Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ethical Fashion Blogging

The digital age allows millions of people across the world to share ‘expertise’ in their preferred profession via blogging. One of the most notable visual industries to capitalize on this ideal is the fashion industry. Hundreds of fashion bloggers around the world share their ‘professional’ advice and many accumulate hundreds, thousands, and in some cases, millions of followers. While I follow the fashion blogosphere often, I sometimes question the legitimacy of the professional content and wonder who blogs purely for money.

Blogging is similar to celebrity endorsements. If you represent a product it is ethically expected that you actually use the product and believe in its capabilities. Celebrities, however, are not always the most reliable sources when it comes to endorsements. For example, Alicia Keys recently became the Creative Art Director for BlackBerry who introduced a new version of their phone to compete with Apple and other competitors. Last month she accidentally tweeted from her iPhone, causing a case of bad PR for BlackBerry- who I’m sure is extremely unhappy with Keys. Kim Kardashian also recently had a more serious issue with endorsements. She took to her Twitter to ask her followers to join the fight for gun control after the Sandy Hook tragedy. Weeks later she posted a picture of a new gun in her possession that looked ‘glamorized.’ After coming under attack from many of her followers she deleted the post. Celebrity endorsements gone wrong occur all the time and damage the image of that representative. The same can happen to a blogger’s reputation.

Personally, I struggle to define what classifies a person as a ‘professional blogger.’ For one, I love blogging. I also love to follow new bloggers. On Bloglovin’ (a website that allows you to discover and follow your favorite blogs in one place), I currently follow more than 200 blogs. Some are written by professionals in the field while others are simply fashion enthusiasts who reach a large following. These bloggers often push product content to their followers. This is where advertising can become hazy. As a follower and someone who may buy products I find on blogs, I want to know the blogger actually believes in the product, good quality, and is worth the sale price. However, because the blogosphere does not exactly require you to provide your credentials or provide transparency about who you are, it becomes difficult to discern those who are actually qualified to write product reviews versus your average joe who simply uses blogging to try and make a buck.

On the flip side, bloggers have difficulty finding ways to incorporate products into their posts without seeming to advertise everything. In this case, bloggers walk a very fine line. Some bloggers make a living entirely off of their blogging income so they obviously need to push product content. In this situation, if a company sends you products to try or your company pays them to advertise a product there may be an immense amount of pressure to write a post that positively reviews that product. Where do bloggers draw the line? Do they risk losing their income, or do they risk their reputation? Is it ethical for them to push products they do not like because of an advertiser’s request?

Personally, I believe the only way to blog ethically and to maintain a positive reputation within the blogging community is to create guidelines for your blog. These guidelines must strive to provide fair, accurate, and honest information to the followers and consumers who will purchase the products they are introduced to via these websites. While this can prove difficult, it is not impossible. Chelsea Burcz, an Independent Fashion Blogger, wrote about ethics and blogging in her post, “Print vs. Blogging ” on iheartifb.com. The post depicts guidelines for how bloggers can keep their dignity in tact when it comes to advertising. In her interview with George Freeman, an expert with the First Amendment Law, he explained:

“Ethics really should be fairly standard across media, print or on-line, but, of course, different people/firms/media have different ethical standards. The more ethical they are and the more actual factual reporting bloggers do, the more their credibility will be enhanced. I think the key is that bloggers need to do on-the-ground reporting; those that do have strong reputations. Those that just opinionate on others people’s work, or worse, just repackage other journalists’ work will not be considered very legitimate. Mixing ads and content is not illegal, but is not very ethical either. That is, anything which gives the appearance that content is being affected by advertisers will be looked as suspect.”

With this statement in mind, one can observe the ethical difficulties bloggers face when creating content. As Burcz puts it, "The problem with fashion bloggers is that we are our own business... and sometimes business mixes with pleasure." Unless the blogger designs every item they are wearing and never accepts any jewelry, clothes, and products from friends or companies looking to promote, it proves difficult to run their business.

What do you think? Should bloggers create an ethical code? 

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