Last week I wrote about Instagram and insincerity, and I was honestly pretty blown away by the response to that post – particularly on social media.

It seems there are a lot of people out there who, like me, are becoming increasingly disillusioned by both social media and blogging. In addition to the spambot use I spoke about in my post, there are also so many bloggers out there who buy followers, fail to disclose sponsorships, or just straight-up plagiarise and copy their way to “success,” that while it was a relief to know I’m not the only one who’s bothered by this kind of behaviour, it was a also a little depressing to read some of the examples people gave of it. Like the woman who posted a photo of herself about to have surgery, and got a, “So cute!” comment from an Insta-bot, for instance. Or the popular blogger who commented, “Love this!” on a photo of a swastika. Yikes.

Anyway, I read all of the comments, and I despaired a bit about the state of the internet for a while, and then I thought, “You know what? We can change this.” And we CAN. Of course we can. We might not be able to stop people doing the things we consider to be unethical, of course, but we CAN take a stand against that behaviour, and promise not to do any of it ourselves. So that’s what I’m doing today.

In the post below, you’ll find a list of unethical blogging behaviour that I promise not to take part in… and which I hope you will, too. Your list might be different from mine, obviously, because we all have different ideas about ethics, and where we’re willing to draw the line on certain things. That’s cool: it’s really not my intention to moralise here, or to tell people how they should be behaving – I just want to make it clear to my readers where I stand on some of the issues I feel are spoiling the blogosphere to some extent, and, as I said, if you want to do something similar, I would love that. So here it is…

A Suggested Code of Ethics for BloggersI promise never to…

Copy other bloggers

You might think this one goes without saying, and I hope it does for most of us, but plagiarism is rife in blogging, and some people think absolutely nothing of publishing entire posts which are just copied and pasted from other sources. I know I said I wasn’t going to moralise, but seriously, if you’re doing this, please stop.  It’s stealing. It’s wrong. And it could actually get you into a whole lot of trouble, because copyright infringement isn’t just an ethical issue, it’s a legal one, which could land you with a giant fine.

Every word that you read on this site is written by me, and it always will be: honestly, if you find yourself having to hit ‘copy’ and ‘paste’ in order to make your point, then you might want to consider whether writing really is the right career for you.

Fail to credit those who inspire me

We’ve all seen a certain blog post, or outfit, or particular style of photography, that we’ve loved so much that it’s inspired us to create something similar ourselves. That’s fine, of course, but when you owe your great idea to someone else, it’s only right to acknowledge that, by crediting the person who came up with it, and linking back to them prominently. There will always be exceptions to this, obviously: there are some ideas which you KNOW aren’t original, but which you’ve no idea who to thank for, and there are other times when you just forget where you seen something, and are left thinking, “Now, I KNOW I saw this somewhere, but I can’t for the life of me remember where!” When that happens, I’ll still always acknowledge that the idea isn’t my own, and I do it in exactly the way I just stated – by saying something along the lines of, “I saw this somewhere, but I can’t remember where, so if you know, tell me!” I will never, however, knowingly use someone else’s idea without admitting it – because that’s just not cool, is it?

Use other people’s images without permission – including ones found on Pinterest, Google Images etc

Again, this isn’t just unethical, it’s also illegal to use copyrighted images without permission: and, no, citing the source isn’t “permission” – all you’re doing is telling everyone where you stole from.  There are some cases in which you might be able to use certain images copyright free, but, in general, if you don’t know, ASK – it’s 100x safer than just assuming you’re in the clear, and then ending up with a giant invoice from a disgruntled copyright holder.

Also, I know I’ve said this about a hundred times now, but Google Images and Pinterest are NOT free image banks. They’re search engines. What you see on them is images that belong to other people, and which you CANNOT just stick on your blog with the words, “Image: Pinterest,” underneath, and hope that’s OK. It’s not OK. I mean, how would YOU feel if someone took one of YOUR photos from Pinterest, and credited THEM rather than YOU? I would be ALL CAPS ANNOYED by that, which is why I don’t do it to other people, either. (Well, that and the fact that I don’t want to get in trouble…) The vast majority of the images used on this site were taken by me: everything else is either used with permission, or is copyright-free.

