Online Ethics

There are some days when I’m unable to calmly ignore some of the unethical things I see online. And I’m not talking about trolling, because I think we can all agree that crosses the line. I’m talking about subtler issues, which I still find problematic:

Ignorance is cool, as long as it’s ‘beautiful’

If you follow me on twitter, you may have heard me talking about this quote, erroneously attributed to Shakespeare. It’s been pinned and blogged many, many times. It’s a nice quote, but it’s not by Shakespeare. The strange thing is, when people have politely pointed this out to some bloggers and pinners, they’ve had to deal with this response: fawning commenters leaping to pinners’ and bloggers’ defence, simplistically assuming that valid questions about accuracy is ‘trolling’ and proceeding to shut down any discussion about the true source of the quote. For example, I read a comment by someone who said that it doesn’t really matter who the quote is by, because it’s ‘beautiful’. Actually, it does matter. If someone quoted bits of my book for example, and attributed it to another author, you can bet that my publisher’s legal team would have something to say about it. This ‘ignorance is bliss’ mentality is completely irresponsible.

This is not to suggest that we should all be experts when we blog a quote or raise a subject online, but it does mean being mature enough to accept when you’ve made a mistake, and correct it. It happened to me – an artist corrected me on a pin of mine on Pinterest, and I apologised and corrected it. And I learned something. I’d rather know and be called out about it, than wallow in ignorance. I’ve been rolling my eyes repeatedly at the attitude that ignorance is totally okay, if it comes packaged in pretty fonts and ‘inspirational’ quotes (and ‘inspiration’ is becoming just another cutesy keyword being thrown around with little substance). I find it ‘inspiring’ to learn the story behind a quote, and who actually wrote it. I find it ‘inspiring’ to learn, full stop. What happened to our sense of curiosity?

Want some traffic? Publish a pointless, inflammatory article

While there are many well-written articles, I often feel online journalism and opinion pieces rely too heavily on deliberately inflammatory topics to generate traffic. Here’s an example. As one commenter pointed out about this article: “This piece is lazy, and deliberately inflammatory in order to both get clicks and to mask its failings.” When I read this article, I tweeted that a well-written, well-researched and intelligent article probably got rejected so this one could get published. Publishing deliberately divisive articles in order to manufacture ‘controversy’ for traffic is insulting to everyone.

The problem is not the problem, the problem is pointing out the problem

I’ve been watching some pretty unethical stuff occurring on blogs – self-plagiarism, non-disclosure of sponsored posts/previously published material, and casual racism masked as a ‘style’, to name a few. You scroll down, read a million fawning comments, and then find a handful of comments where people question the blogger. They are not rude, they are not trolls. In many cases, they are comments by readers who have been following a certain blog loyally for years. But their comments are not well-received by other loyal commenters. So the message is: we should all shut up and not care, because the problem isn’t the problem, the problem is pointing it out, right? Let’s all stick our heads in the sand together.

Non-disclosure of sponsored/paid posts

I have nothing against paid blogs that have advertising and sponsored posts. If bloggers can make a living or some money on the side from their blogs, more power to them. Many of my friends (ethically) run such blogs. I also deeply resent the criticism specifically levelled against female bloggers who have paid blogs, which is clearly based on sexism and a problem with female success in business. But just as there are ways to run a business ethically, there are ways to run a paid blog ethically. Bloggers don’t exist in a self-contained vacuum, separate from the ethical and legal responsibilities that apply to bigger businesses.

How brave of you

A close friend of mine completely disagrees with me about this particular blogging pet peeve of mine: the overuse and misuse of the word ‘brave’. Maybe she’s right, but it often drives me nuts: ‘This new shade of lipstick I’m wearing is so brave, would you dare wear it?’, etc., etc. I keep thinking about people who really are brave: people who have been raped and abused and still have the courage to have faith in humanity, people who have been at the brink of death and survived cancer, people who dare to speak up for others at a risk to their own safety and lives, people who speak up about topics in countries that could put them in jail for exercising free speech. Let’s get some perspective here. It may seem like a small point to get annoyed about, but I think language is a powerful thing, and a little bit of self-reflection about how we use it is healthy. This applies to me as well.