Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Power to the People?

By Pete Shooner

In a 2009 Wall Street Journal article titled "Paid to Pitch: Product Reviews by Bloggers Draw Scrutiny," the author confronts the difficult issue of paid promotions showing up in the blogosphere. The problem here is complex, and to begin to understand any solutions, we must first try to define the blog, or at least position it within (or near) traditional media.

Some may say equating blogs to traditional media or news sources in any way is wrong and counterproductive. I think, however, that when faced with ethical dilemmas, the best source for precedent is the established media. News organizations have their faults, and we all can probably name a few major missteps the industry has suffered. But on the whole, they do a pretty good job walking the thin line when it comes to ethics.

So where or what are blogs? And what ethical guidelines should they adhere to?

Blogs are a unique product of the Internet. The World Wide Web provides so much freedom and choice to the user - at least in theory - that the result is an empowered audience. Some have become so empowered, that they are no longer the audience, but the source of information through the blog. So when a corporation offers freebies or cash for online praise, what is a blogger to do?

The power and freedom the Internet offers the user comes with a price. As a consumer of information, we are now required to be more active than television has trained us to be. We must filter through the online muck to find valuable information. There is little we can expect, or should expect, from bloggers when it comes to ethics. We just have to stay critical as an audience. If we do, the handouts will stop because people will stop reading promoted blogs.

Transparency would certainly speed this process along. But even if some blog "industry" ethics standard was developed, who is to enforce it? And how will we know if a blogger is disclosing everything? The answer is we won't, so we must remain highly critical of the information we consume. The Internet gave us a lot of power; now it's time to use it wisely.

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