The Responsible Blogger’s Guide to
Dealing with Big Brother

image of surveillance video camera

“What should I be doing better with my blog?”

That’s one helluva question, isn’t it? As someone who blogs to support a thriving business, I think about that question every day.

There are a lot of answers, many of which involve sexy topics like traffic, subscribers, and getting one zillion followers on Twitter.

But when’s the last time you sat down and answered the question above with:

“I should be paying more attention to blogging ethics.”

Not so sexy.

But as bloggers, we have to face facts about the world we live in. It feels like an anonymous platform where we can do and say whatever we want. But 2010 has a lot in common with 1984, and Big Brother comes in some forms that George Orwell never dreamed of.

You need to be aware of one very important fact that many seem to forget:

You can’t unGoogle anything

When you launch your words into the blogosphere and social media universe, you’re laying a digital footprint in concrete. That concrete is the Internet Elephant, and it never forgets.

Old versions of your site are cached. Facebook privacy blunders have ugly real-world consequences. And the Library of Congress is even planning on archiving our tweets. It feels like you can’t be held accountable for your rash words, but you can.

Here are some tips on blogging ethics that will help keep your reputation clean. Especially if you’re going to make blogging a part of your business, you need to protect your interests.

Your comments policy

The bottom line is, it’s your blog and you have ultimate control over what gets posted in your comments section and what doesn’t make the cut.

Please realize that whatever policy you decide on, not everyone is going to agree with you. I personally have a “post all comments” policy, except in instances of spam or blatant self-promoting garbage that adds nothing to the conversation. I also hold all comments that include links from first-time commenters for moderation (legitimate commenters are then white-listed).

Some blogs allow trash talk, some don’t. Some allow profanity, some don’t. Every blogger needs to figure out what to do with the trolls. It’s your blog and your call.

It’s always smart to make your comments policy clear. My developer is working right now on coding my site so my comments policy shows up in a cool style below each post.

If you become known for deleting comments just because the reader isn’t a fawning yes-man, your credibility and authority will suffer. On the other hand, letting the trolls run free or allowing spam to trash up your comments won’t do your reputation any favors either.

Proper accreditation

If you use photos in your blog posts, use legitimate sources for images. (Assuming, of course, you’re not using your own images or photos.)

Photos purchased from stock photo houses usually don’t require photo credit, although a few do. On the other hand, images you get under a Creative Commons license do have various requirements, usually at minimum a credit to the image owner.

This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Don’t steal other people’s images or words and put them on your blog. That content doesn’t belong to you. It’s unethical and scummy.

When you love a blog post so much that you want to send it to your readers, it is not okay to copy the post and paste it into your own blog or newsletter (even with accreditation) unless you get permission from the blogger.

A better way to show your adoration is to select a handful of quotes (I prefer to stick with no more than 50-100 words) from the post and then provide a link back to the original post, with credit to the author.

Understanding libel

Ohhhhh — legalese! (The recovering attorney in Brian Clark will love this one.)

Some bloggers make a hobby of calling people out for what they consider to be inappropriate practices, stupid decisions, or the like. Other bloggers are just plain malicious.

If you’re going to go down this road, get your ducks in a row first. Read up on what constitutes libel. You owe it to yourself. What you might consider “free speech” could get you into trouble, as the line between opinion and malicious intent can be a very fine one.

Make sure you have a liability insurance policy in place (this is a must). If you’re a member of The Author’s Guild, they offer Media Liability Insurance. You can also contact your insurance agent for a general business policy, but make sure it also covers libel and slander.

You are not invisible

Some people imagine that the internet lets them don a Cloak of Invisibility that bestows permission to do whatever the hell they want.

It’s simply not true. You are responsible for your words on the web (and in life) no matter where you leave them or how anonymous you think you’re being.

I don’t accept anonymous comments on my blog (including commenters who give fake email addresses) and here’s why: it shows me you’re not willing to be held accountable for your words.

