLY associate, even digitally, with those who agree with us 100% and strictly conform to our standards of decency?

    It is definitely a sticky ethical dilemma. I'm sure there are all sorts of holes in my arguments, though, so maybe it's the way to go.