Recently, I have been giving thought to blogging, and how to do so in as ethical a way possible.
Some weeks ago I was looking at a blog concerned with marketing. I read through a few articles, and they appeared to make relative sense, but the subsequent articles seemed to move to more sexual themes. I don’t see anything wrong with this – erotic stories attract a lot of attention online, and like a great volume of literature, they are probably highly cathartic for those writing them. At that time though, when I was looking for perspectives on marketing, it really wasn’t a treat to get stories about what the author wanted to do with someone in a club.
I started thinking, was it ethical for the blogger in question to fashion their blog in a certain mould then go completely off topic? Alternatively, was it the right of the blogger to do whatever they wanted with their blog? Using my own platform as an example, I set out at the very beginning what it was seeking to look at, and ultimately what I was going to write about. This means that when I am fortunate enough to have visitors, be they by choice or accident, they are aware of the parameters that my writing is set within.
Too often though, I find that a great many blogs either fail to define their own parameters, or define them then ignore them. There have been a number of occasions where I have found people posting reasonably sensible pieces at one time, then at another posting entries making truly rancid comments about people on the basis of their gender, skin tone, sexuality, nationality, or faith. I have wondered, and indeed failed to understand, how people can make a lot of sense in one posting, then follow those words with remarks so hurtful and disparaging.
This lack of discipline and ethical underpinning is hugely troublesome, and totally undermines the credibility of bloggers around the world, the majority of whom make fantastic contributions to the blogosphere. Arguably, the recent scandal involving blogger Tom MacMaster, author of “A Gay Girl in Damascus”, highlights perfectly my assertion concerning the need to tread carefully – and ethically – when blogging. MacMaster adopted the nom de plume Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari, supposedly a homosexual living in Syria, and wrote very sincerely over time about Amina’s thoughts and feelings. As far as anyone knew, Amina was entirely real. The blog ultimately became enormously popular, all the more so when news was broken of MacMaster’s ‘Amina’ character being abducted in Syria. This news was posted on the blog by the fictitious Amina’s equally fictitious cousin, ‘Rania Ismail’, another pseudonym of MacMaster’s.
People were understandably angry and upset when they discovered that Amina, a girl that many cared greatly for, was never real at all. Things looked even worse for MacMaster when it transpired that the photo of Amina was actually stolen from someone who was a real person. The sad thing is that had the author of “A Gay Girl in Damascus” declared from the beginning that the blog was a work of fiction, there is no reason why it could not have been popular in any case. Fiction often serves as a wonderful platform for people to come together, enjoy the imaginary, and even unite as an incubator for positive ideas that can change reality. Importantly though, this can only work when everyone is aware that everything they are reading is fictitious. As is evident with the MacMaster episode, it can go horribly wrong when such words masquerade as fact.
Thus we come full circle, back to the issue of discipline and ethics. As bloggers, our freedom to make our voices heard and our words read should never come under question or threat. However, we must always keep in mind the consequences of our words. We mustn’t use blogs as loud hailers for prejudice, for the adoption of a moral high ground over others, or indeed to trick or deceive our readers. There will always be differences in opinion, and this is a natural and healthy feature of respectful, meaningful debate, but we must always try to ensure that our thoughts and our words bring the world closer to us rather than pushing it further away.
It is wise to remember also that one person’s ethics can often be another person’s sins. It would be easy for me from a communications perspective to show print ads on my blog by, for example, PETA, Greenpeace or Benetton. I might very well argue that, for me, this is adopting an ethical position in relation to a particular cluster of issues. For others though, the imagery often found in such campaigns might be considered coarse, immoral, and against various religious values. This fact recognises that we are but human, and we will make blunders as we try to convey our views, and undoubtedly we will cause offence even when we don’t mean to. An honest mistake is one thing, but to deliberately post something making someone feel low or less of a person is quite another. It is far from easy, but we must always remember that it is not simply eyes that read our words, but hearts and minds as well.