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Truth in Blogging: Do You Blog With Integrity?

By Mar 25, 2011 July 3rd, 2014 44 Comments

Since the early part of the millennium, professionals in the Internet community have been interested in the proliferation of lay-journalism on the Internet through personal blogging and have been concerned about the need for an ethical standard to verify identity, determine veracity, and establish general ethical rules in the online world.  While Internet use continues to grow and people from all walks of life seek out information on the web to enhance their lives, companies investing in advertising through the blogosphere have grown rapidly too. In the Spring of 2009, the American Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sought to investigate the relationship between social media and advertisers.  The FTC acts as the nation’s consumer protection agency to prevent fraud, deception, and unfair business practices in the marketplace.  Their role in investigating bloggers who receive free gifts in exchange for favorable product reviews was to ensure that people who write those posts maintain the minimum standards required of the advertising industry and journalistic ethics.

copyright

photo credit: crossfitinvictus.com

The demographic immediately impacted by the FTC’s investigation were “mommy bloggers” who often weave stories about their experiences with products (for good or ill) into the narrative of their personal tales of parenting.  Mommy blogging quickly became a cottage industry since it is sometimes hard to tell when a savvy writer really wants to share their personal experience vs. writes positive reviews about products they received in lieu of payment from companies wanting to market their goods through social media.  Distinguishing  a ‘real’ product review became a task all unto itself for parents seeking information on which products to purchase.  And that was why the FTC got interested in what mommies had to say on their blogs about the products they endorsed.  The FTC was really interested in curbing false advertising and dishonest claims by moms  writing these product reviews for income rather than through actual personal choice of purchase and use.

federal trade commission

photo credit: rlf communications

And just as swiftly as the FTC began their investigations, some mommy bloggers came together to establish ground rules for mommy blogging and product reviews.  One such group is Blog With Integrity, Inc.  They developed a code of ethics to engender trust between readers and writers.  Their efforts go beyond blogging, but they got their start in 2009 “after a spring and early summer of polarizing debates about blogger compensation, sponsored posts and product reviews, an alarming increase in ethical lapses and idea theft, and a growing backlash against poor blogger relations practices.”  They “believed it was time to refocus on integrity.”  The group determined that in order to prove truthfulness and integrity in the blogosphere, a blogger must provide a clear disclosure of their interests so that a reader can evaluate the words. Treating others with respect. Taking responsibility for words and actions a writer puts on their blogs.  The rules they came up with are uncomplicated and succinct:

  • I treat others respectfully, attacking ideas and not people. I also welcome respectful disagreement with my own ideas.
  • I believe in intellectual property rights, providing links, citing sources, and crediting inspiration where appropriate.
  • I disclose my material relationships, policies and business practices. My readers will know the difference between editorial, advertorial, and advertising, should I choose to have it. If I do sponsored or paid posts, they are clearly marked.
  • When collaborating with marketers and PR professionals, I handle myself professionally and abide by basic journalistic standards.
  • I always present my honest opinions to the best of my ability.
  • I own my words. Even if I occasionally have to eat them.

~from blogwithintegrity.com

Several organizations on the net have their own guidelines about integrity within the community, most encourage diversity of style and content but are also keen to  specific ethical standards for users within their communities.   For now, no one has been singled out by the FTC’s updated regulations effecting mommy bloggers, but in order to protect your own interests, it doesn’t hurt to post a page which provides your own policies in regards to marketing relationships and advertising on your blog.  A good source for creating a disclosure policy is DisclosurePolicy.org.  You can easily provide some minimal information and click through the descriptions that most appropriately suit your blogging disclosure needs.  You are then provided with an easy cut & paste disclosure that you can use on your blog.  To participate as a Blog With Integrity, you can sign the pledge page and grab a badge to use on your site.

blog with integrity

In order to determine whether you might need to create your own personal ethical policies and publish them on your blog, you might want to first ascertain who the stake holders are for your post.  Who gets the benefit of the advice you are offering or the information you reveal about the products you mention?   Even if your answer is limited to just your friends or family in the realworld, you still might want to consider disclosing your professional relationships with companies who offer you products in exchange for posts in the event someone outside of your circle comes along and reads what you have to say.

Bibliography:

  • Blog With Integrity, Inc.  2010
  • “Parenting Blogs May Be Held Liable For Product Reviews” ABC News 2009
  • “Interactivity and Prioritizing the Human: A Code of Blogging Ethics” by Martin Kuhn in the Journal Of Mass Media Ethics. 2007. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  • “Applying the ‘Contextual Integrity Model of Privacy’ to Personal Blogs in the Blogosphere” by Frances S. Grodzinsky and Herman T. Tavani in the International Journal of Internet Research Ethics. 2011.
  • “Blogging Practices: An Analytical Framework” by Jan Schmidt in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 2007.

About the Author
Kat Sabine (mamakats) is a writer and community activist. She has also earned an Honors English Bachelor and a Masters of Women’s Studies. She is a mother of two boys, 9 years apart (whoops!): her older son has Asperger’s Syndrome on the Autism Spectrum; while her younger son is labeled as Exceptionally Gifted. When not chasing her boys, she maintains community connection through volunteering and writing on the Bitch in the house blog and various projects. And if that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she also works on lots of home improvement for her 1950’s bungalow-style home located in the Southwestern United States.

