Oct
2009

Ethical Concerns For Web Idea

My website idea is a user generated media website, where the user can access and post information about their local area. The goal of the site is to become a Wikinews or iReporter like site with a style like Craigslist.

As with anything on the Internet these days, this site has the potential to do great things, but it also has potential ethical issues attached to it as well.

COPYRIGHT

The site is a placeholder for information. The copyright belongs to the user who posts the information. So if I am a local reporter, the story I tell on the website must be entirely my story to tell, and I alone hold the copyright to that story. It is my choice to share that information with the world.

The site will state clearly that any user, who does not own the rights to this story, will be penalized. They will have to agree that the story is theirs and they alone hold the rights to that story.

The exception to this rule is linking or posting video from another site. That other site must be the copyright holder’s site. Meaning if I want to share a story that I saw on the local news, if the local news’s website has posted the story on their site, then I can link to that or embed their video to my story. Here it will be clear that the story came from the local news. The difference being, I cannot record it to You Tube off the local news broadcast and then upload it as my own.

There is some flexibility here as well. If the reporter is covering something that is a public event, or is the eyewitness to a story, they can state that as their claim to being able to tell the story. If the information is public information then they must also state that. They cannot copyright public information as their own, but they can be an eyewitness to an event that has happened in public. An example would be seeing a car fire on the highway. I see the fire, record the video, and post it to the site. The video is copyright to me, but the story is a public one.

PRIVACY AND EFFECT ON THE USER

Ethically this is the most crucial part of the website. People want a place to be able to tell their stories and report the news they feel their local, or network news can’t or won’t tell. This website can their outlet. The issue being though, are they telling a story about someone that may not be true? Do they have the evidence to back up the story? Will someone be hurt or libel because of a story that has been reported on here? Does any of this reporting violate someone’s privacy? This is the area where user generated “journalism” gets into trouble. Not being professional journalist, the average user may simply not care about the repercussions of their actions. Nothing really holds them to any ethical standard like a professional journalist. The site can establish a code of ethics (and should), but someone may be so hell bent on destroying the reputation of someone else they may just plow through all the ethical walls the site would have put in place.

Being a website and not real newsroom, there is no immediate oversight. It will be up to the other users to police the site. It will be very important that the site designer thoroughly check these stories. Give clear reasons why a story may or may not need to come down off the site should it be too libel.

What about if the story has already been posted and the damage is done? Is the site held responsible? The site should have a statement posted clearly that the user generated content is that of the user and the site should not be held responsible, but that the site monitors all postings and does try to fact check everyone. This could be an endless job though. Here again the pre-defined categories of where the stories will be placed under will be key in tracking down the stories that might be questioned.

Certainly if information is available in the public record and can be found online, the source of that information must be cited. A town meeting or a public vote is certainly something that can be reported.

Here again is where commenting on the stories can be an issue too. Should the comments be a place for rebuttal? Or would the comments add to further tell the story or will they be a place for attacks? It might be wiser to have a “Tell your side of the story” section to each story posted as opposed to a comments section. Putting a little effort into it may cut down on how many negative actions could be taken otherwise.

This site belongs to the user. There will be a community of users that will need to check stories and report wrong information. Much like the iReporter site there can be more experienced user. Just like on Ebay when a seller has high marks or a buyer is considered a good person to do business with. There can be a ratings system established to show which reporters have experience.

There are a great deal of questions here. Similar to other sites there will be agreements in place for the user to understand before proceeding with their post. There will need to be an ethical and copyright agreement for each post they write. Within those agreements there should be highlighted words that can link to better clear descriptions if the user in unclear what the ethics are they are agreeing to. There will also be an email setting that will be in place to launch the story. So once they have agreed to the ethics, and the story is written, they will be sent an email that will have a link in it that will make the story live. This email is the final agreement to all ethical and copyright issues for that certain story. While this all may seem a bit excessive, the goal is to weed out spammers and people who are trying to libel someone. It is in no way a perfect system, but will need trial an error to figure out a better one. User feedback will be key to finding a way that is faster. Once the community if built that may help cut down on all the extra steps one take. Perhaps after a reporter has posted a certain number of stories and has a good track record then some of these restrictions will be reduced.

COMMERCE

The goal of the website is to share stories/information, and report on local news. At this time I cannot see a way to profit from the website. Certainly that is not the goal of the site. Should a way to make money off the site in an ethical way, meaning one that doesn’t compromise the goal of the site or the sharing of information and local reporting, then it will be considered.