If you’re running a blog, there are some pretty cool tools you can use to verify identity or lend at least some level of “real world” status to a commenter you might hold in question.

  • Email address verification tools: Did you know you can check any email address to see if it’s valid? Yep. And it’s free and easy. I use this one on a regular basis, but a simple web search for “verify email address” can point you towards others.
  • IP address verification: Most comment systems (Disqus, InstenseDebate, and WordPress’s built-in system) display the IP address of every commenter to the moderator. I use WhoIs to verify IP addresses (I had to do this just last week for an unfortunate situation). If you continuously receive spam comments or inappropriate comments from a particular commenter, you can block an entire IP address from your blog. If you need help with this, just ping your comments system or hit up the WordPress Codex for tips on combating spam and unwanted comments. Disqus and IntenseDebate have built-in blacklist features.

The best thing I can do here is to put just a bit of healthy fear into you.

You’re not invincible, you’re not invisible, and you have a responsibility to both yourself and your audience.

While you might have been looking for a more entertaining post on ethics (given my propensity for, ahem, colorful language), putting your thoughts out there on the web is serious stuff.

As I said, nothing can be unGoogled. It’s not like a late-night TP-ing of your least favorite junior high school science teacher’s house. Drive-bys don’t work online.

Strong ethical guidelines can keep your brand and keep your blog shop clean. If there are other best practices I’ve missed, lob them into the comments section below. While we don’t want to go all George Orwell, you have to remember that 1984 still applies in 2010 … and beyond (and it’s not such a bad thing).

About the Author: Erika Napoletano is the Head Redhead at RedheadWriting LLC, a Denver-based online strategies consultancy. Her blog, RedheadWriting, is a bastion for “unpopular thoughts and blunt advice — delivered” and consistently strives to say what others won’t (but should) about marketing, social media, business integrity, and life in general.

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Comments

  1. Great reminder — with the seeming “cloak of invisibility” we can believe we’re flying underneath the radar. But it’s not true! And I wish the people who have been leaving nasty comments on my YouTube videos would realize that it’s pretty easy to track down who they are. ;)

  2. Wow.. I didn’t know you could block IP addresses.. I get a ton, and I mean a TON of SPAM comments everyday.. I try to ignore it and let it sit there since Akismet is doing it’s thing..

    but I bothers me.. A LOT – I’m blocking those jerks.. thanks for the tips

    By the way.. great post. It’s true that we need to be responsible for what we put out onto the web. It goes hand in hand with being authentic and being true to who you are..

    Some people are just afraid of putting themselves out there, and so they hide behind their computer screen – I was guilty of this in the beginning.

    Thanks for the great post
    Talk soon
    Hector

    • Hector – my pleasure! Glad you got some great tools. Definitely activate your Akismet filter in WordPress and pair it up with a solid 3rd party comment system that offers easy IP address/user verification.

      If I can help in any other way, just say the word!

    • There’s also a plugin called Bad Behavior that prevents the gross dudes from even seeing your site in the first place. I know a few folks who use it who really find it helpful.

      We’ve had over a million spam comments trapped by Akismet at Copyblogger. (boggle)

      • A million? ZOIKS!

      • +1 vote for Bad Behavior. After I started using it, Akismet suddenly didn’t have nearly as much spam to catch. It keeps the bad guys out of the neighborhood.

      • Great post, Erika! I’m sort of a legal dork, and I’m always explaining to people that emails are not interviews…ahem. And please to stop trying to pass off an email somebody shot you as an interview.

        I love the nefariousness of that Bad Behavior idea!

        Thanks for giving me a perspective on the 9,000 spams I’ve had to catch on my blog, Sonia. I’ve GOT to look into ways to block IPs…but I feel like they keep shifting their addresses in many cases. It seems like it’s so difficult to get on top of it.

        And meanwhile, I always worry I’m missing some valuable comment from a real person who really wants to talk about the business of writing…but they’re getting buried in all the junk.