Fail to disclose sponsored posts or other incentives

Yeah, I know, readers hate sponsored posts, and so does Google (if the post has ‘follow’ links in it), which makes it tempting to just not tell them about them. You know what readers hate EVEN MORE than sponsored posts, though? UNDECLARED sponsored posts. No one likes feeling like they’re being misled, and that’s how it feels when you write an obviously sponsored post, and fail to disclose it as such. Now, one of the issues with this is that the rules and guidelines around sponsorship are kind of hazy and open to interpretation: they also change regularly, and can be hard to keep up with – so, even if you have the best of intentions, it can be easy to slip up here. Honestly, I worry about this ALL the time, so, as I said, my promise here is not that I’ll never slip up – it’s that I’ll never stop doing my best to avoid it.

Boden Statement Sweater in Polka DotBuy followers or likes

If I’m going to spend money purely to boost my ego, I’m going to be spending it on shoes, not fake followers, so while I might not be able to compete with some of the huge accounts out there, at least I know that the followers I DO have are there because they want to be, not because I maxed out my credit card buying myself some new “friends”.  Also, I have some really great shoes, too, so there’s that. Priorities, people, priorities!

Engage in ‘follow-for-follow’ activity designed to artificially boost followers

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have 10 followers who’re actually interested in what I say, than 100 followers who are just there because I promised to follow them back in return. Playing the, “If you follow me, I’ll follow you back!” game only gets you the latter – so, in other words, it gets you nothing, really, except for a whole lot of wasted time.

Use the follow/unfollow technique

This is where you follow a bunch of people in the hope that they’ll follow you back, and then, when they do, you unfollow them immediately. Nice, no?

Use spam bots to post fake comments and likes on social media

I don’t really need to say any more about this, do I?

Join comment pods

Quite apart from the fact that it wouldn’t make me feel good to have tons of comments on my posts, but to know they were all just posted out of obligation, because I was a member of some group where everyone agrees to comment on each other’s blogs, I can’t even imagine the amount of time this must take. Also, it’s a bit like paying people to hang out with you, really, isn’t it? I’d rather know that the comments I get are REAL ones, than ones I’ve essentially bribed people into leaving, to make me look popular.

Write positive reviews of products I don’t actually like, or haven’t tried

I only ever write about products I’ve tried myself: if I haven’t tried it, I won’t write about it, and if I try it and hate it, I’ll either say so, or I’ll politely decline to cover it. I really hate the thought of people spending their hard-earned cash on something I’ve recommended, and then absolutely hating it, and blaming me for misleading them. Honestly, I worry about this happening even with the things I DO like (Particularly if it’s skincare, or makeup, which people can have different reactions to, or which can look totally different depending on skin tone/type), so I can’t even imagine the guilt I’d feel if I was encouraging people to buy things I hadn’t even tried

(And yes, people do this: I recently saw another blogger copy and paste someone else’s review of an expensive product, presumably so that she could insert her own affiliate link and make some money from the poor sods who left comments thanking her for the “honest” review…)

Delete comments that don’t agree with me

I will happily delete comments which I feel are deliberately antagonistic or spiteful, or which are obvious attempts at trolling: I wouldn’t allow people to speak to me like that in “real life,” so I’ve no intention of letting them do it online, either – I can’t think of a single reason why I should, really. (And no, I’m not “censoring” people or interfering with their right to free speech by doing that: all I’m doing is exercising my own right to choose what kind of behaviour is acceptable to me on my own blog. You’re still free to go and talk trash about me anywhere else you like, but freedom of speech doesn’t imply that it’s OK to just be straight-up nasty to someone, and I’m sick of people trying to pretend it DOES…) I WON’T however, delete comments that simply offer another point of view, or politely disagree with me: the key word here is “polite,” though – if you can disagree without name-calling or nastiness, then that’s fine by me.

blogging ethics *  *  *

In closing this post, I just want to say that I know I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to be. I’ve made my share of mistakes as a blogger, particularly when I was starting out, and sometimes I think you HAVE to make some of those mistakes in order to realise that, “Hey, I don’t want to be this kind of person.” So I’m not writing this to scold anyone, or try to set myself above them: I’m not even saying that I’ll never mess up or make more mistakes in the future. All I’m saying is that change has to start somewhere, and I think all of us could probably try a little harder on that front, sometimes.

