Doctors take the Hippocratic oath. Financial planners are legally obligated to act in the fiduciary interest of their clients. Congresspeople are beholden to an ethics committee.
What about bloggers?
I won’t mince my words: the issue of ethics in blogging has been at the forefront of my mind for some time now.
From copyright infringement, to fishy follower tactics, to concealing financial conflicts of interest — it’s all been heavy on my mind. So this is me letting it all out.
1. Copyright infringement
When a blogger copies and pastes a photo from a social media site and passes it as their own, this is not only grossly unethical, but they may get in a lot of legal trouble for it. And, even in the case of a good faith effort, by linking to the Pin or the Tweet or the ‘Gram where they got the photo, this still may be copyright infringement. Moral of the story: even if you link to the original source, you can still end up in hot water.
2. Fishy follower tactics
OK, so here is where my rant/opinion goes from pure legal ethics to matters of opinion. Did you know that, for most social media platforms out there today, one can easily purchase followers? Crazy, right?!
Such services are often against the terms of service of the social media platform in question, because what you are actually purchasing is follows by fake accounts. My research for this post also tells me that there are some slightly less scammy services that log into your Twitter account on your behalf, in order to click ‘like’ on thousands of posts to garner followers for you. The latter is not technically against Twitter’s terms of service, but I daresay it equally violates the spirit of the law, as they say.
And, honestly, what is the point? If you’ve got 20,000 followers, but they are all either robots, or disengaged people who were scammed into following your account, then what have you really gained? Because I can tell you what you’ve lost: money and dignity.
3. Monetary conflicts of interest
And, finally, the hottest of ethics topics when it comes to many genres of blogs (but most notably in fashion and beauty blogs): sponsorships and free goodies.
I cannot speak to the laws in other countries, but here in the States, bloggers who receive complimentary goods and services in exchange for promoting them on their blog are required by law to disclose this.
Now, unfortunately the Federal Trade Commission does not seem to have time to crack down on all offenders, of which there are many. However, even if it were not against the law, my stance is that it is grossly unethical to receive kickbacks in the form of free merchandise and conceal this from one’s readers.
So, here comes the more nuanced thing. Let’s suppose a blogger receives free goods or services from a company for her to review on her blog. And let’s say she clearly discloses that they were given to her free of charge.
I would argue that, still, there is an ethical compromise being made here. After all, how can anyone truly not be swayed by the lack of a price tag when they review an article of clothing they got for free? How can they truly not like a handbag or tube of lipstick that much more when it arrived at their doorstep free of charge?
As I continue to form my opinions on the matter, I am increasingly of the belief that, the moment a blogger starts to accept free items in exchange for a post reviewing and promoting said items, they are no longer a blogger. Rather, they become an advertiser and marketer.
And, frankly, the more I think on it, the less I am sure that I would be OK with accepting anything free of charge in exchange for blogging about it. When I talk with Dear Husband about this, he (rightly) asks me, “Well, what are you going to do if you ever get big enough that Tory Burch wants to send you a handbag, or some marathon wants to provide your race entry for free?”
To that I say, first of all, I think that entertaining that question is a wishful waste of time, ha! But, on a serious note, I can say that I don’t think I would ever feel comfortable ethically receiving things like handbags or jewelry free of charge. Never. Those things are too subjective.
But to be honest, if we’re talking about an entry fee to a race that I would have run anyway, I must admit that I can totally see the draw of accepting it free of charge — although I would always insist on writing as unbiased a review as possible. But then again, isn’t that was this is all about? The fact that, as humans, we’re simply not capable of being unbiased? And if that’s the case, then no, I should never be willing to accept anything.
Sigh. Thank you for bearing with me as I continue to work through my beliefs on these tricky issues.
Now, I have something to ask of you all. What do YOU think about the issues I raised? I am particularly keen to know what you all think about the monetary conflict of interest with receiving goods and services for free.
Until next time,