Linking: legal or libel?

Most people of Generation Y are more than familiar with what links are on the internet. The reality is though, that most probably don’t even think about what links actually are and what they are doing let alone the legalities and ethics behind linking— they just click and go. But there are different types of linking that each have their own questions to consider, and James C. Foust explains them in his book Online Journalism: Principles and Practices of News for the Web.

Deep linking

Foust explains deep linking as linking to a page that is past the home page and farther into the website. For example, instead of linking to an online store’s home page, one might link directly to a specific product. He says this type of linking causes websites to lose clicks because instead of starting at the home page, then clicking a broad category, then a more specific category and finally clicking on what the user actually wants to look at, the user is taken directly to the page they wanted to go to. In my opinion, deep linking is more convenient for the user. For example, if I wanted the readers of this blog to know more about me and my background, it would be easier for me to link them directly to my “About” section than it would be to link them to my home page where they would have to navigate to it themselves.

Inline linking

From my understanding of Foust, inline linking is mostly associated with image linking. If you put an image on your page that is taken from another page it is called inline linking. The problem that it creates is that people can pull images directly from the originally web page (which is bad) instead of saving them and then posting them.  Here is an example:

I saved this image of the Empire State Buidling to my computer before uploading it. It has creative commons licensing.

Associative linking

Watch what kind of links you put on your page because according to Foust, associative linking can cause some issues. He says associative linking is when the types of links on one page can affect the reputation of other links on that page. For example, in a story about the price of tuition at Minnesota universities I might write, “Minnesota State University, Mankato has seen an increase in the cost of tuition. The chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities said the rise in tuition is due to the changing economy.” Readers are going to assume these two institutions are related, which in this case they are. But in other instances where a few different topics might be discussed, it’s important to pay attention to what relationships your links are creating.

Illegal linking

Linking to illegal sites or ones with questionable ethics or morals can cause big issues. Just don’t do it.

Links can further understanding

Linking to other web sites gives users the opportunity to get more information. This is useful when a writer is using terms or talking about historical events that many people might know, but some might not and others might like to be reminded of what they are. An example of this would be if I were writing an article about President Obama and the topics he said he planned to tackle when he gave his inaugural address, I could add in a link of the video of him giving the address so users could see for themselves what he actually said instead of me just listing things. Another example is something I’ve already done in this post. In my first sentence I mentioned Generation Y. Some people might already know what Generation Y is so they would be less interested to read a long explanation of what it is. By linking to a page with a definition of what it is, everyone is happy. Users who know what it is aren’t bogged down and users who don’t know what it is have easy access to a definition.

Do your research

The dangers are that a writer can link to anything. If a writer isn’t doing their research they can easily link to information that is inaccurate. If I wasn’t really paying attention to my research, my first sentence could have gone like this, “Most people of Generation Y are more than familiar with what links are on the internet.” That link is to a blog about people whose names start with Y. That would give users a completely different definition than what I intended. Links should be to reputable websites with information the writer has checked to make sure it is accurate. The link also shouldn’t pose any type of legal or ethical issues because that will draw attention away from the story and instead people will focus on the controversy of the link.

Advice for linking

My best advice when linking is to do a lot of research. Be sure that you are prepared to associate yourself with the web pages you are linking to. If you do a good job, most people won’t really think twice about how or why you chose a link, yet if you do a poor job you will be scrutinized for your choices. The more research you do the more respectable your story will be. Make sure to do research on both the content of the web page and the legalities of linking to that page. Also, be sure to ask yourself if what you’re linking to is an ethical choice. You want to remain neutral in your work, so don’t link to a page that’s going to put a certain spin on your story. In short— pay attention and be smart!

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About elenajade

I am a graduate in Mass Media and English from Minnesota State University, Mankato where I was formerly the News Editor for the student-run newspaper, the Reporter. Currently, I am a front desk clerk at GrandStay Residential Suites, and I just finished up an internship at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Mankato, MN. I grew up in the small town of Phillips, WI and am open to job opportunities in large, metro areas because I've come to enjoy city life through all of my experiences and travels. At this moment, I plan to move to Los Angeles in August 2012 in hopes of starting a great career.

Posted on October 17, 2011, in Online Etiquette, Social Media and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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