If interested in reading more from Kat on copyright, be sure to check out her first post on SITS: Copyright and Your Blog.

Discussion:

Do you write product reviews in exchange for goods? If so, do you let your readership know that you have received compensation for your post? Do you believe mommy product reviews with lots of advertising and company endorsements on a site? How do you gain your readers trust?

44 Comments

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  • SharleneT says:

    Excellent post, but I do have to say that every blog I’ve come across where someone is talking about a product makes it very clear they are compensated for the blog, and seem very fair in their appraisals. But, will definitely head and join the gang, I don’t usually do product reviews, but I’m starting to get asked, so I need to set up my guidelines before doing so. Thank you, again.

  • I would display this badge, but it just feels like bragging.

    I mean, sure I have integrity.

    But I have superpowers too, and I don’t feel the need to grab a button for that.

  • Tammy says:

    I do reviews and giveaway on my site…I always disclose! I have received products where I could not write a positive review for, told the rep and we agreed not to write the review. It’s a fine line…and in the beginning of doing reviews (over a year ago)…I said more positives about a product than the cons…now I share them both…an honest opinion! (Which is my tag line)

  • I proudly display this badge on my blog!!

  • Ado says:

    I blog with integrity and have the badge on my site. I have to say that I am really put off by mom-bloggers who are posting “big giveaways” and so on – it feels to me like these moms have unwittingly become spammers who are targeting other mom-bloggers, which sucks. Whenever I see a “BIG GIVEAWAY” blog I head in the other direction and don’t click on it.
    I do have Google adsense on my site but have so far made a grand total of under $40 with it. The ads seem tailored to my readers which is good, and I’ve put them there to see if it is possible to earn some money from blogging. (So far, not so much!)

  • Marie Cole says:

    Good to know, thank you.

  • great info! have to check this out

  • Glamamom says:

    Yes, I most certainly do Blog With Integrity and proudly display the badge!

  • If I feel I can’t be honest about something, I won’t write about it, whether it’s a product or daily life. I DO product reviews & giveaways and give my personal experience and to show that I actually used the product I include photos. At the end of every post that I received something or am giving away something I make it clear if I was compensated and I state that my opinions will never be influenced by the company. On my product review site I have a quote at the top of the page that says, “Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.” author Spencer Johnson

    I think it’s imperative for my reputation (small as it is) to be free of negativity and bashing of people or products. I used to have the button on my blog, but I’m not sure what happened to it. I’ll have to go get it again. I also have a disclosure page so that people and companies know what to expect from me.

  • I am a blogger who does business on my blog for my own products and sometimes reviewing other products in my niche.

    A couple things I’m not clear on:

    1. If someone receives the the product, like the book they’re reviewing, and a free copy of the book to give away on their blog for a prize, should they disclose this or is this considered normal in the industry?

    2. What if you simply review a book you bought but then use an amazon affiliate link to the book you recommend. Is this considered disclose worthy?

    Maybe all this would be best answered in the disclosure policy you mentioned.

    Thanks, your topics are always so helpful for navigating the blogosphere.

  • Jenny says:

    I stopped the whole “review blogging” thing a while ago (like last year) because it just 1. wasn’t for me and 2. they kept sending me stuff i could not use, didn’t like, and/or didn’t want. 😛 Yes i’m picky.

    And I haven’t done it since. And I’m so glad I haven’t. It was ruining blogging for me. I’m much happier now blogging when I want and about what I want. 😛

  • Jenny says:

    Great information and great post. This is exactly the information that I was looking for. I would like to offer vendor reviews on my blog, specifically for online wedding vendors, so that I can offer my advice and recommendations for other brides that may find my blog, and I was looking for a way to do this without looking like an advertisement. Thank you!

  • Natasha says:

    I guess I’m fairly naive because I’ve always just assumed integrity is a given in the writing world. I wouldn’t dream of accepting payment in any shape or form for a positive review of a product and nor could I not be entirely honest and up front in my review be it negative or positive, my conscience wouldn’t permit it.

    I’m too lazy to lie and what you see with my blog is what you get – worts and all.

    Wishing all a good weekend.

  • I signed on to this campaign a while ago and still believe it has value, even if you don’t have advertising or compensated reviews. I think respecting others, respecting yourself to write honestly, and giving credit where it is due is incredibly important. I think the monetary aspects of blogging with integrity are just a side note, because if you do all the above, it will come naturally.

    • mamakats says:

      I came to the campaign from a “mean mommy” experience. It wasn’t really that I was being compensated at that point (later I started doing book reviews), but I just felt that it was important for me to take a stand about my own integrity in response to the negativity. For me, this was a good move and helped curb some of the judgmental nonsense that had started to creep in through some comments.

  • Grams says:

    Thanks for this information. I’ve been wondering about this topic for a while. Love that I can go to the SITS girls for good, solid information.

