Sunday, October 01, 2006

Blogging rights -- and wrongs

My PR writing class is discussing gatekeeping today, and local events have provided me with a perfect case example. Our local paper, the Athens Banner-Herald, is reporting on a high school blogging scandal that points up the differences between journalism and blogging -- and a lot of it has to do with training.

The paper reports (registration required) on a Peyton Place-ish situation in which an anonymous blogger posted stories and/or rumors about other students at her high school. The police are now tracking her down, and some parents are evidently considering libel suits. What high school student knows and understands defamation law? Yet this young person could be in a boatload of trouble, because these days anyone can publish anything for anyone else in the world to read.

We usually talk about gatekeepers as barriers to get around. But this situation points up why a journalist's gatekeeping role can be beneficial.

This example just drives home the fact to me that we are going to need to start teaching some kind of course, from the earliest days, on digital living. Topics to include: how to use the tools of the information society correctly, how to know what is true or not, ethical behavior, staying safe online, legal implications of behaviors, and so on. I am not suggesting tons of rules/regulations, that will likely become outdated with time and tool changes, but broader guidance on how to be good humans in an increasingly digital world.
As a follow-up, it turned out to be two 15-year-old girls. And USA Today did a story on libel suits against bloggers a day or two ago (sorry, I don't have the link). The long and short of it is that I agree with you-- there must be some sort of training or uninformed people are going to be "losing their houses" as USA Today suggested.
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"More important than the curriculum is the question of the methods of teaching and the spirit in which the teaching is given" --Bertrand Russell

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