On Transparency

Not long ago, a female blogger began receiving death threats as a result of a dispute over whether it was acceptable to delete “impolitic” comments left by visitors on someone’s personal website. The ensuing circus has now sparked a proposed blogger code of conduct (this links to The New York Times coverage.)

While the Times story touches on issues of free speech, who has responsibility for content on a site and what the underlying principles should be, it skates by the crux of the issue: The reason the problem started in the first place is that people can leave comments anonymously, without any accountability.

Running parallel to this story is the saga of Don Imus, whose racist comments now have him in the middle of his own firestorm. What I find interesting about Imus is the fact that he’s being held publicly accountable, in part by people on blogs.

I’m leading up to a point here, one that’s a bit less obvious than “Being accountable is good.” While this is true, social media puts tremendous pressure on companies and executives attempting to keep secrets–so much so that some CEOs are going an opposite direction, and making their companies transparent.

(I highly recommend the cover story in the April issue of Wired magazine, “The See-Through CEO.” It’s also worth reading the Wired case study about Microsoft.)

A quote from the Wired article:

Secrecy is dying. It’s probably already dead. In a world where Eli Lilly’s internal drug-development memos, Paris Hilton’s phonecam images, Enron’s emails, and even the governor of California’s private conversations can be instantly forwarded across the planet, trying to hide something illicit – trying to hide anything, really – is an unwise gamble.

Not surprisingly, transparency is one of the core principles underlying corporate social responsibility, since you can’t very well be responsible if you’re keeping secrets about your economic, social or environmental performance.

Think about it: the Bush administration has been the most secretive on record (and arguably the worst). The two go hand in hand. To quote the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

there has been a consistent pattern in the Administration’s actions: laws that are designed to promote public access to information have been undermined, while laws that authorize the government to withhold information or to operate in secret have repeatedly been expanded. The cumulative result is an unprecedented assault on the principle of open government.

Admittedly, not everything is improved by transparency. Without Apple’s secret skunkworks, we might not have the iPod. And having Don Imus meet the women from the Rutgers basketball team is taking things too far.

But it’s hard to have a democracy and civil discourse if people aren’t accountable for what they say and do. Funny it takes things as high-tech as blogs to point out something that should be obvious.

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2 thoughts on “On Transparency

  1. Pingback: No One Likes a Draft « First Person Irregular

  2. Pingback: Hail to the Chief — and to Transparency « First Person Irregular

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