So: who’s in?

36 Comments
  1. Ohh this is fab. As a very new, floundering and feeling my way blog writer, I have discovered how naive I am! The whole follow then unfollow thing baffles me, as does the insta-bot thing. I was puzzled by the “f4f” comments I kept getting, wondering what the hell it meant, but Im learning fast!
    Now, I only follow blogs, Instagram etc that interest me, (not who I think I need to be polite and follow back) and I comment if I feel I want to share something with the writer/poster, not so I get attention. Its a weird, whole new world that I need to understand lol. I also have no fear of my photos being mistaken as copies, I am a really rubbish photographer! (again, trying to learn fast)
    I have found your blog a fabulous source of info on starting a blog etc, (I found it via a google search on blog help) and these ethics are exactly why I chose to subscribe. I will follow the ethics, plus a few more of my own, to the letter!

  2. I’m in – I’d rather build a community myself, even if it’s only 2 or 3 regular readers.

    Could I also add blatant clickbait users to that list – I don’t mind if theirs some actual content but I saw one today saying “Youtube are removing the 30 second pre-roll ads”* – in the video that became “They might do it next year, and 29 second or 31 second ads will remain”. And all their content was low quality daily clickbait

    Also while it’s bad to copy and paste, would it be OK to use your bullet points because I am happy to join this crusade 🙂

    Sadie
    Aim For Fabulous

    *I’m learning a bit about SEOing my content so have been clicking around various “tutorial” channels – so much clickbait!

  3. I loved reading this and it’s good to know that there are bloggers out there that have an ethical code – I was starting to feel like it was just me! (okay, possibly a slight exaggeration).
    I totally agree with all of your points but the one thing that annoys me most is when my images are used without any credit being given. It takes me (and I’m sure most other bloggers) so much time to take pictures and edit them and then to see them being used for profit on other random websites drives me mad. It seems to be happening so much lately that I don’t really know what to do about it anymore and seeing “Pinterest” as a credit source can send me into total meltdown 😉
    I’m sure we’ve all made plenty of mistakes (I know I have) but surely everyone knows that copying someone else’s work is always a big no-no!

    1. Yup, it drive me nuts, too! Last week someone tagged me in a photo of me which a brand had used on Instagram – absolutely no credit given, and when I commented asking them to please add an image credit, they just ignored me. The thing is, I could now easily invoice them for the use of the image (and take them to small claims court, if they refused to pay it), so it’s really odd to me that they’d take that risk, when it’s so easy to just add a credit! The “source: Pinterest” thing is a real bugbear of mine: I really can’t imagine that the bloggers who do this would be happy to have their images used all over the Internet, and credited to “Pinterest”, so why do it to other people?!

  4. This is why I continue to read your blog! I love that your posts always feel so… honest? Real? Lovely photos and fashion without feeling like a magazine article if that makes sense. I’ve tried following other fashion bloggers but I guess I need more than just pretty pictures and over the top gushing on every article of clothing that you never see them wear again.

    You really do seem to take your job seriously, and thanks for that. It really is appreciated! I hope posts like this inspire other bloggers to have the same transparency.

  5. I’m not a blogger but I do like reading blogs of REAL people and you are just about top of my list. Your personality shines through and is an inspiration. 100% support this and good luck. xxxx

  6. I love that your blog is honest and sincere – it sets it apart from many. I think I only enjoy blogs that appear authentic. Nice work!

