What are ethics, and why do bloggers need to worry about them? Is there one clear, straightforward definition, or is it personal? What does the word “ethics” mean to you?
In my last post, I talked about how to operate as a professional blogger. Accurate facts and verifying sources are important for bloggers.
Another area professional bloggers need to think about is ethics.
Ethics is not just some boring topic that academics discuss. To be an ethical blogger you need to have a clear, responsible goal. Give your readers choices, and make sure they know your agenda.
Your own personal ethics may stem from the way you answer a basic question: Does the end justify the means? In other words, should you ever do something that isn’t good in itself to achieve a goal that you think is good?
We bloggers can all play our part in making blogging a viable, professional career. So let’s take a few minutes to reflect on ethical principles that help us decide on proper or moral ways to act.
As a blogger, there are many ethical dilemmas you might face. These may be how you get information, how you get mailing list subscribers, or how you disclose your income affiliates.
There are three major types of unethical behavior: dishonesty, plagiarism and misrepresentation.
- Dishonesty is any form of falsification, making up information, or distorting information so your audience draws the wrong conclusion.
- Plagiarism means using the words and ideas of others without giving proper credit or attribution.
- Misrepresentation happens when you appear to be something you’re not, either to a source or to an audience.
Unethical writers use false claims and manipulate evidence instead of using logic. Unethical writers also knowingly give false or misleading information to an audience. They don’t give their readers all the facts or the option to form their own opinions.
How You Can Be Ethical
As a blogger who writes for a public audience, you can do several things to stay ethical.
Overall, you should use critical thinking, analysis and evaluation to formulate arguments and draw conclusions.
You should use evidence ethically. This means sharing all evidence with your audience, even if it might damage your case. Then you can show why the disagreeing opinions are wrong.
You can connect with your readers on an emotional level while still being ethical. It’s fine to express your opinion on your blog. It’s even okay to try and persuade your audience to agree with you. But you should present multiple points of view, then state why you feel one way. And give your audience a chance to disagree with you.
Ethical and professional bloggers are sensitive to and tolerant of differences. You should accommodate other points of view and show respect for others by avoiding language that might be interpreted as biased or offensive.
Ethical bloggers are also honest. You need to give credit and properly cite ideas that aren’t your own. This will help you avoid plagiarism. We live in an age where plagiarism is too easy to commit on the Internet. Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s free to steal. Stealing someone else’s work, no matter how easy it is to copy and paste, is unethical.
You should also acknowledge your sources. Credit direct quotations to the person who said them. Credit opinions and claims of others, even if you paraphrase them rather than quoting directly. You should also credit statistical sources and visual materials that you get from another source. Make sure the credits are obvious to your audience, either embedded in the text of your post, or under or next to a graphic or visual.
To sum all of this up, I have three final ethical guidelines to leave you with:
- Full disclosure: Clearly label sponsored posts and affiliate links so your audience can make their own decisions on whether to click.
- Be fair. Your sources, any sponsors, and your readers will know if you’re being unfair. Even children know when you’re being unfair.
- Remember good taste. Even if an action or story is ethical, it may still be in bad taste.
Bloggers who want to be seen as professionals, and who want to raise the standards of the blogging industry, need to pay close attention to ethics. If you’re being as accurate as possible, presenting yourself honestly, and giving your readers a choice to make up their own minds, you’ll be an ethical blogger.
Readers, how important are ethics to you? How do you make sure you’re staying ethical on your blog? Leave us a comment!