It’s day 4 of Armchair BEA, and today’s discussion topic focuses on ethics in blogging — how do we, as bloggers, navigate ethical waters?
I’m having a difficult time contextualizing ethics and blogging in general. It’s hard to imagine that there’s a universal ethical code that could be applied to something as diverse and traditionally uncontrollable as the Internet, and it’s equally hard for me to imagine myself conforming to that universal code.
I do have a personal ethical code, however, and it governs my interactions on the Internet just as much as my daily interactions in face-to-face land, though there are a couple of subsections that apply only to my Internet life.
- Be kind. I put this one first because I think it’s the most important and because it’s the one I have the hardest time achieving. Sometimes I just don’t feel kind. Sometimes people annoy me or say ridiculous things. Sometimes books are bad. Sometimes I’m just tempted to use my wit to cut. I try to find a balance between my natural impulses towards snarky humor (I don’t want to suppress myself, after all) and my natural horror of hurting other people’s feelings. When I manage that balance, the result is kindness, I think.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and follow through on every promise. Again, this one is a bit of a struggle. The thing is, I want to be all things to all people, even though I know it’s impossible. I want to do all the things. I want to volunteer for every job and keep all those balls afloat and all those people happy by being practically perfect in every way. You can easily see how things go awry. While I totally suck at managing my time in my real life (and consequently totally suck at following through on all those promises), it’s easier to succeed on this point on my blog. If I request or accept a book for review, I read and review it (on time), though I use my own discretion in deciding whether to write about it here on the blog or just on Goodreads.
- An “honest review” means you actually have to be honest, even if you didn’t like that book. Sometimes it’s difficult to square the need for honesty with the need for kindness. The thing is, if I hate a book, I don’t think it’s unkind to the author to say so honestly whether here on my blog or on Goodreads. There are a lot of books I’ve hated, and even more that bored the pants off me, and I don’t see the value in pretending that there are only OK, good, and excellent books. That said, this kind of honesty requires sufficient explanation to be useful. What help is it to anyone to say, “I read this book. I didn’t like it.” If you state exactly what you didn’t like about the book, however, along with an honest accounting of the things you did like, your review becomes something like constructive criticism.
- Err on the side of caution. Sometimes I buy books, sometimes I borrow them from friends, and sometimes I receive them from a publisher via NetGalley or directly from an author. I like to think that the method by which I obtain a book does not have an impact on how I feel about that book, but who knows? Maybe I’m so flattered at the few direct inquiries I’ve gotten from authors that I plop my rose-colored glasses on when I open their books. It doesn’t take that much extra effort to tack on a disclaimer when I receive a book for review, so I do it. I’d rather be unnecessarily nice about the whole thing than be accused of misleading readers.
- Stay true to the point of the blog. I started this blog to write about books, to force myself to be a better reader by paying more attention to what I was reading and what it all means, in the grand scheme of things. I didn’t start blogging to sell books or promote the publishing industry in general. While I know that readers, authors, publishers, bloggers, agents, etc. are all part of an interconnected ecosystem and that, therefore, this blog is not an island unto itself, I personally feel more comfortable about the whole business when I stick to reading books and writing about them.
- Be careful about copyright. I’m not a lawyer (I don’t even play one on TV), and I don’t want to have to talk to one about my little blog. So I try always to post images that are my own or that are part of the public domain or wiki-commons (and I follow the latter’s advice on citation). In general, I use embedded videos on YouTube whenever I want a multimedia experience. For book covers, I link image URLs from Goodreads. Sometimes I have an idea of something that I really want to put in a post (most of the time I’m just winging it), but if I can’t find it on YouTube, Goodreads, public domain or wiki-commons, I won’t risk using it.
Given that I’m a hobbyist blogger toiling in obscurity and neither spending nor making any money on this blog, I kept my ethical code recounting very simple and very personal. Every situation is a little different, but I suspect that bloggers who approach ethical questions with the impulse to try to do what’s right will generally find their way.