Basics of Honesty in a Blog

Honesty in blogging is different from honesty in real-life relationships or even journalism or advertising, because knowing who someone is or what she represents online is complex. Consider the following:

  • Blogging anonymously: Blogging under a pen name is okay. For many bloggers, telling the truth is first about emotional honesty and second — or perhaps not at all — about revealing who they are. For example, a personal blogger may connect with a community over a sensitive topic and thus want to use a pen name.

    The blogosphere doesn't like poseurs. If you choose to blog about your life and do so anonymously, be prepared for readers to challenge whether you're even a real person. Know that your true identity may be revealed, either publicly or among people who know you in real life.

    Be prepared to defend your writing as your own, especially if your anonymous blog could create conflict in your offline life or career.

    A famous incident from 2001 concerning the blog of Kaycee Nicole, a young teenager who had just died of leukemia, demonstrates the kind of thing discussed. People all over the world followed her blog, chatted with her online, even spoke with her on the phone during her illness.

    In fact, the life and death of Kaycee was the product of imagination. After some suspicious anomalies surfaced, several savvy bloggers tracked down real-world evidence that she not only hadn't died, but didn't even exist.

  • Blogging about products and services at the behest of the product or service provider: The online community has slammed bloggers for blogging about products and services for money without revealing that they were paid to do so. A blog scandal in 2003 put Dr Pepper into the public eye for soliciting blog posts from a group of teenagers about a new product called Raging Cow.

  • The teens received trips, samples of the product, and gift certificates, and the company asked them to promote the drink on their personal blogs. Many of the teens did so without revealing that they basically received compensation for promoting the product, and when the arrangement became public, a blogosphere boycott of the company and a lot of anger against the bloggers ensued.

    Since then, the FTC has ruled that these kinds of endorsement relationships must be disclosed, so this is no longer simply an ethical issue. You can review the updated 2013 FTC guidelines.

  • Blogging as a fictional character: Interestingly, Dr Pepper started a blog ostensibly written by the Raging Cow herself during her travels around the country. Bloggers roundly criticized this blog at the time (for being fake, of course). But the idea of creating fictional characters that write blogs has stuck around, and many bloggers have used it successfully since then. The format is still controversial, but it's also highly effective!

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Here are some recommended rules about honesty in your blogging:

  • Explain who you are and why you're blogging.

  • If you need to hide your identity or those of people you mention, indicate that you're doing so and why.

  • If you start a fake blog, make sure that you disclose somewhere on the site that it is, in fact, fake. (You'd think that a blog written by a bovine is obviously fake, but it doesn't hurt to say so.)

  • If you're making money from your blog posts, explain the arrangement and how you're allowing it to influence (or not influence) what you write. U.S.-based bloggers should review the FTC guidelines around endorsements and material considerations.

  • If you mention a fact or story that you got from someone else, explain who. If you can link to the source, do. Observe copyrights at all times, including copyright rules regarding images and graphics. Only use artwork and photographs that you have express permission to use!

  • Take responsibility for what's on your blog, no matter where else you might have heard or read about what you write.

Just because other blogs or websites post and repost an image without permission does not mean that it is legal to break that artist's copyright. Be cautious when using graphics and photographs you've found online that do not give credit to an original source or indicate that the image is posted with permission!

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