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The Internet Writer’s Oath

If you’ve been following the story between Justin Long and the reviewer, Michelle Orange, you know that it kicked off an intriguing post from Orange about our responsibility as writers in a Googlable medium — or more, it raises the question of writing without guidelines in a world where the subject can (and will) read the piece you’re writing.

I suggested on BlogHer that we draft an Internet Writer’s Oath and kicked it off with an opening statement.  People over there are now invited to add amendments, and I wanted to throw this out here too.  Please add your thoughts and voice — what you think is important to promise as someone who writes in a Googlable medium.

The Internet Writer’s Oath

As writers, we need to take a long look at the concept of nonmaleficence, that maxim doctors utter (primum non nocere) and apply it to our use of words: first, do no harm. Which does not mean that a surgeon can’t cut the skin, obviously bringing the person’s life into danger, but instead, having writers thinking like doctors means that we take into consideration that we are all humans, we are all emotional beings, and for the love, words hurt.

So in that regard, we promise that whenever we hit publish, we will think about how the Internet is Googlable, and in this world of Google alerts and searches for our names, that we understand that anything we write can and will be read by the subject. When we have a problem with another person, we write them directly rather than posting a critique for the world to read as a first step. And that we will stick to critiquing words and ideas and not the people behind those words and ideas.

We know the Golden Rule isn’t really applicable — that sometimes we have nothing nice to say, but we must say something, and sometimes we can’t write the review we’d want to receive ourselves if we were the creator of the art. But we can take into consideration how the subject will receive the words and write accordingly. We write with honesty, with circumspection, with thoughtfulness — never straying from the subject at hand into personal attacks.

AMENDMENT ONE: This oath also applies to all social media such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as applying to posting pictures online.  All people will act with circumspection, considering how the other person might feel (and asking when it doubt) before hitting the publish key.

Take the oath in the comment section below (or explain why you think we don’t need an oath at all).


1 Gail K { 11.04.10 at 11:24 am }

What a great idea! Although I currently don’t have a blog, I think this should apply to Facebook, Twitter and anything else that can be read by large groups of people. And, this should also apply to pictures!

2 Lollipopgoldstein { 11.04.10 at 11:25 am }

Absolutely — great point. Moving that thought into the post as the first amendment.

3 Justine { 11.04.10 at 11:31 am }

I take the oath! I agree … anything that’s google-able should apply.

4 Kristin { 11.04.10 at 11:54 am }

I read this over on BlogHer and thought it was great!

5 Shelli { 11.04.10 at 11:58 am }

I love the idea. The problem that comes into play is that most of us here (that post and read in our very large circle) ARE people that do so thoughtfully and respectfully.

The “bullies”, if that’s a good term, will still be trolling around looking for trouble. the “fakers” faking, the “trolls” trolling, and those are the folks that should take an oath like this to heart. But they won’t of course.

The Internet world is eerily similar to the real world in this regard. 😉 I’d like to see a Human Oath.

6 a { 11.04.10 at 11:58 am }

Sigh. It’s sad that this is necessary.

On the other hand, having taken a journalism class or two, I can see where this mindset would come about. Under the guise of being unbiased and neutral, writers sometimes forget the human element to their stories. Because they’re just writing the “facts” without realizing that opinion has crept in, they inject a spin. Watch Fox News for this phenomenon – they may actually think that they are delivering valid criticism.

I think it will be hard to take your oath, because we are frequently compelled to relate an irritating event or exchange in our days. Most people keep it anonymous enough – they don’t name names. You can’t find it through Google. But it doesn’t hold to the spirit (or even the letter) of your oath. Sometimes what we want to say is not worth addressing to the offender(s) but the situation provides the context for the decision making process that we’re describing.

Specific personal attacks are in poor taste, though.

7 Beautiful Mess { 11.04.10 at 1:31 pm }

Love this! I think it’s a great idea! I also agree with Shelli. Generally speaking our community are pretty respectful, but there are those interlopers who like to cause drama and trouble.

8 HereWeGoAJen { 11.04.10 at 1:38 pm }

I sign your oath.

9 TexasRed { 11.04.10 at 3:31 pm }

This oath seems to tie in nicely with the Rally to Restore Sanity and our behavior to others in general.

10 MrsHattingh { 11.04.10 at 4:06 pm }

I take the oath as well and I fully agree with it

11 loribeth { 11.04.10 at 4:23 pm }

Subjects have always been able to read most of what was published about them, I think. The difference these days is the number of forums available, the number of people writing about different topics who may or may not be trained journalists (& may or may not have editors & lawyers checking their stuff before it gets published), the vastly expanded audience (thanks to the Internet), the longevity of the material (ditto), & the speed at which news can spread (good or bad). All good reasons to think very carefully before we hit “publish.” Consider the oath taken by me. : )

12 Vee { 11.04.10 at 5:48 pm }

I love the thought of this. Sign me up!

13 Eve { 11.05.10 at 3:30 pm }

I take the oath happily. Gossip, bullying and passive-aggression have always lived off the tongue and disappeared into the air, save but for a keen memory and nasty tattle-tale…but the internet has concretized these wicked words and cached them in black and white for all to read.

There are many blogs I write only in my head at 2 in the morning as they would only serve as hurtful if they were writen and published.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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