  7. Yes, I’m definitely with you! The problem of course is I can say that yet go and buy followers, not disclose etc etc. I actually saw a blogger complaining about how things are wrong in blogging and she’s bought most of her followers! It’s just so bizarre, I think some have been doing it for so long it’s become the norm and forget that they’re actually being incredibly dodgy, or are just trying to cover for themselves. And on the same theme, there’s another blogger going on about how real she wants to be and how she wants to grow and engage with her followers, this is all good of course, but she’s buying her followers too! Then you have other bloggers saying how great she is and how more people should be authentic like her. If I don’t laugh I’d cry.

    Anyway, I love this and I love that you’re continuing to voice it xx

  8. Wow – I am still so niave!!! I didn’t know the fake comments and likes were a thing until you posted last week, now this! I cant believe people actually buy likes and have little groups to comment on posts. My blog may be very small, but I would 100% rather be a small, genuine operation than buying fakeness!! I love your posts, not only do I get lots of info and help from them, but you open my eyes to the real world. And yes, I am 100% in! xx

  9. I love this! As a new blogger I thought everything related to copyright was really complicated and got so confused and worried about it, but I’ve realised now after reading things like this it’s actually not too difficult. The main thing I was worried about was images, but I’ve found a really good website now that does copyright-free images, so I’m feeling a lot better about things now! It’s definitely a learning curve, but it’s a necessary one!

  10. This is simply amazing Amber! I feel as though there should be some badge we can all put on our blogs to say we ascribe to it, because basically, you said what’s important to all of us (or most of us anyway). Would you mind if I added on my disclosure page a link to this post as a guide to the ethics I also subscribe to? It will of course be very clear it is your post! 🙂

    On images from Pinterest, I am renovating my home so for room inspiration posts, I naturally turn to Pinterest images to describe the look I am after. I always try to find the original source of the image and link to it, crediting the original photographer. Is this not enough if I don’t also have their permission? Because sometimes even finding the photographer is hard, never mind their contact details! If not, then I am already falling foul of one of these rules on a couple of posts which I need to fix asap! And thank you for alerting me to this! Thankfully on all my other posts I use all my own photography so that makes it easier at least! x

    1. Yes, of course, link away!

      With Pinterest, I personally wouldn’t use someone’s image unless I had their permission. The reality is that if you’re linking back to the original source, the person is unlikely to mind (If someone posts one of my outfit photos in a roundup and then links back to me, for instance, I would have absolutely no problem with that), but it IS technically still copyright infringement, so if, for some reason, the copyright holder DOES mind, they would be perfectly within their rights to bill you for the use of the image, and crediting the source isn’t enough to keep you in the clear. As I said, most bloggers are unlikely to take any action (in fact, most will probably be delighted, as long as you’re linking back!), but photographers are another matter altogether, as their photographs are their livelihood, and the can be very protective of the copyright. There are also quite a lot of companies now which will literally make money by scouring the web for unauthorised use of their images, and then invoicing the culprits (lots of bloggers have been caught out by this kind of thing!), so it’s better to be safe than sorry!

  11. I could never wrap my mind around buying followers/visitors to a site. Either you have interesting content and ppl will find you eventually, or you are boring and ppl won’t visit (or not come back).

  12. I have noticed a few of the blogs I read regularly are posting similar posts to this and it has really opened my eyes. I have had tweets and blog comments offering me the chance to buy followers and I have just deleted them thinking “Why would anybody want to do that?” Clearly they do!

    I must admit I have unfollowed 2 blogs that deleted my comments. I believe that others are perfectly entitled to their own opinions and I try to be polite when sharing a difference but I think deleting comments with which you disagree is just as rude as if the commenter themselves had been insulting.

    Incidentally how do you know if a blogger has paid for followers? I would hate to think that I was unknowingly endorsing a practice which I object to.

    1. There are various websites which claim to tell you how many followers are fake: I’ve no idea how accurate they are, though! Generally you can tell by looking at the person’s followers – if most of them have no profile picture and haven’t ever posted any photos of their own (on Instagram), then there’s a good chance they’ve been paid for: also, if someone has a million followers, but is only getting a handful of likes on each photo, that’s a bit of a giveaway, too, although probably less so now that people are also manipulating their engagement and paying for likes/ comments!

