Topic: Science & Technology

A Big Deal: Stop the "Ex Blogs"
(4/29/2008)

The New York Times reports that increasing numbers of spurned spouse of both sexes have turned to blogging about their travails on so-called "ex blogs," making certain that everyone with a modem can learn what a lying, cheating, irresponsible, sexually dysfunctional creep their ex- or soon to be ex-life-partner-to-love-and-to-cherish is. This is a predictable progression, perhaps, in the personal blog phenomenon: regular, typical Americans are blogging in increasing numbers about their kids, spouses and friends, presumably with their consent and approval. Such blogs are aimed at friends and relatives, and their content is typically so bland and personal that only the intended audience would ever be tempted to visit. But once such a blog turns nasty, filling with juicy stories of affairs, lies and astonishingly rancid conduct, the audience changes from family and friends to those who like reading gossip and trash on the internetů.in other words, from about twenty people to about 50 million. That changes the nature of the blogging from benign to unethical.

The Times uses information gathered by the Pew Internet and American Life Project [www.pewinternet.org ]. One of the researchers quoted notes that "the long-term effects of such persistent information on line" cannot be determined. But the short-term effects are obvious. Private grievances and personal wounds are being used to inflict cyberspace-wide infamy on individuals who are not celebrities and who in no way consented to have their lives, choices and mistakes communicated to the world by anyone, much less their enemies and adversaries. The Times notes that efforts in court to stop such attack blogs, podcasts and YouTube rants have failed because they are protected by the First Amendment, meaning that this is another form of unethical conduct that the law can't and won't control. But that's what ethics involves: rejecting wrongful conduct because it's wrong, not because you get punished for doing it.

This is one more regrettable example of the internet allowing people to do something clearly wrong on a previously unimaginable scale, with practitioners justifying it by arguing that 1) lots of people are doing it and 2) the web has its own new standards ethical conduct. The web's "standards of ethical conduct" apparently include stealing copyrighted material, posting anonymous libel and vicious personal insults, and now using the web as an engine of revenge. Well, those are types of conduct, all right, but nothing will make them ethical.

Some time ago, an acquaintance of mine who had started a blog decided to fill a daily entry with unflattering and mean-spirited reflections on a mutual friend who had done nothing more provocative than say hello to her at a reception. I posted a reprimand, pointing out that exposing anyone, friend or not, to ridicule and abuse on-line just to create blog content was beyond despicable, and so it was. The web is a domain where the Golden Rule should reign supreme; instead, its devotees have pronounced it old-fashioned and out of step.

One of the ex bloggers profiled by the Times even contests the presumption that it isn't good for the children of divorce to be able to read about the intimate details of the break-up, not to mention one parent's hateful descriptions of the other. "It is a generational issue," she says. "We think it will be a big deal, but it won't be to them. By the time they are old enough to read it, they will have spent their entire life online. It will be like, 'Oh yeah, I expected that.' "

Great.

Please pay attention, you aspiring and ignorant polluter of civilization's values. The fact that future generations may come to think of terrible, wrongful conduct as "no big deal" in no way proves that this will be beneficial, desirable or endurable. There are parts of this country where having multiple children that you can't afford to feed with men whom you haven't married is "no big deal." There are communities in which having an abortion so you will look slim in your prom dress is "no big deal". There are circles where referring the African-Americans as "niggers" and women as "whores" is "no big deal". There are black churches where ministers telling the congregation that whites are out to infect them with the AIDS virus is "no big deal." Whole nations struggle to function in cultures where bribery, corruption, or murder is "no big deal."

The future you are trying to lead us to, one in which horrible, slanted, personal diatribes, half-truths, slander and scandals about typical American citizens are on the web forever, to be read by and to unfairly poison relationships with new acquaintances, potential employers and everyone else is a crummy place to live. Just because it suits your current agenda, fueled by anger and hate, to live there now does not justify your conduct. Just because the First Amendment says that you can misuse the internet as a weapon of mass personal destruction doesn't mean you should, or that you can avoid condemnation when you do. This has got to stop.

It has to stop because it's wrong.

Two wrongs never make a right, and there is no way denigrating someone to strangers can ever be anything but wrong. It is doing harm simply to do harm. You can't get more unethical than that. Be responsible. Be an adult. Be ethical.

And treat others the way you would like to be treated, whether they have treated you that way or not.

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