With great power comes great responsibility?

Tom Hoffman said in a recent post that "once one reaches a certain point of authority and popularity, one has to be more careful and deliberate about blogging." I’m not sure that I necessarily agree with Tom’s Spiderman-like view that "with great power comes great responsibility."

The act of blogging can have many purposes. One purpose might be to put forth oneself as an authoritative expert on certain topics. If this is the blogger’s intent, then I agree with Tom that the blogger better have his act together. Otherwise, his readers will see him as sloppy or, worse, a fraud and will move on to other experts whom they trust more. In this sense, a purported expert blogger would be similar to a book author who fabicates parts of a supposedly-true book, a televangelist who presents himself as a moral leader but then gets caught with prostitutes, or a university researcher who fabricates his results.

Another purpose of blogging might simply be to start a conversation. In this case, a blogger might throw some ideas up on her blog and see how others react, either through comments on that post or on their own blogs. We see this often in K-12 education and educational technology blogs – this is a time-honored purpose of blogging. Indeed, the primary purpose of this post is to spark some thinking and conversation about what I think is an interesting issue.

Yet another purpose of blogging might be to get stuff out of our heads. I know that this is an important aspect of blogging for me. I have way too much stuff floating around inside my cranium. Blogging lets me get some of it out, much like a safety valve on a pressure cooker.

There are, of course, many other purposes for blogging besides the ones that I have listed here. These include posting news items, exposing fraud or waste, connecting readers with resources, creating community, etc.

It seems to me that a blogger’s intent should be what we ultimately use to frame our judgments about her blog and/or particular posts. It may be that more of us need to clearly state the intentionality behind our blogs (perhaps via our About link) or particular posts, but I’m hesitant to say that a blogger’s post was irresponsible or inappropriate without knowing a little more about the blogger’s mind when she wrote it. For the blog post that Tom cited, it’s not clear what Vicki’s intent is, either for the individual post or for her blog generally.

I know that many of us are blogging for purposes other than because we feel we are authoritative experts on something. In the end, however, Tom’s post raises important questions about our ethical responsibilities to our readers. By blogging, do some of us become ‘public figures’ who accrue certain responsiblities to our audience? If so, do we then lose the ability to start conversations or get stuff out of our heads simply because too many others have found value in what we blog?

7 Responses to “With great power comes great responsibility?”

  1. Yes, with great power comes great responsibility, however when does one go from “no power” to “power.” How do they know?

    I’m not sure why my posting on 11 habits has sparked such controversy because the problem is — everyone has been complaining about Internet predators and all people offer is fear but no solutions.

    I am speaking out that children should have access to the Internet. There is also usually a medium between complete access and no access and that is what I’m proposing.

    Although some people want to criticize me for speaking out and spelling a few words wrong, my purpose is one I feel very strongly about — to give practical steps in a world gone crazy with fear. I don’t like complaints without solutions.

    I would love to hear what Tom had to say constructively that I could do to improve what I had to say, however, his language was offensive to me. So, although he wanted to talk about some perceived irresponsibility on my part, he behaved in an irresponsible way. I certainly count mispelling far down on the scale versus cursing in a blog post.

    So, yes, I am working to improve myself and become a better blogger. I am doing my best. However, this ascension has not been intentional as I have just been sharing what I live and breathe on a daily basis.

    I enjoy reading your blog. I have listened to your post far more than the other you quote because you posted in a logical, non offensive way.

    Of course, the danger with looking at intent is that it is a judgement call. I have met few if any of my fellow edubloggers in person.

    So, now that you know my intent…you have a right to agree or disagree with me. That is certainly the beauty of the blogosphere. The right to disagree and discuss. I am glad that you model effective conversation in this post.

    I remain and continue to be a reader of yours. Thank you for your thoughts.

  2. Part of the danger here seems to be when others start to view the blogger as an expert.

    Maybe I am seeing blogging through a 20th cen lens, but I don’t see any bloggers as experts ( and I tend to tune out those who see themselves as experts). I see them all as learners who are willing to take the risk of making their learning public.

    Sometimes, the learning will be in rough draft mode. Sometimes, the learning will reflect errors in thinking. Sometimes, the learning will demostrate a brilliant insight.

    That is the power of the learning being public–the conversations can take place to polish the draft, challenge the thinking, build on the brilliance.

    I agree that maybe bloggers should be clearer about their intents, but part of the new literacy should be to let go of the notion of experts, there is simply too much information. We need to understand that we are all learners; we will all get it wrong some (most?) of the time. As readers, we need to understand that about others, too.

  3. No, that’s not quite it. The intent isn’t central. I don’t think Vicki had any ill intent. Clearly, her intent was just to write a helpful little blog post. People just genuinely don’t appreciate how wide the reach of their posts are, and the impact of stylistic changes like whether or not they use a list.

  4. I will use lists because I am a list maker.

    I tend to agree with Matt. Tom, I do think it important that I give my best to blogging, however, as I watched the Georgia Tech football game tonight, I realized that blogging is more like a football game — every play isn’t perfect and sometimes we as bloggers screw up and fall short (I’ve done it lots.)

    I think you’re demanding something that is more of a once in a lifetime performance at Carnegie Hall — that will be my book — perfect and edited to the point of perfection. But to expect such perfection is not indicative of the blogosphere. If I blogged for a living or promoted open source software for a living, it would be perfect, I guarantee you, because I do tend to be a perfectionist.

    However, you do not seem to want to let this one post drop. Have you not seen the almost 300 other posts that were helpful? I am a classroom teacher. I write lists and despite whether you think I bring things out of clear air, I do not. I discussed every one of these points in my classes as we discussed the Netsmartz videos. I have been researching my book since June and these have emerged from that research.

    If you choose to continue, Tom, I will have to consider that perhaps this is personal and that is fine, I’m certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.

    I have become keenly aware in the last several months that people do listen to what I say and I take it seriously. I pray every morning for wisdom.

    How about we call it a truce? I’m switching to Google Docs and make sure my spelling is checked. As for giving up the lists, I’ve been making them since I could write. These points are in my book and they are researched. I stand behind them.

    I think its time to let this one drop, OK?

  5. Is there something special and magical about lists? I know that they get more traffic, and get forwarded and cited more often, than other types of posts. Indeed, many blogging experts advocate use of lists to drive up blog traffic. Should we bloggers be more accountable for certain types of posts just because of the predilection of our audience (or the blogosphere generally) to use them in particular ways?

  6. “One has to recognize that once one reaches a certain point of authority and popularity, one has to be more careful and deliberate about blogging.”

    I couldn’t agree more and here’s a perfect example: In a recent blog posting, David Warlick states that they are laying off librarians in Michigan and buying laptops. Clearly the implication is that dollars that could be used to save librarian positions are, instead, being used to purchase laptops. Bad, bad Michigan!

    David Warlick is considered an authority and is very popular among K-12 educators. Had he been more deliberate, however, he would have validated this information and discovered that the funding source for purchasing laptops is different from that for teachers’ salaries. There is no correlation between the two.

    Warlick’s blog site, 2 Cents Worth, is widely read and comments already appear supporting his outrage. On the other hand, my remarks to clarify Warlick’s comments which appear in our definitely-not-so-widely-read Michigan Leadership Improvement Framework Endorsement (MI-LIFE) blog http://milife.typepad.com, will be read by only a few. Thus, as a result of carelessness in his blog posting, the image of Michigan is of one that values the purchasing of “things” over the value of retaining important human resources.

    As educators, we continually whine about the media dragging us down with misinformation, partial truths, and negative press. I hope that our popular educational bloggers are more deliberate and careful about the information they present so they are not similarly characterized.

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