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Ethics for bloggers

Ethics for bloggers

Did you know blogs have been around for almost 20 years now? I’ll give you a minute to wrap your head around that!

But whether you’re a newbie, or you think you have this blogging business completely wrapped up, there’s an element of blogging that’s still murky 20 years down the track: ethics.

Australian journalism has had a code of ethics cemented since the 1940s and there is a professional association in place to manage breaches of the code. Blogging, by comparison, floats lawlessly in cyberspace. There are acceptable and unacceptable practices that are widely observed across the Internet, and some bloggers have developed their own code, but there’s nothing official when it comes to ethics for blogs.

This leaves bloggers in a somewhat dangerous space. Because, although you may not be a media or public relations professional, and even if your blog is just a fun thing where you share a picture of your dog each week, you’re still responsible for the content you publish. If you publish defamatory content or infringe on copyright or trademarks, not only is it unethical, you can get sued.

According to this Arts Law info sheet, you may even be liable if someone else leaves a defamatory comment on your site. And, because the Internet has no borders you could be liable for a defamation suit anywhere in the world your blog can be accessed.

Scared now? I kind of am.

To help us all out, today I’m going to talk about a few essential things you need to know if you’re blogging for business or yourself. Some ethical issues – like defamation and copyright – are also legal issues. But please note I’m not a lawyer and you shouldn’t take anything within this post as legal advice.

  1. Defamation

If you say or publish false claims about a person and it hurts their reputation, affects their ability to work, or causes the community to think badly of them, you may have made a defamatory statement.

Even if you’re simply repeating what someone else said. And you don’t need to mention the person by name either. If you use enough identifying information you could still be liable.

It doesn’t matter what your intent was. Recently Fairfax media mistakenly published a photo of teenager and wrongly claimed he was associated with terrorist activities. The result was an out-of-court settlement and a front-page apology.

  1. Copyright

Did you know you don’t need the © symbol to claim copyright? In Australia copyright exists as soon as you publish your material – whether it’s literary works, photography, music or film.

It’s very common these days to just go to Google Images, download a photo and post it on your blog or social media site. I see bloggers publishing uncredited photos all the time.

However, just because it’s common practice doesn’t mean it’s right. Using material without express permission from the creator is copyright infringement. You’re robbing photographers of their right to be recognised as the creator and their potential for earning income.

Just linking back to the source or crediting the owner won’t cut it. Unless the work is available under a Creative Commons licence you need permission, and even then it’s good form to attribute the work to the owner.

And it should go without saying that plagiarising content is a total no-no.

  1. Accuracy

In today’s information saturated world we want information now. As bloggers, or businesses that blog, you know giving your readers current and timely information is important.

But in your hurry to get something published don’t overlook the facts. Always:

  • Check the spelling of names and titles
  • Challenge information or sources
  • State if you’re talking about a fact or speculation
  • Link back to sources
  • Be transparent if you have to make a correction.

Don’t forget to proofread before you publish to make sure you pick up any errors that may have snuck in to your writing.

  1. Transparency

It’s a good time to be a blogger. If you’re at the top of your game you can earn thousands of dollars via advertising and sponsored content.

While it’s easy to identify ads on sites it gets less black and white with sponsored content. If I’m a beauty blogger telling my readers about a waterproof mascara that wouldn’t budge in a cyclone should I also disclose I’m getting paid to talk about that product?

Ethically, yes. Of course I should. Being up front is a key part of building trust with your readers and clients.

There are no laws in Australia that govern disclosure. However, bloggers across Australia follow a fairly standard practice of stating clearly if the post is sponsored or if they received any products to review for free. Have a look at Blogger Connect’s guidelines on this issue.

If you’re a small business and you blog about a service or product you should disclose if you have a stake, share or a conflict of interest.

Resources and further reading

If you want to know more about ethics, laws, and blogging here are a few places to start. I referred to all of these sources when preparing this post and found them quite useful.

  • Check the Media Entertainment And Arts Alliance Code of Ethics
  • The Arts Law Centre has a number of informative info sheets
  • The Australian Copyright Council also has great fact sheets
  • The author of this blog – Mor10.com – has developed his own detailed code of ethics for bloggers and content creators
  • The ACCC has developed a set of guiding principles for online reviews
  • Although it’s for food bloggers, this post on Not Quite Nigella’s site about legal issues has an excellent Plain English summary about copyright

Tell me what you think

Do you have your own personal set of guidelines when blogging or commenting on the Internet? Do you have any insights about ethics and blogging? Leave them in the comments section.

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