        • Carol – this is why I use a combination of Akismet & Disqus. Aksimet catches things and yes, I occasionally go through and catch a few non-spam pingbacks and the such. But Disqus does a great job of (1) letting me review and then whitelist new comment users, and (2) catching the obvious spam.

          • Sadly, the DISQUS section for the commentor, BLOWS. Even the best of us have typos & bad grammar. DISQUS was not designed for us.

            (Disclaimer: Notice no links).

          • Akismet is real bad.
            It just takes someone to hit the spam button on you and you are history for all blogs that use it.
            The list of sites that don’t use akismet is growing.

          • I’d have to disagree with mark. I don’t think a single spam notification is going to blow you out of the water.

            And even if it did, you’d end up in the moderation queue of those blogs where the blogger would recognize your wonderful, brilliant comment for the non-spam that it is and that gets reported back to Akismet as well so the problem would correct itself rather quickly. Assuming that you are not actually spamming.

          • I agree with LoneWolf. There are other spam filtering tools besides Akismet, but a blogger must use something. To do otherwise isn’t just to risk having a bunch of sleazy porn comments, but also links that will direct your readers to viruses and other bad stuff.

            When a legit commenter gets caught in Akismet, she just lets me know via Twitter or some other mechanism and I can go get the comment white-listed. Not a huge problem.

          • Backing up Lone Wolf and Sonia on this one. Savvy bloggers check their spam regularly – Akismet remains a great tool for filtering most of the auto bot spam stuff that can potentially bombard you.

          • I have purchased a *proper* trackback software that evables me to post trackbacks to blogs.
            The way it works is that it won’t allow you to send pings unless you first add links to your own pages so it’s impossible to spam anyone.
            Wordpress itself has one such feature inbuilt into the script, it’ll send a trackback each time you quote someone and include their link.

            I do this professionally, I don’t need to spam.. why would I shoot on my own foot.
            Do I look like a spammer to anyone? lol

          • Mark, your comments here do not look like spam. When I was talking about comments getting into the Akismet filter and being released by the blogger I wasn’t talking about you in particular. I was talking about anyone who finds themselves in the situation you described.

            I took a quick look at your site and I can’t really figure out what you’re trying to do there. It kind of looks like a directory site.

            As for your question about looking like a spammer, I do have one suggestion. Get yourself a Gravatar. They do help you stand out as a real person at least rather than a robot or someone who is constantly putting up fake email addresses as spammers often do. Gravatar images are one of the things I look for (not the only one mind you) when moderating my own blogs for spam.

          • Wolf, what I do is ppc campaigns (in other languages ) so I don’t really depend on commenting on blogs for traffic.

            I buy it off google, “resell it” to advertisers and hopefully I’ll make something off the difference.
            But I am always trying new ways to promote and got a little tangled up with trackbacks/akismet on that one domain.. that’s it.

            So, no more trackbacks for me but for a little while Ill’ bring this akismet thing up every time I see someone mentioning it, if only to promote my little link directory that has a brand new category for …. “akismet free blogs”…
            :)

          • It’s too bad that someone would mark a trackback as spam. I sometimes delete trackbacks that are generated when I link to articles within my own blogs or when a article that I’ve written for EzineArticles, etc. generates a trackback.

            But other than that a trackback should be considered a positive thing. It’s possible the other blogger may not have realized what they were doing.

            Still, I don’t think akismet will block you from a single spam report. I could be wrong about that though. I hope not.

        • Now you look like a spammer! Mark, you used automated software to create links to blogs without actually looking at those blogs? That is what we mean by comment spam.

          It doesn’t matter if it is a trackback or a “You write great!” comment. Akismet probably picked up on the pattern of your software rather than someone clicking spam on you.

          What you were doing is exactly what we use Akismet to prevent.

