A Blogger Code of Ethics
Last week I wrote about Instagram and insincerity, and I was honestly pretty blown away by the response to that post – particularly on social media.
It seems there are a lot of people out there who, like me, are becoming increasingly disillusioned by both social media and blogging. In addition to the spambot use I spoke about in my post, there are also so many bloggers out there who buy followers, fail to disclose sponsorships, or just straight-up plagiarise and copy their way to “success,” that while it was a relief to know I’m not the only one who’s bothered by this kind of behaviour, it was a also a little depressing to read some of the examples people gave of it. Like the woman who posted a photo of herself about to have surgery, and got a, “So cute!” comment from an Insta-bot, for instance. Or the popular blogger who commented, “Love this!” on a photo of a swastika. Yikes.
Anyway, I read all of the comments, and I despaired a bit about the state of the internet for a while, and then I thought, “You know what? We can change this.” And we CAN. Of course we can. We might not be able to stop people doing the things we consider to be unethical, of course, but we CAN take a stand against that behaviour, and promise not to do any of it ourselves. So that’s what I’m doing today.
In the post below, you’ll find a list of unethical blogging behaviour that I promise not to take part in… and which I hope you will, too. Your list might be different from mine, obviously, because we all have different ideas about ethics, and where we’re willing to draw the line on certain things. That’s cool: it’s really not my intention to moralise here, or to tell people how they should be behaving – I just want to make it clear to my readers where I stand on some of the issues I feel are spoiling the blogosphere to some extent, and, as I said, if you want to do something similar, I would love that. So here it is…
I promise never to…
Copy other bloggers
You might think this one goes without saying, and I hope it does for most of us, but plagiarism is rife in blogging, and some people think absolutely nothing of publishing entire posts which are just copied and pasted from other sources. I know I said I wasn’t going to moralise, but seriously, if you’re doing this, please stop. It’s stealing. It’s wrong. And it could actually get you into a whole lot of trouble, because copyright infringement isn’t just an ethical issue, it’s a legal one, which could land you with a giant fine.
Every word that you read on this site is written by me, and it always will be: honestly, if you find yourself having to hit ‘copy’ and ‘paste’ in order to make your point, then you might want to consider whether writing really is the right career for you.
Fail to credit those who inspire me
We’ve all seen a certain blog post, or outfit, or particular style of photography, that we’ve loved so much that it’s inspired us to create something similar ourselves. That’s fine, of course, but when you owe your great idea to someone else, it’s only right to acknowledge that, by crediting the person who came up with it, and linking back to them prominently. There will always be exceptions to this, obviously: there are some ideas which you KNOW aren’t original, but which you’ve no idea who to thank for, and there are other times when you just forget where you seen something, and are left thinking, “Now, I KNOW I saw this somewhere, but I can’t for the life of me remember where!” When that happens, I’ll still always acknowledge that the idea isn’t my own, and I do it in exactly the way I just stated – by saying something along the lines of, “I saw this somewhere, but I can’t remember where, so if you know, tell me!” I will never, however, knowingly use someone else’s idea without admitting it – because that’s just not cool, is it?
Use other people’s images without permission – including ones found on Pinterest, Google Images etc
Again, this isn’t just unethical, it’s also illegal to use copyrighted images without permission: and, no, citing the source isn’t “permission” – all you’re doing is telling everyone where you stole from. There are some cases in which you might be able to use certain images copyright free, but, in general, if you don’t know, ASK – it’s 100x safer than just assuming you’re in the clear, and then ending up with a giant invoice from a disgruntled copyright holder.
Also, I know I’ve said this about a hundred times now, but Google Images and Pinterest are NOT free image banks. They’re search engines. What you see on them is images that belong to other people, and which you CANNOT just stick on your blog with the words, “Image: Pinterest,” underneath, and hope that’s OK. It’s not OK. I mean, how would YOU feel if someone took one of YOUR photos from Pinterest, and credited THEM rather than YOU? I would be ALL CAPS ANNOYED by that, which is why I don’t do it to other people, either. (Well, that and the fact that I don’t want to get in trouble…) The vast majority of the images used on this site were taken by me: everything else is either used with permission, or is copyright-free.
