The blogging landscape has become open access for all. Practically everyone is documenting their interests or opinions in some shape or form online and, though still a new and largely unregulated form of media, blogging can have as much an influence on the way we live our lives as the magazines, television shows and newspapers we grew up getting trends from. We all want to know where our favourite bloggers work out, where they flock for brunch and we trust their thoughts on what’s what.
Nutritionist and food blogger Pixie Turner (MSc) of Plant-based Pixie has seen first-hand the effects of social media on health, having conducted and published new scientific research that found a link between Instagram use and symptoms of orthorexia nervosa (an unhealthy obsession with healthy food). She is passionate about helping improve scientific literacy and debunking nutrition myths prevalent within the health industry.
Here, Pixie shares 5 principles for ethical blogging to keep content above board.
1. Stick within your area of expertise
Blogs often act as a place to offer tips and opinions on various topics that interest you but it’s important to know your limitations and speak only about subjects of which you have authoritative knowledge. Just because you’ve eaten food your whole life, doesn’t make you an expert in nutrition. Just because you go to the gym, doesn’t make you a personal trainer. And just because you enjoy and post about these subjects, doesn’t make you qualified to give advice about any of them.
This doesn’t just apply to health and fitness, although they’re useful as examples, but to anything. People study and train for weeks, months, or even years to learn and acquire qualifications in a subject. A quick Google search won’t put you on an equal footing and it's dangerous to suggest otherwise to your audience.
2. Make a clear distinction between personal experience and empirical evidence
If you’re writing a blog post about your personal experience, make sure it’s obvious from the very start that this is all you’re talking about, and make it clear you’re not suggesting you have a solution to everyone in the same position. If you’re worried, include a disclaimer. If people still misunderstand after all that, at least you’ve covered your back!
On the other hand, if you’re discussing evidence then show your sources. Show people where they can read more about the subject and how you came to your conclusions. But know the difference between evidence and anecdotes. If the best you’ve got is a bunch of opinionated YouTube videos or ‘I saw it on Instagram,' you do not have empirical research on your side.
3. Give credit where credit is due
It goes without saying that plagiarism is wrong. Whether it’s reposting someone’s picture without crediting them, stealing someone’s tweet and passing it off as your own, or ‘borrowing’ entire paragraphs of someone else’s blog post. But even if you’re just looking for images to bulk out a blog post and grab something from a quick Google search, always link back to where you found it. Use quotes if you love how someone has phrased something and can’t think of a better way to write it yourself, retweet something witty you enjoyed, and link information back to the original articles.
4. Always disclose advertisements and affiliations according to the Advertising Standards Authority
If you’ve been paid to post about a product or experience on social media, you’re required to disclose this through an obvious #ad or #sponsored in the original caption. Note: an obvious
hashtag; not one that’s hidden amongst 10 others or even hidden within another word.
So far, bloggers have managed to get away with murder in this respect but a crackdown is long overdue and, when it comes, you want to be able to say ‘I followed the rules’.
5. Hold yourself accountable
Admit to and correct your mistakes. Everyone is human and mistakes happen. The best thing you can do is acknowledge what went wrong and correct yourself. In this respect, treat your blog like an online news publication. When they make an error, they fix it and add an amendment at the end to show what they got wrong. Such openness and transparency is rarely seen in blogging nowadays but I believe it should be common practice.
Pixie will be taking part in a Health Bloggers' Community
panel discussing the ethics of blogging as well as her research at Balance Festival this May. Visit her blog
to learn more about her work and follow her on Instagram