Honest to Blog?

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Posted At: Feburary 12, 2012 2:00 PM
by Katie Kallam

These days it seems like everyone has a blog. People blog about politics; they blog about their opinions; they blog about their pets; they even blog about what they had for lunch.

But in a world where blogging is increasingly prevalent, how can readers be sure that the information they are consuming from blogs is truly accurate? How can bloggers be sure their blog is considered credible? A blog by nature is essentially one person’s thoughts or opinions. How then can we trust what we read?

As this new medium evolves, many people believe a general code of ethics for blogs should evolve along with it. The online news site cyberjournalist.net published a blogging code of ethics in 2003.

The website says that its code of ethics is only a suggestion; no one can force writers to adopt this code for their own blogs. However, it is a useful tool for blog writers to follow in an effort to establish credibility. It also helps readers distinguish a credible blog from an untrustworthy one.

The first tenet of cyberjournalism.net’s code of ethics for blog writers is to be honest and fair. This principle applies to avoiding plagiarism, linking to sources and using proper quotations and citations for information.

It also applies to a recent trend where companies offer to pay influential blog writers to promote their products. Marketing and social media experts disagree about the morality of this practice. However, it is an important thing for blog readers to be aware of when evaluating the opinions of bloggers.

Sophie Hudson, creator of the popular lifestyle blog boomama.net, said she is hesitant to promote specific products because she does not want her readers to question her motives. “I always make sure to clarify if a company supplied me with a product,” she said.

Hudson, however, does not think such promotions are always unethical for bloggers. “I just think that the burden is on the blogger to disclose whether he or she could possibly profit from a link,” she said.

The second tenet of the blogging code of ethics is to minimize harm. According to cyberjournalism.net, this means “treat sources and subjects as human beings deserving of respect.” Essentially, think before you blog.

Be aware of this principle especially when dealing with situations of grief or tragedy. When reading a blog, consider the source. If something seems to be overly exploiting another’s pain or misfortune or makes broad statements without citing sources, it probably isn’t a very credible blog. Use the same judgment you would with print journalism; learn to distinguish fact from opinion.

Another aspect of minimizing harm is for bloggers to protect their own privacy. Writer Anne Riley believes that bloggers should not only respect the privacy of their subjects but also be careful with their own personal information.

“Because I hope to one day have a very public career as an author,” she said, “I am careful not to reveal too many specific details about where I live and work.” Riley also thinks that bloggers should be careful about posting personal photos.

The final rule in the blog code of ethics is to be accountable. Each blog post should be clear in its message. Blog writers should be honest with their readers when a conflict of interest arises, or when they are being influenced by advertisers. Not only should bloggers hold each other accountable, but also blog readers should hold the bloggers accountable. It is important for readers to measure blogs they read against more traditional, credible news sources.

If readers and bloggers alike follow this code of ethics, it will make for a more trustworthy blog world. But how can readers be entirely sure that the blog they are reading follows this code? How can we differentiate between expert advice and unfounded opinion?

According to Hudson, readers should pay attention to the content above all else. “When the quality of that content is reliable,” she said, “I’m generally going to be a loyal reader.”

J. Suzanne Horsley, Ph.D., Red Cross public affairs volunteer and assistant professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at The University of Alabama, has several tips for bloggers who want to increase their credibility.

“Use outside sources in your blog posts to bolster credibility and third-party endorsement [and] allow public comments,” she said.

She added, “Limit your posts to topics that are truly deserving of the extra space (including photos and videos) that a blog permits. That way your readers will know that what you have to say is important and is not a repeat of your other social media channels.”

In a world where people are constantly being inundated with information, it is important to be able to distinguish truth from blabber. Blog writers, social media experts and casual readers alike need to be diligent in maintaining and improving the credibility and ethics of the medium.

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