          As for the trackbacks from my syndicated articles, they are usually from autoblogs so I don’t necessarily want to link back to them. They’re still linking to me, but there isn’t much I can do about unless they violate the terms of use.

      • We’ve probably covered what there is to cover here. Mark, the merits of Akismet and trackback software are best discussed on your own blog. :)

  3. I have heard a lot of stories in the new recently where people think they can get away with things online and find that the opposite is true. There is truly no cloak of invisibility.

    Most spam is sent by malware infected computers (botnets). Blocking IP addresses may not be the best way. IP addresses are not permanent and shift. You may end up blocking a lot of legit traffic if you do not keep the addresses current.

    • Blocking IP addresses is a useful tactic for commenters who are dropping spam and causing trouble. Hack attacks come from redirected IPs, no argument there. As this blog is addresses blogging ethics, we’re putting ideas out there to help people run well-managed blogs and let them know they have resources for running their blog shop on the up and up :)

      • Most IP addresses should not be blocked more than a few hours, since the malicious user will probably move on by the time the block expires.

        IP addresses should almost never be indefinitely blocked. Many IP addresses are dynamically assigned and change frequently from one person to the next, and even static IP addresses are periodically re-assigned or have different users. In cases of long-term vandalism from an IP address, consider blocks over a period of months or years instead. Long-term blocks should never be used for isolated incidents, regardless of the nature of their policy violation.

        http://css-tricks.com/how-long-should-we-ban-ips/

  4. It amuses me greatly to see you touch on comment policies in this, your second Copyblogger post, since your last one got such a… colorful reaction. Hehe.

    Great stuff, Erika. I think I’m going to just start directing people here instead of trying to explain that you can’t just steal people’s quotes and photos, or slam the crap out of people online without bases. Things I once thought were common sense, until I started talking to the common folk. Sheesh.

    Keep on rockin’ in the freeworld.

  5. It amazes me how often I have to explain to clients that they cannot include whatever cool thing they found on the internet in their newsletters. They will send me a story and say “Hey, could you put this in my newsletter?”

    Most of the time, I find the story, do some research and write an original article with proper attribution and they are happy. Occasionally, though, I get some complaints: “That’s not what I sent you.” Then I step up on my soapbox for a minute.

    I consider it part of my job as a writer to educate clients about copy right laws to the extent my limited knowledge allows because most people really don’t know.

    • I deal with this regularly, too (with clients and in interviews). People ask me “why?” And I’m like, “Because it’s not YOURS!”

      I think Mom Rule should apply: if it’s not your toy, you can look at it, but don’t touch it. There. The NEW RULES for content sharing! :)

      Thanks for stopping by, Dava.

  6. Online AND offline – it’s always a good practice to choose your words and behaviours carefully and responsibly.

    Eliminating toxicity spread through words of little significance spoken to hold one’s place in the Noise line, or wielded with precise intent to wound, hurt, destruct or otherwise maim its receiver would go a long way to improving the environment.

    I can’t think of anything to add to your guidelines Erika. Once you’ve got the Blogging world all cleaned up ~ maybe you could turn some attention to the offline world where lips often flap just to confirm that the speaker is actually there. (Stated in jest, mostly.)

  7. This is a lovely post, and I’m going to link to it on several of my blogs; it’s a good reminder.

    In fact, I liked all of it until you suggested that there was something good about Big Brother. I just don’t like the idea of rats, which featured prominently in the final pages of the book!

  8. Thanks for the info and links. I appreciate it!

  9. It makes me nervous now, I feel like I have to go back and check everything I posted. I’ve gotten ideas from reading different people’s posts. How extreme should we be? Should we say this idea came from person X and this idea came from person Y. And then do we still need their permission because of an idea? I think you instilled the fear of God in me. Of course it’s better to be overcautious than not at all.
    It’s a shame you can’t plead ignorance.
    I do love ignorance

    • Well, fear is good but not when its debilitating! My best advice is to credit people from who you’re sharing ideas. I wouldn’t lay Shakespeare on ya without saying it came from Will, y’know?

