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chicagoWriting used to be used as punishment in schools, but now writers are being punished. Detention, suspension for bad blogging? in USA Today reports that Chicago students may be punished for inappropriate blogging in the controversial MySpace. While I agree that we should have the freedom to post what we want when we want, I don't necessarily see this form of censorship as completely out of line.

As I've noted here, there can be serious repercussions for academics and others for blog content, up to and including lack of employment to begin with, loss of job if currently employed, and possible repercussions due to plagairism as we move into a more "controlled" digital age. The question in my mind is how far back will employers look? You betcha; I think they'll be looking at old material too.

It can be difficult sometimes to field appropriate vs. inappropriate content, even for seasoned blogging pros. Perhaps if the possible ramifications were carefully explained, school monitoring would not be necessary. Then again, I can remember some extremely poor decisions I made as a teenager, even after nodding my head that yes, I understood what might happen.

Having said this, I must say that I think blogging can be extremely beneficial for writers, especially writers who have a somewhat difficult time with writing. And certainly writing about their writing and considering their "writes" as writers in a democratic society offers limitless potential and sets them up for blogging in academia, which many of them will be required to do in standard freshman composition courses across the country.

Of course, this raises other ethical and moral questions in my mind. Some writing might well be objectionable, but is it right to punish writing, especially in a democratic society? I understand whether we do or don't, employers might. But employment might seem like a long way off for many of these teens, and that's only part of the issue here. Morally we might condemn, but I don't see how we can ethically, as long as they aren't hurting others. I guess it's fair game to hurt yourself, though, and maybe they do need protection.

And of course, this raises questions such as who gets to decide what is appropriate and what isn't. (This reminds me of the canon wars in English lit.) What context makes it inappropriate? Only MySpace? What about Blogger and WordPress? And who gets to critique the writing itself? The images? Look out Chicago, you might have created 50 new positions overnight! Because of course, who will monitor blog posts? And how will they know if their students are blogging anonymously? For the love of God, these are teenagers…remember, forbidden fruit always tastes sweetest.

I'd love to hear what all of you bloggers think, including teenagers.


  1. I think maybe we’re at a watershed with respect to what it means to use the internet. It used to be that the internet was the place to go if you wanted anonymity. People posted to newsgroups using pseudonyms and maintained relatively harmless homepages. But two things are changing that. First, the web is more ubiquitous; anyone and everyone can use search engines to see what you have been writing. Second, the costs of being a content creator have declined; you don’t need money, technical skill or a lot of time to host an extensive personal webpage or blog.

    So the internet has largely ceased to be a place for anonymous interaction, but I think that the general public perception of the internet has not changed to reflect that. Hence a slew of stories about people being fired, suspended or in otherwise hot water for their blogs, MySpace pages, etc. People have always been accountable for their writing, but until recently the internet was a safe place to write about touchy subjects. That’s changing, and in a few years I suspect that people will start being a lot more careful, and life will go on.

  2. Good point–I hope with the realization writing will continue…..

  3. Great points in general, John, although I disagree that the lack of money should be included as a factor which has inhibiting folks to blog.

    Webspace has always been free. Consider the early days (circa 1994) when Yahoo!, Excite, and a crop of others hosted your homepage for free. The advertisement-for-web space model has not diminished, it has merely adapted itself to the nascent world of popup blockers and the like. But back to blogging itself.

    I think there has been, in tandem with the technological advances, a cultural shift. More than anything, it gradually became “cool,” accepted, and even encouraged among first-adopters to blog about this or that, when in the past, homepages merely functioned as link respositories, sometimes accompanied by bits and pieces of biographical information.

    But I see a shift now, and that is that personal blogs seem to be old-hat among those first-adopters (such as myself), though their adoption in the corporate realm as a means of rapidly disseminating information seems vital.

    It’ll be interesting to see when the next shift occurs, and in which direction it takes us.

  4. This is a great point, but I wonder how many people knew it was free back then, or felt too intimidated by web design and so forth to actually use the free sites……

  5. “First-adopters” should probably have been “early-adopters” (and I still don’t know the rule on whether that should be hyphenated).

    What I wanted to chiefly stress was that the actual prohibitive cost to blogging was in fact the technological and cultural sides rather than any monetary side.

    The internet, back in 1994, was for geeks and academics (no; the two are not necessarily homologous). As it so often does, the cultural shift facilitates and more precisely drives the technological shift, enabling the myriad of choices we have today.

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