Tuesday 6 November 2012
The Ethics of Blogging...
A recent conversation with a friend started me thinking - many of us just take for granted that we write our blog posts, throw them up online, and people read them, or not, in varying quantities. The majority of us who write blogs, read them too - my reading list seems to be ever expanding and contains blogs from the UK, New Zealand, The USA and Australia among other locations, relating to subject from frugal living, wildlife, cooking, and just general daily life. All of those are entertaining and many are informative. Most are also factual, with people giving you the chance to look in through a window onto their lives - quite a privilege, when you come to think about it. Readers of some blogs probably know more about the daily routines of the writer than their family or close real-life friends might - for example, whether someone walks the dog in their pyjamas, with trackies pulled on over the top, or whether they have a pathological hatred of ironing, and as a result have learnt the best way of washing and drying clothes so they don't crease. Their colleagues, or neighbours might not know these things, but someone thousands of miles away does, because they read a blog. There are bloggers out there writing fiction, too. Short stories, a chapter at a time of an ongoing novel - even poetry, are all available should you choose to look for them. I generally stick with the real-life ones, I read plenty of fiction away from the internet and generally find the factual blogs more interesting to read online. But wait, is that actually the case, or am I actually reading more fiction online than I think? We do, after all, only have the writer's word for it than what they are telling us is the truth. Who are you to say whether I made the rail journey I spoke of recently to Sheffield, or whether in fact the ticket did only cost me the stated amount of £6? (I did, and it did, well, plus the 50p booking fee) Of course, my blog is mostly backed up with photos taken by me - I choose not to use free-source images available online as my blog started off as primarily a Photo-Blog, and has evolved from there.
As factual bloggers, should we feel under an obligation to be open and honest when perhaps what we are saying isn't "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth"? Let's take an an example someone who blogs on the best and cheapest way to buy a new car. We'll call them Blogger X. They refer to doing their research online, shopping about for prices, and finally playing one dealer off against another to get the best possible deal on their new wheels. Finally they give the actual price they paid, mention how pleased they are with the vehicle, and add a generic photo of said make and model of car from the manufacturers website. The following day, in another post, they casually drop in a comment which reveals that actually, they got a reduction in the price of the car as a thank you for mentioning it online, and singing its praises. The original post didn't mention this incentive, but equally, it didn't say that no such sweetner was offered, it simply avoided any mention of that part of the transaction. Is this ethical? With the best will in the world it would be hard to say that this would be either an open or honest way to proceed, and it could certainly be classified as misleading. What if someone, on seeing the Blogger X's post, had popped along to their local dealership in the hope of obtaining the same deal, on the strength of what they had read? After all, Blogger X didn't actually lie, as such, they simply chose not to mention something, and in fact possibly gave the impression that things were different - is that unethical?
Having posted their blog on buying their fabulous new car, Blogger X invites comments from their readers. However, as a result in the past of having had some spam comments with advertising links included (we're into the realms of hypothetical stuff here as Blogger's software is superb at weeding these out these days) Blogger X has played safe and decided to enable comment moderation. Would we be wrong to feel safe in assuming that once they have checked through for anything spammy, they simply OK all the comments and up they go for the readers to see? What if, in the middle of those comments though, there is one from a chap who works at the car dealership, saying "Hi Blogger X, glad you love the new car, and I'm glad we were able to assist with bringing the price down for you in return for you telling all your readers how fab SuperWheels are!" of course if Blogger X lets that one through, then the game is up isn't it - everyone will know that they received the previously unmentioned incentive. So instead, they decide that, after all, they state clearly enough that they reserve the right to decide which comments they will publish, so they will just "moderate" that one out. Ethical? Or not? A little further down the list of comments, there is one from "Joe" Joe tells Blogger X that he's unconvinced that they are reflecting the true nature of the transaction as look, there is no mention of the cost of tax and insurance, as as he works in the motor trade he knows full well that the price that Blogger X has quoted is simply unachievable, so there surely must have been a further discount or deal which has not been detailed? Blogger X thinks "Sod you Joe, I'm not having you spoil the marvellous little world of fiction I've created" and hits the delete button on that comment too, in fact, they hit the delete button on any almost negative comment they receive. Ethical? Or not?
I recently posted on the subject of a blogger's responsibility to their readers and overall responsibility for the way they choose to purport themself online. To my mind, the question of ethics is a continuation of this. Of course as the owner of a blog we all have the right to decide whether to comment moderate, or not, and once that decision has been made, we have the right to decide which comments will get added to the blog, and which won't. Currently I choose not to moderate - in part because I can't be bothered, I get more than enough email already without adding more asking me to approve comments! If in the future I start getting lots of comments from "anonymous" or from people being rude or abusive (most folk in blogland, if they feel you are being straight with them, are lovely - in the time I have been blogging I have only ever had one rude comment left, which is really nice) then I may feel the need to change that, but as things stand I'm happy to trust people to comment what and when they choose. If I did go down the route of moderation, then my personal view is that negative comments must be allowed to go through alongside the positive ones - otherwise the final picture given is unbalanced. I would remove any comments that were personally abusive to me or others, or anything using foul language, although with those my tendency would be to copy them out without the offensive language and repost. Just because someone has insufficient vocabulary to post a comment in cyberspace without resorting the f'ing and blinding, should they be denied the right to have their say? I often wonder when I read a blog with contentious subject matter, or simple something that is likely to provoke debate, and then see nothing but positive comments singing the blogger's praises whether that is the whole story or whether, in fact, there is a whole raft of comments disagreeing with the writer floating about in cyberspace's great recycle bin.
So, here, for posterity, is my personal pledge -
- What you read here is fact, and anything that isn't will be clearly defined as fiction.
- If I refer to someone specifically by name, that name will, more often, be changed to protect the person's own anonymity.
- As things stand I have not enabled comment moderation, I trust you, the reader, not to abuse this faith in your basic human decency.
- If you post something personally rude or abusive to me or others, or using offensive language, I reserve the right to copy that post, along with whatever identification you have used, and copy it back as a comment so it remains on the list of comments should you decide later to delete it. Think carefully before you post something rude on someone's blog!
- Further to the above, and should you still choose to be unpleasant, I also may choose to make a feature of your comment, along with any links etc contained in your username, via a screengrab and a further blog entry.
What are your personal ethics in blogland? Perhaps you think that all that matters is the readability, and in fact whether the content is as truthful as it appears is neither here nor there? Have you ever felt "cheated" by anything you have read online?