      And I do also agree that ignorance is, on occasion, bliss :) Thanks for stopping by today!

    • You don’t need to give credit for an idea — ideas aren’t copyrighted. (Although if you happen to remember who gave you the idea, it’s awesome to go ahead and give them a shout-out — and you can create some nice relationships that way, too.)

      You need to get permission for cutting & pasting exact wording (well, you don’t need it, tons of people do it without permission, but it’s lame & makes you look like a jerk), but for ideas, just give credit when you can.

    • Ideas automatically attach themselves to the person with the most social mojo. No matter who thinks up an idea, the person with the most social proof invariably gets credit when promoting it.

      I know this from a decade of academia, and from right here in Blogistan.

      In academia, the secrecy surrounding unreported results makes sense, because first to publish gets credit. When publication is rigorous, fair and impartial (which it isn’t, completely, but academia comes pretty close), the evolution of an idea can be tracked pretty reliably.

      If you want to be a Super Cool Blogger, just introduce the idea with credit like “I was talking to Jane Random Blogger the other day, and she gave me this cool idea…”

      Disclaimer: This comment is an experiment to see who ends up getting credit for the idea that ideas automatically attach themselves to the person with the most social proof. I’d put money against myself; not enough personal mojo (yet) to propel the notion.

  10. Internet permanency and privacy should be a required course in college. Hell, it should be a required course in high school! It’s incredibly hard to be completely anonymous online, so it’s simply good practice to behave online like you’d behave in public. Not only that, but people really should build their Google reputation the same way they build their credit score. I’d say that your credit score is actually more forgiving than Google, as bad credits eventually fall off your report… not so with the internet.

    Great tips. And thanks for the comments policy reminder — I keep forgetting to draft up one of those for myself!

  11. The picture of the camera hit close to home… they’re all over the roads in AZ!

    But I have to say that I take some comfort in the fact that people will be held accountable for their actions on the Internet.

  12. It is easy for some people to forget that what they say online can have serious consequences. I have even run into people that have trouble believing that they are really talking to other people when they chat online. They seem to think that they are just talking to a computer. This mind set has always confused me. I’m all for believing in AI, but let’s get real, the other people online have feelings, emotions, and dreams just like you do. It brings to mind the “do unto others” quotation.
    I recently posted about values, and your post made me think that better values should be put in place on the internet as well. We don’t expect to be ragged on when we talk to someone face to face, well not unless it’s my brother. Why should we accept this treatment online? People need to realize that there can be consequences to playing with this cool new toy(the Internet).

  13. I heard an internet marketer say in a Webinar that you could get free images from a Google search. He failed to point out that not all images that you get on a search are in fact free. They may be copyright free but in a lot of cases you have to pay in credits that you have already paid for as a registered member of the site.

    • My personal favorite is iStockphoto.com. No membership fee, just credits. And you can always Google “istockphoto coupon” for current discount codes up to 20% off :) Hope that helps!

    • Yeah, you can get free stolen images using Google search. :)

      I usually use iStockPhoto, and I also make extensive use of Flickr’s Creative Commons for some projects.

  14. Great post! I was just discussing a similar topic with some blogger friends. I think this should really be read by every “mommy blogger” that posts questionable picts of their kids’ private moments.

    Keep up the good work! Love this blog/site :)
    Pink Velvet Bird

  15. Hey Erica! Thanks for bringing this to light. I actually just got a comment from someone promoting their own company with a “testimonial”. Deleting it promptly…

    P.S. Good presentation at Ignite Fort Collins last night ;).

  16. Asking permission to use images on a post has started a number of friendships for me. And when asked for permission myself I always say yes. It’s nice to share, and just as nice to be acknowledged. It’s no different than saying please and thank you; simple good manners. As a child I was taught that if I didn’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say it. I honestly can’t say I haven’t slipped now and then, but I know it’s good advice to follow and equally valid online, or off.