  13. I totally agree with you about sponsored contents. When I recommend your blog post to my friends (especially when you post about shoes and outfit – I love it!), they sometimes asked in disbelief whether it was endorsed (I don’t know if you’re using this term for disclosed items or sponsored contents) and I said – defending one of my favourite bloggers of all time, that you only accept things that you like, that fit your blogpost and always mention it in your post.
    This might seem trivial, but in my country, we have some ‘socialitas’ (from the word socialites) or ‘selebgrams’ (from ‘celebrity’ and ‘instagram’) that seem to get merchandise for free but fail to mention that it is sponsored. This creates some illusion about a certain life style that we all have to embrace. It’s like every selebgrams are raving about it, so we all have to do the same.
    Even worse, these things that they ‘review’, which can range from clothes, sports gear, certain restaurant or cafe, bags, or just anything, often are misleading. Many times we came to certain place thinking that it’s gonna be awesome and left in disappointment. Or finally certain products just couldn’t deliver.
    I don’t mind sponsored posts, though. Especially when it is honest and it is in relevant with what I follow the person at the first place. What I hate is when certain bloggers or popular selebgrams post a photo with caption “Love this thing by X” when they get it for free, fail to mention it, and the product just fails to deliver.

  14. I’m all for this! I don’t understand why people would want to buy followers or deceive their readers by not disclosing or copy other people’s work! For me, the most important thing about being a blogger is being completely honest and genuine! I love using all my own photos and words and ideas – it’s so much fun and means so much to have your own internet space that is completely you rather than a copy of someone else’s! x

    LuxeStyle

  15. Hi, so I’m totally new to blogging (although I’ve been a reader for many years!) and I found this post so helpful! I think most of the points are just common sense however I guess there’s a lot of bloggers who don’t follow ethical rules. I didn’t realise that just sourcing the images from Pinterest and Google wasn’t enough, and in fact very wrong to do, so I will for sure be asking for permission if I do want to use any images. Also I’ve noticed a rise in the number of people I get following me and then unfollowing/spam profiles/bot comments and it’s so frustrating, it doesn’t make me want to follow back or even view their profile because I can tell straight away their not genuine! I think I’ll just stick to writing what I believe in and like myself and if anyone else reads it then great, if not I’ll know it’s something I’m proud of.

    This is literally the first blog post of yours I have read.. now you have a new follower! 

  16. I agree with absolutely everything you’ve said. I’ve been blogging for 6 years & on Instagram for over 2 years & have seen other blogger & Instagram accounts that have only been active for months achieve 10’s of thousands of followers almost overnight. We all know how they do it & sometimes if I’m being honest & feeling slightly insecure about my abilities as a blogger/instragrammer I won’t lie, I’ve been tempted but my gut instinct & morals & pride have never let me go down the route of unauthentic sponsorship or buying followers. As you rightly said the only person you’re fooling is yourself. There’s not an ounce of credibility in this behaviour & it benefits no one at all.

  17. Comment pods? Bloody hell every time I turn around there’s something new! Ugh what is a 50 year old (not quite yet) fashion blogger to do? The technology is hard enough to keep up with but all these spam bots & blah blahs are doing my head in! It is kinda funny though isn’t it? Or did I mean sad? I don’t know, after all I am a bot. Or am I? Hahahaha
    Brilliant post Amber xxx

  18. YES, to this entire post! I maybe personally guilty of using other bloggers photos on my blog for inspiration post, but if I know the blogger I’m putting on there, I tagging their blog/instagram. Usually it’s hard with images, especially now since many of them aren’t credited. I’m not excusing this behaviour however!
    Kinga xx
    http://rockthisrunway.com/

  19. Thank you for this! I was getting pretty disillusioned too, but decided to stick to my own path and see where it leads me. Loving this post and am in total agreement with this code of ethics.