Fail to disclose sponsored posts or other incentives
Yeah, I know, readers hate sponsored posts, and so does Google (if the post has ‘follow’ links in it), which makes it tempting to just not tell them about them. You know what readers hate EVEN MORE than sponsored posts, though? UNDECLARED sponsored posts. No one likes feeling like they’re being misled, and that’s how it feels when you write an obviously sponsored post, and fail to disclose it as such. Now, one of the issues with this is that the rules and guidelines around sponsorship are kind of hazy and open to interpretation: they also change regularly, and can be hard to keep up with – so, even if you have the best of intentions, it can be easy to slip up here. Honestly, I worry about this ALL the time, so, as I said, my promise here is not that I’ll never slip up – it’s that I’ll never stop doing my best to avoid it.
Buy followers or likes
If I’m going to spend money purely to boost my ego, I’m going to be spending it on shoes, not fake followers, so while I might not be able to compete with some of the huge accounts out there, at least I know that the followers I DO have are there because they want to be, not because I maxed out my credit card buying myself some new “friends”. Also, I have some really great shoes, too, so there’s that. Priorities, people, priorities!
Engage in ‘follow-for-follow’ activity designed to artificially boost followers
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have 10 followers who’re actually interested in what I say, than 100 followers who are just there because I promised to follow them back in return. Playing the, “If you follow me, I’ll follow you back!” game only gets you the latter – so, in other words, it gets you nothing, really, except for a whole lot of wasted time.
Use the follow/unfollow technique
This is where you follow a bunch of people in the hope that they’ll follow you back, and then, when they do, you unfollow them immediately. Nice, no?
Use spam bots to post fake comments and likes on social media
Join comment pods
Quite apart from the fact that it wouldn’t make me feel good to have tons of comments on my posts, but to know they were all just posted out of obligation, because I was a member of some group where everyone agrees to comment on each other’s blogs, I can’t even imagine the amount of time this must take. Also, it’s a bit like paying people to hang out with you, really, isn’t it? I’d rather know that the comments I get are REAL ones, than ones I’ve essentially bribed people into leaving, to make me look popular.
Write positive reviews of products I don’t actually like, or haven’t tried
I only ever write about products I’ve tried myself: if I haven’t tried it, I won’t write about it, and if I try it and hate it, I’ll either say so, or I’ll politely decline to cover it. I really hate the thought of people spending their hard-earned cash on something I’ve recommended, and then absolutely hating it, and blaming me for misleading them. Honestly, I worry about this happening even with the things I DO like (Particularly if it’s skincare, or makeup, which people can have different reactions to, or which can look totally different depending on skin tone/type), so I can’t even imagine the guilt I’d feel if I was encouraging people to buy things I hadn’t even tried…
(And yes, people do this: I recently saw another blogger copy and paste someone else’s review of an expensive product, presumably so that she could insert her own affiliate link and make some money from the poor sods who left comments thanking her for the “honest” review…)
Delete comments that don’t agree with me
I will happily delete comments which I feel are deliberately antagonistic or spiteful, or which are obvious attempts at trolling: I wouldn’t allow people to speak to me like that in “real life,” so I’ve no intention of letting them do it online, either – I can’t think of a single reason why I should, really. (And no, I’m not “censoring” people or interfering with their right to free speech by doing that: all I’m doing is exercising my own right to choose what kind of behaviour is acceptable to me on my own blog. You’re still free to go and talk trash about me anywhere else you like, but freedom of speech doesn’t imply that it’s OK to just be straight-up nasty to someone, and I’m sick of people trying to pretend it DOES…) I WON’T however, delete comments that simply offer another point of view, or politely disagree with me: the key word here is “polite,” though – if you can disagree without name-calling or nastiness, then that’s fine by me.
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In closing this post, I just want to say that I know I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to be. I’ve made my share of mistakes as a blogger, particularly when I was starting out, and sometimes I think you HAVE to make some of those mistakes in order to realise that, “Hey, I don’t want to be this kind of person.” So I’m not writing this to scold anyone, or try to set myself above them: I’m not even saying that I’ll never mess up or make more mistakes in the future. All I’m saying is that change has to start somewhere, and I think all of us could probably try a little harder on that front, sometimes.