  • I have turned down several sponsored posts requests recently as they have requested that I not disclose that it is sponsored so I replied with a quick “no thank you!” I always want to disclose if I’ve been compensated for writing (either with product or money) because I just feel its the right thing to do! I’m going to go sign up!

  • Jessica says:

    Thanks for the information! Im definitely going to check out what its all about! Have a good weekend!

  • Debra says:

    I actually like ‘Blogging with Integrity’. Am I so green that I would assume that everyone would do that anyway. Surely what goes into your blog is a reflection of yourself. Mine is anyway! I have noticed, however, that a lot of people speak about the ‘same/similar’ things, but in different ways. We are all different people in our own right and I would hope that bloggers in general would see each message as an individual message ‘per say’ – there are going to be times when we overlap with ‘topics’ but hey, that’s life and no post will be the same – as I said, we are all different people with different minds, and hopefully living in different bodies ….. Smile everyone – Life is a gift and one to be cherished!!!!
    Blessings xx

  • Thanks for this info, I will be sure to check out some of this stuff I didn’t know about already!
    Bernice

  • kirsten says:

    With so many blogs and sources online it does become important to be able to distinguish the sincere, truthful and useful information from all the noise out there. And when working with people who are also like citizen journalists it also becomes a huge issue because what citizen journalists report can be as impactful as what is in the mainstream media.

  • the MRS. says:

    I have been curious where those blog buttons come from.

    I especially like: attacking ideas and not people

    I have seen so many times how many people get attacked on their blogs by random strangers who are just being mean. I love a good discussion, I enjoy different points of view. I HATE when there are just blatant attacks.

    Thanks for this ladies!

    • mamakats says:

      I agree with you. Even though in my own writing, I have been known to overshare some seriously negative experiences with others – I really do try to keep identities private and try to generalize about what it is that really frustrates me in any given situation – rather than attack individuals. It’s a learning process and this campaign only helps to remind us of our own ethical obligations to online and real world relationships.

  • Definitely going to stop by that site to see what it’s all about 🙂

  • April says:

    Definately interested in the copyright…going to check it out. Great post, too.

  • Great info! I really haven’t so far, although I’m starting to be approached so it’s something I consider. ‘Thus far, I’ve limited to my own reviews of book I get from the library and thank yous for winning a giveaway. I usually add fine print stating that I wasn’t asked to review or say thank you.

    • mamakats says:

      I have mostly the same thing going on at my site too, the title of my blog doesn’t really lend itself to advertising revenue (which was a choice I made when I started). However, I do get books to review and I post those on my site to share with the writers community that I am beginning to develop. Publishing houses and book distributors also stop by to check out what I have to say, so it helps for them to know which books I received specifically for review or which books/media I just decided to share with my readers of my own volition.

  • Ashley Sisk says:

    I came across Blogging with Integrity probably a year ago and immediately signed and posted the badge on my site. I rarely get giveaway or review requests but I think that badge limits a lot of riff raff because I am committed to upholding a certain standard in my writing and in my work. I don’t necessarily look for that in other bloggers, but I value what the movement is all about!

  • putting that badge on your site is just an invitation to controversy. I mean do you really trust yourself to never say ANYTHING negative? I used to have the badge on my site, years ago, and I think I said something – as in my opinion – and remember someone slamming me in the comments. People use it as an invitation to expect you to be perfect. My blog is far from perfect. Yes, I always disclose any compensation if I talk about a product. Yes, I do feel I have integrity. I just think it’s an invite for readers to judge you.

    • mamakats says:

      There has been a lot of talk on the net lately about mommy/women bloggers judging each other, so I share your concerns. However, I chose to participate in the Blog With Integrity campaign, despite my sometimes negative commentary precisely because having integrity means speaking to *my truth*. And for me, that’s what blogging is all about. It seems like you’ve already come to good terms with your integrity and your relationship to marketing and your readers. Best wishes on future blogging!

  • misssrobin says:

    I do not market or accept advertising on my blog. I don’t like sales pitches. I don’t invite people to my home and then try to sell them things. My blog is a piece of me, like my home, and I want people to enjoy their time there — not endure a sales pitch.

    I write from my heart. I believe in being honest and open. This comes through in my writing.

    I take all reviews with a grain of salt, if I happen to read them. Usually I just click on by. I don’t want to sit through a sales pitch either. I’ve got better things to do with my time.

    • mamakats says:

      I hate solicitors too; you should see the sign I have on my front door! My kids have been totally trained to respond with the required, “please take us off your calling lists” statement when we get those pesky phone calls as well. However, when I had my older son I was flying without a safety-net for most things — he was a really tough baby and has been a really challenging kid to raise. After I discovered I was pregnant with my second son, I was determined to try to do better and some early mommy blogs and women’s communities really helped me. Obviously I am not alone in this www-research practice or else the marketers would ignore all of us mommy bloggers out there.

  • Great information. Thank you.

  • Devonay says:

    A lot of great info! Thanks for taking the time to share. It is very much appreciated!

  • Laura says:

    Great Information. Thanks! I am going to check it out some more.

  • Great information. And happy Friday. I hope you have some sunshine. In Utah the report calls for snow and rain.