  20. YES! Reading this post got me thinking about a post I wrote a couple of years ago, about why I continue to blog. In the middle of this admittedly long (and rambling) post, I came up with a preliminary list of blogging ethics and standards — many of which match up with your list! The full post is here at https://librarianforlifestyle.com/2015/01/01/new-year-reflections-about-blogging/, but I’ve copied-and-pasted my list of ethics and standards:

    That the outfits I wear on the blog are outfits I wear in real life. And have worn in real life. And will probably wear again in real life.
    That I take pics in “real time” whenever possible — meaning on the day that I wear them. When that’s not possible — hello, winter time when it’s dark when I leave for work and dark when I get home — then I try to recreate outfits AFTER I’ve worn them. That distinction feels important to me.
    That I write all my own content. (Gotta keep putting my B.A. in English to good use!)
    That my opinions are real and honest and reflective of my own experiences.
    That I don’t photoshop my body shape in pictures. Yes, I edit photos for lighting or color-correction, and I erase things like cat hair from close-ups. So. much. cat. hair. But those hips and booty you see in my pics? Yep, those are real. I’m all about that bass, y’all. 😉
    That I am open to finding inspiration from anywhere, anytime, from anyone. And sharing that inspiration on my blog. And giving credit to others when they have inspired me.
    That I am committed to remixing items from my own closet. Remixing = real life.
    That I like style and fashion and color-coordinating.
    That I like blogging.

  21. Hi Amber,

    Interesting thoughts you have shared on this topic. However I would just like to point out that making use of others pictures you find on google or Pinterest is fine just as long you state somewhere that you did take them. So much so, even if they do take them and don’t tell, google images are provided there for us to see, share and use as we may. If we do use them without crediting , it’s because that’s why they were provided for us in the first place. I definitely agree with you that we need to be original but we also need to remember no one is an island on their own and we are all here to help each other. If you see your picture on another person’s blog you should feel happy that people are inspired by your work enough to share them.

    Thanks for your post.

    1. Sorry, but this is dangerously incorrect advice: other people’s property (including their images) is not “provided for us” – it belongs to someone else, and we have no obligation whatsoever to “feel happy” when it’s stolen. I’ve no idea where you got this information, but if you’re working under the assumption that other people provide images just for you to take, and that the purpose of Google Images and Pinterest is for you to be able to easily find images to appropriate, you run the risk of a really heavy fine. I suppose if I stole your car, rather than calling the police, you’d just be happy I was inspired by it? It’s there for me to take, after all! No man is an island!

      Seriously, though: I don’t know where you live, but here in the U.K., and in the US, it’s not just unethical to take other people’s work without permission, it’s ILLEGAL. That’s not my opinion, it’s a fact: people (including bloggers) have been sued for it. No, crediting the source of a photo you’ve stolen does not make it legal to use it. No, Google and Pinterest are not free image banks – they are search engines, which provide links to other people’s work, which other people own, and which you could get into a lot of trouble for using – either with or without credit. No, I don’t have to feel happy that someone has stolen my work: I work hard to create those images, and they are my livelihood – I’m perfectly within my rights to be annoyed when someone else takes that hard work, and uses it without my permission, and, legally, I’m entitled to take action against them, too.

      So feel flattered when people steal from you if you like, but please don’t circulate this incorrect advice, and, if you’re going around stealing images on the basis that “that’s why they’re there!” then don’t be surprised if someone takes you to court over it. If you believe we’re, “all here to help each other,” then surely that should extend to respecting each other’s properly and rights, and not just trying to find ways to justify stealing from each other?

      1. Amber sweetie, cars and images are two different things. You cannot make a comparison with those two items. It seems to me that you are a very hardworking, dominant and selfish individual who does not like to share. I think you are looking at it all from a negative point of view but I definitely agree with you honesty is always the best policy. If you take someone’s work just let them know or link their work directly back to their site.

        Thank you for your thoughts.

        1. Praise, “sweetie”, the fact that you’re unable to make your point without resorting to name-calling makes you sound a lot more “negative” than I am – and the fact that you feel entitled to use other people’s work, even if it means breaking the law (which it still does, by the way, and no amount of name-calling will change that) makes you sound a whole lot more selfish than me, too. The facts remain: Google and Pinterest are not free image banks, and copyright theft is illegal – those are not opinions, they are facts.

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