Responding to the continuing uproar over the Federate Media Microsoft People Ready ad, Fred Wilson asserts that his blog is just him, i.e. it’s not a publication and therefore he doesn’t have to follow any rules:
1 – this is my blog, not a publication, and not representative of anyone or anything other than me. in my mind, it is me. if i think it, like it, or do it, it appears here at one point or another.
2 – i don’t subscribe to any code of conduct or rules about what i do on this blog other than it needs to represent me. i try to disclose when i have financial relationships with the companies i blog about but beyond that i don’t try to live up to some journalistic notion of editorial integrity or objectiveness. this is a BLOG.
If Fred weren’t running ads on his bog, I’d say he’s absolutely right. It’s his blog, and anyone who doesn’t like it doesn’t have to read it. But once he started running ads, I think he crossed a line and became a publisher, like any other. He has a responsibility to his advertisers to act within some guideline — he can make up the rules, certainly, but advertisers are entitled to know what they are. Otherwise, how can they make an informed decision about whether to run ads?
The reality is that all blogs are publications — it’s an issue of liability. Once you distribute your words in public, you are liable for what you say, i.e. legally liable. You can’t engage in criminal defamation of libel and say, hey, what’s the big deal, it’s just my blog. And once you involve third parties like advertisers, then you are liable for how your behavior as a publisher impacts them.
Free blogging software and the networked Web may be empowering, but with power comes responsibility. And with commercial intent comes an additional layer of responsibility.
I admire that Fred gives all his proceeds from advertising to charity, but it doesn’t change the fact that advertisers are paying to run their messages on his blog, and to say that this isn’t “publishing” in the traditional sense is just semantics.
One of the big lessons of the Federated Media Microsoft incident is that things haven’t change nearly as much as we like to think they have — the technology is more powerful and more accessible, but publishing is still publishing.