Information ethics

In an age when information flows like a million Mississippis, we need to have an ethics about information.

In an age when access to information is as open as a billion galaxies, each individual is responsible for handling information ethically.

In an age when we are all information creators, contributors and consumers, we share a responsibility to each other not to mishandle information.

The information ethic begins with each person who both understands the power of information and the scourge of misinformation.

This is a role not solely for journalists, but journalists as the paid purveyors of information must not slip in adherence to high ethical standard (the ethical burden on journalists has never been greater); this is not a role not solely for bloggers, but bloggers as the vanguard of a new information river, must take on the burden of protecting and cherishing information; mostly, this is a role for all participants in the conversation, both the creators and the followers.

Not all participants will rise to the occasion, increasing the burden on those of use who recognize the responsibility.

The information ethic requires that we strive always for honesty, transparency, accuracy and fairness.

We must teach ethics as well as we practice ethics.

This is the ideal. Not all participants will recognize nor care for even a shadow of the ideal, but those of us who do must hold ourselves to the highest standards of information ethics.

This is no code of conduct we sign, no pledge we take, no oath we swear, no authority we obey. It is just something we do within ourselves.

And if we do, society will be better for it.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • http://weeklies.wordpress.com Colin

    Your point is well made. Unfortunately, ethics is not an inherent attribute of humanity. Well, certain humane ethics perhaps, but certainly not information ethics. That comes with education. And not simply education for education’s sake, but focused and purposeful education.

    As a resident of the state of Maine (and a journalist) I can honestly say that there is need for a serious education reform. Any serious reform could be called by many names, a revolution, a fiat, whatever. Many attempts will fail. But the status quo in this country is not preparing people to consider, ethically, the source of the information they believe. I’ve heard too many people say they believe globally warming “because Al Gore made a convincing argument.” I honestly don’t care what you believe, but make sure you know why you believe and are willing to change your belief with new evidence. That is the scientific and pragmatic bedrock of American society as it once was. We are watering it down with political correctness, perceived “fairness” and a who-cares attitude.

    Information ethics as you propose them must come from a better educated society than the world is currently producing — possibly has ever produced.

    I for one don’t think it will ever take hold. The pamphleteers never conquered the world, and nor will the bloggers. The best we can hope for is that you find the ability to make yourself happy and those within a reasonable radius of you happy. Then die quick and painless. That’s living.

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    Thanks for the content.

    I admit that my statement is idealistic.

    I would say, however, that I’m not nearly as pessimistic as you.

    A more ethical society is pretty much an imperative in a distributed media age. It will take the more informed taking that seriously, and being willing to act as educators and watch dogs to make it happen, but it is such a necessity as to be inevitable. Maybe.

  • http://www.stevemullis.net/2008/04/17/good-online-journalism-related-reads/ Good online journalism-related reads for today | stevemullis

    [...] Information Ethics (Howard Owens) [...]

  • http://www.advicegoddess.com Amy Alkon

    Especially timely post in light of the woman posting the YouTube video about her marriage. No, she’s not a journalist, but I think more of this sort of thing will tempt journalists to lower standards.

  • http://christopherwink.wordpress.com/2008/12/31/twelve-months-of-top-journalism-blog-posts-in-2008/ Twelve months of top journalism blog posts in 2008 « Christo

    [...] Information ethics By Howard Owens | April 14, 2008 Owens is a big dog at Gatehouse Media online and a regular contributor to the future of newspapers. [...]