The Ethics of Blogging

NYT’s Ethicist column last week talked about blogging. Not surprsingly, he got it completely wrong.

Here’s the question:

I interview high-school seniors who apply to my alma mater. I routinely Google these students and discovered that one posted information on his blog that reflects poorly on him. May I ask him about the blog? May I mention it to the university? Should it affect the score I give him?

The answer features a couple of doozies, “You would not read someone’s old-fashioned pen-and-paper diary without consent; you should regard a blog similarly.” Um, sure. Except a diary is usually kept locked away somewhere, not published for everyone in the world to see. And the answer presumes that a blog is a diary. I humbly submit Muttroxia as a counter-example — I sincerely hope no one thinks these ridiculous posts are my deepest darkest secrets and feelings.

What did the university think? “[He] checked with the university and was told not to ask the student about the blog but to include its URL with his report.” Sure, that’s ethical. It’s not OK for an interviewer to get a full picture of the student, but it is for the university? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, as Aristotle opined.

For what it’s worth, I think it is not only fair for the interviewer to look at the blog, but admirable. The interviewer is not a formal official of the college. Their job is to get a fuller picture and a subjective portrait that overworked officials might not be able to. Examing the public record is fulfilling that duty. (Mrs. Muttrox, who actually does this, disagrees.)

P.S. Although his column is good Sunday morning entertainment, you should know that Randy Cohen is not a real ethicist in any way. He’s a bright guy who found a good niche in the newspaper advice field. If you disagree with him, you have just as much formal training as he does, which is to say, none.

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