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Blogging and Responsibility

Posted Sep 11 2008 8:39pm
Monday, for the first time, I dropped in on Autism Speaks' Message Boards. It was, predictably, the home of some rather heated conversations. So I jumped in a little bit, in a typical Steve way of trying not to step on too many toes but trying to state clearly how I felt on some issues (specifically, what is Neurodiversity's "message").

I was quickly responded to by one "SamsDad", who apparently holds a low view of Neurodiversity and those who are associated with the Autism Hub. That's okay, as he doesn't know me from Adam and I really don't care what he thinks, as we don't really know or impact each other in any meaningful way. But ... a portion of his comments gave me some food for thought. And the result is this blog post on the topic of ... responsible blogging.

In response to my statement,

"The whole philosophy appealed tremendously to me - and still does - on any number of levels. Here are what I consider to be a few facets of the ND point of view as I see it. I speak for no one but myself."

SamsDad replied:

"You speak for no one else, but blogging speaks to everyone else, including people that have not yet formed an opinion. As KevLeitch has pointed out, that's a pretty substantial audience. I know blogging isn't supposed to be as "objective" as the media per se, but it can be as influential. Is there a moral responsibility there then? I think so, but I'm naive and somewhat idealistic. So, like it or not, all of you that "publish" these blogs, are in the public eye, by your own volition, and are thereby viewed as "representatives", with all the trials, tribulations, criticisms and responsibilities that come with such a position, as well as the very loud voice that accompanies it. "

Which is an interesting point of view that deserves further discussion. And, yes, this will follow my typical pattern of discussion that leaves me with more questions than answers. Its a good thing I named this blog "One Dad's Opinion" because had I named it "One Dad's Indisputably Known Facts" there would be like two or three posts, and the only topic would be that I love my family. How boring that would be.

I don't think I agree with the basic premise of SamsDad's statement - "I know blogging isn't supposed to be as "objective" as the media per se, but it can be as influential." I think the flaw here is the intimation that blogging operates under the assumption of objectivity. Blogging, instead, is the epitome of subjectivity, in that it is a person or group of people writing in a way that they feel comfortable with, unfettered by any hard-line ethical and professional codes (actually, that sounds a lot like today's news media). So we are responsible to ourselves, as bloggers, to keep it honest and real, and ultimately our own self-imposed code of conduct determines how we choose to use our words.

I stated in the first post I ever wrote:
"It occurs to me that, years from now, these words will be accessible to all three of my sons. At this very moment these words are able to be read by the other people who I value so much in my life."

That is my guiding principle, my own self-imposed code of conduct. My boys will read this someday. I want them to know that Dad cared. My wife reads this, and I want her to know I love and appreciate her. I also stated my goal very clearly in the title bar: "This is one Dad's opinion of various subjects, most of which involve the reality of raising a child who is autistic." and in the sidebar: "This blog is for discussion of all things related to autism. I especially welcome the input of autistic individuals." I don't think I have any moral imperative to forewarn my readers (all 37 of them) beyond that. Do you? At some point, someone has to read what I or anyone else on the Hub or anywhere on the Internet wrote and decide for themselves if they agree or disagree. And here are some of the topics I have covered. Maybe SamsDad can decide for himself if I am worthy of my self-appointed soapbox:

  • Our son's school district doing a particularly good job of adjusting to increasing numbers of autistic students.

  • My favorite post, in which I compare my three boys to newly founded cities.

  • How great my dog is.

  • What an ... unsavory guy JB Handley is and how he changed his story instead of owning up to his premature declarations of "mercury poisoining is autism!".

  • I joined in "Blogging Against Disablism Day" by writing a post about how having an autistic son changed me as a person.

  • Some great conversations with Mark Twain.

  • I wrote about my son's preschool graduation and included some pictures.

  • I did a write-up of a great conference I attended at University of San Diego. (Just yesterday I got a response on one of those three posts - from one of the presenters, Stephen Hinkle. I recommend that people read his comments.)

  • I examined the Autism Speaks-sponsored study on Prozac as a pharmaceutical support for autistic individuals.

  • I did a three-part series on Evidence-Based Interventions.

  • I posted an essay by Martha Leary about Movement Differences.

  • I talked about the controversial topic of recovery in the context of Jason's progress.

  • I criticized a Fortune Magazine blogger who had coined the term "Blackberry Autism".

  • I posted a discussion of and, later, a form letter for people to use, that encouraged the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to not stop funding transportation for Special Ed students via the school districts.

  • I wrote two posts about my feelings on how the whole Jenny McCarthy thing went down.

  • I talked about Hyperlexia and reading comprehension.

So there you have it. Apparently, upon reviewing this list, I am an extremely boring blogger. Not much controversy here! Yes, there are other topics as well, but I think it can be agreed by many that mine is not the stuff of severe conflict. Or maybe some perceive that it is. Should that be of concern to me?

Some bloggers, such as our friend Harold Doherty in New Brunswick, take a far more ideological approach than some class-B Hub blogger like myself. Harold watches news feeds all day keyed to the term "autism". Once he sees a good one, he quickly spins the news to make the Evil Neurodiverse out to be the source of all that is bad in the world of autism, then posts it. He actually uses horrible stories like the one I just linked to as an ice-breaker for another attack on the "ND's". He spends the rest of his online time sniping at people on their own blogs, then moderating out comments they choose to make on his blog. How does this approach fit in with SamsDad's view of responsible blogging? Also, while Harold and I agree on some things and disagreeon others, I would never want to take away his right to talk about anything he wants to. He deserves the same platform as I or anyone else has, and it is up to him to do what he wants with it.

( I wasn't going to post a link directly to Harold's blog since sending traffic there seems irresponsible, but I only have 37 readers so I thought the impact would be minimal)

And there is (at least) one more thing that I think devalues SamsDad's analogy between blogs and journalism: Unlike developing a network to compete with Viacom, anyone can write a blog! Even me! SamsDad could be a blogger within 5 minutes of reading this post if he chooses to. He can attempt to reach, to use his own words, "... people that have not yet formed an opinion." If he were to do this, we would potentially provide counterbalancing viewpoints (assuming we disagree on things).

So SamsDads' point, though interesting, may have been a bit misplaced. I guess he identified me with the Autism Hub and jumped to the conclusion that I oppose all he holds dear or something, which amounts to painting a whole group with a pretty broad brushstroke. After all, when he made his comments, all I had done was identify myself as a Hub blogger and describe several aspects of what I feel are apects of Neurodiversity's message.

I'd like to hear other opinions on what constitutes responsible vs. irresponsible blogging.

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