When bloggers devolve into gossips

I haven’t closely followed the whole Kathy-Sierra-was-threatened thing, but Scott Karp has, and has come to the reasonable conclusion that professional journalism still matters.

I have been watching in silent horror for days as this drama has unfolded — horror not only at Kathy Sierra’s traumatization, but over the total unrestrained free-for-all in the blogosphere. This is a case study in hearsay, innuendo, rumor, defamation, libel, jumping to conclusions and every other negative consequence of unrestrained publishing that the principles of journalism are intended to prevent, and notwithstanding some notable failures, generally do prevent when applied with some seriousness of purpose.

Blogging does have a real weakness when confronted with a vacuum of useful information. Bloggers do well when through first-hand observation, their own expertise, an e-mail interview, a good Google search or some other means to find meaningful data points they have something to collate, aggregate and comment on. But in a vacuum, bloggers are just high tech gossips.

I don’t see that changing, so discerning readers need to recognize it, even call bloggers on it when they see it, and we all need to put checks on ourselves when it come to writing about stuff we don’t really know.

As for the Kathy Sierra incident. It certainly is ugly. It is a black mark on blogging, on open, distributed communication. I take her at her word that she was threatened. I can’t be so sure that the people she names are guilty. But somebody is responsible. The best hope is that where appropriate, criminal charges are filed. People need to be reminded that along with the ease of self publishing comes real world civil responsibilities and legal obligations that can’t be ignored.

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