The Ethics of Blogging

With great power comes great responsibility. And as a fashion blogger, it spans further than just letting your readers know tights are not pants (they really aren’t). You are part of the fourth estate and thus are privy to the benefits, responsibilities and liabilities that come with it. Even our Bill of Rights recognizes this and provides article 33 to 35 to protect your opinion and your ability to express yourself. It’s every bloggers duty then to uphold their ethical commitment to their readers. Now, we understand that most bloggers are one person army running an operation that could be equivalent of a small magazine, so here’s a little list to help you keep your blog ethically on .

Give Credit Where Due

Looks like that plagiarism factor just won’t stay in university. If you’ve borrowed that picture, quote or idea from another source, its best practice to clearly attribute it to the original creator. That includes providing the relevant links to the original articles, crediting photographers, artists or stylists involved in creating that picture or simply quoting a quote exactly as you saw it originally. Just as your blog will have its own set of principles and policies, the websites and social media platforms you’ll be scouting content from will have their own. So before you screen shot content find out if you must seek consent first. There will be platforms such as MaXhosa by Laduma who’ll make everything available to you; and we mean everything.  Even the Dropbox link access to a vast library of high resolution images.  On the other hand, there are pages that will be pretty locked up tighter than Fort Knox, where you can’t copy paste their content or download any of the images. That’s a clear indication that the owner doesn’t agree with reproduction of their content and doesn’t want anyone to just access or use their work so you will need to respect that.

If it’s on your Blog, take responsibility for it

It’s obvious that you will be held responsible for whatever you choose to say or show, but that responsibility extends to the comments that are left on your blog. It has become a necessity to have a visible clause of what you deem as an unacceptable comment on your blog to remind your readers that although they are free to share, it shouldn’t be infringing on other’s rights. That is, it shouldn’t be abusive, defamatory, in violation of confidentiality, safety or privacy of a third party and so on. It wouldn’t be considered censorship if a blogger has to take down a comment if they violate those terms. Just ensure you explain the reasons behind the action. It’s also knowing when to engage or ignore the trollers or if you or an arbitrator should opt for addressing the inappropriate commentator directly instead of on a public space. Currently the comments terms and conditions are more likely to be found on news websites such as The Star newspaper as opposed to local fashion blogs. However with issues such as cyber bullying and sexual harassment or the probability of negative comments popping up, it’s best to have your policies in place so that you’re prepared should the issues ever occur. The policy can be placed either in the ‘about’ section or at the base of the comment box.

Comment terms as featured on thestar.co.ke
Comment terms as featured on thestar.co.ke

Handle your Conflict of Interest

According to Independent Fashion Bloggers, a conflict of interest can be defined as, “a clash between a professional obligations (such as being honest with your readers) and personal interests (such as profiting, monetarily or otherwise, from a blog post).” The fact is, this happens A LOT in many industries but you only go wrong when you choose to ignore that it’s happened and move ahead like this conflict doesn’t exist. Doing this lands you into the zone of misrepresentation. When it comes to paid endorsements there is no wiggle room, you must disclose that you’ve been paid to review, endorse or promote a product or event.

When it comes to paid endorsements there is no wiggle room, you must disclose that you’ve been paid to review, endorse or promote a product or event.

For example if you’re working with the Rift Valley Leather Company to promote their latest line of bags, you’d first and foremost have to come clean about the affiliation with the company. Secondly, you’d have to indicate very clearly that this is a partnership/ paid advertisement. Anyone visiting your blog should immediately be able to tell that it’s a paid advert, and it shouldn’t be listed in tiny font in the corner of your page like the terms and conditions.  Lifestyle magazines will brand the page as an advertorial indicating that the content featured is directly from the manufacturer or in promotion of the said product. Lastly, if you’re making gains in anyway, highlight how you’re affiliated. Whether you got cash, free merchandise, an exclusive invite or any item of value it would be appropriate for you to indicate that the exchange transpired between you and another party. It may not impact what you write or feature on your blog but to remove any airs of self-interest declare any conflict of interest transparently and from the onset.

Blog site, This is Ess, showing how not only to give credit where it's due, but also clearly indicating all the partnerships that went into creating the blog post. (Image captured from thisisess.com)
Blog site, This is Ess, showing how not only to give credit where it’s due, but also clearly indicating all the partnerships that went into creating the blog post. (Image captured from thisisess.com)

 

This is especially important in the case of reviews. An article published in The Independent Fashion Bloggers argues that bloggers shouldn’t even do paid reviews. While sponsored posts, product features or blogger campaigns within a certain time frame are acceptable, paid reviews go against what a review is. They are meant to be in-depth unbiased critiques that can and will have some downsides or negative comments. It’s hard to give your readers all the information they’ll need to make an informed decision when you’ve been paid or quite handsomely gifted, don’t you think?

If the conflict just can’t be avoided it’s best to either recuse or refuse the opportunity.

Mistakes happen; correct them

So you’ve been through with indicating what is factual and what your opinion is. You’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s but mistakes do manage to slide through. According to the article ‘Ethical Blogging – a 10 point guide’ as soon as you’ve realised that an error has been done, correct it ASAP. The ethical way of correcting is using the strike through technique so that readers can immediately know that something has been edited. So let’s say you wrote Yves Saint Laurent new collection  because you truly were fond of just saying ‘YSL’. You’d simply go back to the site and strike it out. For example, Yves Saint Laurent new collection.

Be Authentic

This particularly pertains to personal and lifestyle genres of fashion blogging which are the most common in this region. They work on the premise that readers do have access to the bloggers inner life and this enables them to relate to the content due to shared experiences. That means that the voice or fashion sense they use on their blog should be consistent with what they use on any other platform such as their twitter or Facebook account. Authenticity goes further to the bloggers responsiveness to the audience via engagement that feels personal rather than a general shout out to a crowd.

 

It’s crucial to remember that your blog doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It may be tempting to use your platform to rant and rave, or to cut corners because you’ve fallen behind schedule but you always have to reflect on the effects your post will have. When in doubt, ask for advice, be critical about your work and most of all, and treat others as you’d like to be treated.

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