The Great Blog Ethics Debate

February 2, 2015 Baltimore, MD, USA

In an industry plagued by bored trolls and the hams of GOMI, I have to start out by saying I think it's kind of cool that I've been blogging for two years and am only just now receiving a glimpse of the hate most bloggers have been putting up with.

Here's how the story goes:

I came across a blog post (imagine that!) discussing a very common blog complaint - the inbox overflowing with companies asking us to work for free. This post only really specifies product reviews, but any blogger knows the situation applies to much more. I share said blog post, remarking that this is, indeed, what bloggers are frequently dealing with.

Then the comment came. From a high school acquaintance whom I haven't spoken to, well, since high school. Why the need to be vocal and spiteful now? Who knows.

Abridged, said comment expressed the following greivance:

"Is it common for bloggers who pass along advice to their readers to be paid by companies for that advice? That is kind of scary. ... Run advertisements unrelated to your posts; don’t violate the trust of your readers by pocketing money and giving out preferential reviews."

So, basically, right off the bat, said troll has decided that if a blogger receives any compensation (money and/or product) for a review. we are biased and untrustworthy. Right.

Two products I use almost daily
left: the arbonne protein shake I purchase often. right: the glasstic water bottle I received free for review.
I love both, and I've blogged about both, but according to some, only one of these opinions is ethical.
Of course, he wasn't to be reasoned with. Nevermind the FTC guidelines. Nevermind our own personal moral compasses. Do some bloggers write good reviews just because the item was free? Sure. But most don't. We take pride in our work. But, alas, trying to explain to a pessimistic non-blogger what all bloggers know is completely normal only resulted in hasty judgement and a complete lack of understanding anything:

" the very bottom of the trust ladder is anyone who received anything in exchange for a product review.

And this is where the blog you posted and so-so-so many other bloggers get it wrong. Hard work in itself does not make someone deserving of money. There has to be someone willing to pay for that work. And in a low entry-barrier world like blogging, you have to really stand out in order to make a living. And honestly, the way to really stand out is to build an audience that trusts you and then expand that audience. It is *incredibly* hard and more power to those that try it, but taking *any* kind of compensation for your *content* seems like taking a shortcut. And this is the reason why bloggers complaining about not being offered money (or more money) for their content will rarely garner much support among a whole population of people that also probably feel underpaid."

So now, bloggers who review products they receive in exchange for said reviews aren't only untrustworthy, we're entitled bottom-feeders. Oh, my. Resentful much?

Let it be known that all the while, I'm addressing everything brought up in these (much longer) comments. Every time I do, I'm greeted with the same response:

"This took a strange turn."

Strange. Right. More like I addressed your concerns by providing insight to a topic you judged despite having little knowledge of and you were surprised that I could invalidate your accusations, thus you felt the need to accuse me of going off-topic. Great use of logical fallacy for someone who enjoys debate.

Then my husband sees the thread and gets mad and jumps in. Then a bloggy friend sees the thread and rolls her eyes and jumps in. Then all the sudden Mr. Troll is overwhelmed and backpedals to his original complaint while still trying to appear the victor of the debate:

"Hm, this started about a blog post that Bekah shared with the world that she supported. The content of that post is what led to this discussion about the ethics of reviews. ... That aside, 100% of what I said stands. Accepting compensation for reviews is questionable at best and even if they represent 10% of your blog (which I guess we are talking about now). You said that almost all of them resulted in compensation."

So, gross misunderstanding and hasty judgements about bloggers aside, because they aren't his original complaint, he's still convinced that bloggers who receive anything for a review are unethical. (Sorry, I guess that 90% of us are shutting our blogs down right about now.)

Nevermind the points that weren't accounted for in this judgement - nevermind the time and money we put into our blogs. Nevermind that we pay taxes on our compensation. Nevermind that a blog qualifies as a small business just like a direct sales gig (remember the stigma around those? I know plenty of people who overcame the hate and laughed all the way to the bank. Bloggers do the same!)

Insert more backpedaling about how he thought the whole thing was sketchy because most magazines have send-back policies when they review items (yeah, sure) while the bloggers keep them is the real issue. Insert assurance that there's no double standard against bloggers. (uh huh) Insert final remarks from myself and said bloggy friend. Insert crickets from troll who will have a field day spewing hate about this post...

...If he were to actually read this blog. It would be his first time.

Bloggers and non-bloggers alike, what do you think? 
  • Do you trust product reviews any more or less because the product is given to us? 
  • Were you shocked to learn this or did you assume we were given the products? 
  • Is the current structure of blog product reviews "corrupt?" Should we review only products that we purchase or return?
  • Is there really a difference between a blog review and a major publication review that makes one more or less ethical than the other?

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