    • John – thanks for adding that! Good manners seem to have gone by the wayside here in the online world. Now, why is that? Oh. Yeah. People think it no longer applies because we’re typing and not talking. (sigh) Glad you stopped by today.

  17. It’s great to get some good old down-home advice on the nuts and bolts for the blogging business every once in awhile. I will have to admit that I never thought about libel insurance… never even knew that existed.

    It’s too bad that we have to worry about all of that, but you are dead-right when you say that everything we put out there is forever.

    I can’t wait for my latest rant to end up in the library of congress for our childrens’ children to do a book report on some day.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  18. There’s no doubt that anonymity is a thing of the past on the Interwebz. I live by the credo that if I wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, I won’t say it online. Anonymous comments are for trolls. If you’re not willing to stand behind your ideas and points of view, why should anyone take them into consideration in any kind of substantive discussion.

    I treat others as I would want to be treated – online and off. And that philosophy pretty much covers all the bases online, from giving proper credit to authors & photographers whose work I incorporate into my posts to commenting as myself on others’ blogs.

    I’m…uh…somewhat known for being willing to call shenanigans on those who perpetuate SEO myths and prey on the ignorance of small business owners. As such, I walk a fine line. But I always walk that fine line as myself, rather than trying to hide behind a veil of anonymity that offers, at best, a false sense of security for the trolls & douchebags that congregate in the darker corners of today’s social web.

  19. Oh, by the way, for the WordPress users out there: check out the Photo Dropper plugin – http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/photo-dropper/ . It makes incorporating images from Flickr much easier and takes care of properly attributing them for you. Just be sure that if you run a commercial blog that you indicate that in the plugin’s settings.

  20. Coupla insights: Bill (Bad MambaJamba) Gates couldn’t avoid twenty year old e-mail biting his billionaire ass… so some pothead in Dothan, AL gonna skate???!? Yet I delete my grandmother’s last email by accident and…??? Also, using the liberry, I have probably 60 different IP addresses over a year, along with the other 100,000 users in Seattle. MY biggest headache is wikipedia and craigslist, which allow OTHERS to edit my posts, under delusional opinons that my ..” grammar and spelling corrections are too minor so I re-entered the prior info” !!!! in wikipedia and my ads for a Corvette were somehow disturbing so two separate ads were edited out by some self-appointed guardian of stupidity. My list would NOT allow others to edit the posts-esp with anonymity; no classified ads in newspapers are edited by competitors and ‘do-gooders’ and other jerks.

  21. This is just the kind of post I really enjoy.Lots of usefull tips.
    One thing I’m hoping for is if someone can point me to
    similar infor. on copyright issues.One example; If I want to
    use information from a well known book,can I use the authors
    name as credibility or do I need to get their permission first?
    I would be using only the wording as appearing in their book.

  22. I’m glad you wrote this article. I just had this conversation with a friend of mine that other day. She thinks a person should be able to use any picture or articles he/she wants just because it is on the internet.

    I told her they couldn’t because it doesn’t belong to them. It’s just like buying a book from the store and retyping it and trying to get it published under your own name. It won’t work.

    Also, I feel like if you have integrity and self-respect you would respect others and their work. But this is just my opinion.

    Great post.

  23. Great post Erika.. luckily I think I’ve followed all guidelines listed here thus far, so hopefully I’m good! ;D I pretty much allow all comments on BGB unless they are particular vile or inflammatory (actually haven’t had that happen yet, but I’m certain I’d send it straight to trash!) or if it’s blatant spam.. like “great post!” with no gravitar, or nonsensical when you read it.

    Other than that I welcome point of view from everyone, and just encourage people to keep it constructive, rather than a bunch of BS. However, I had not heard of that Media insurance thing before, so something new to investigate! :)

    P.S.. Off topic– when did this blog go from Thesis to Genesis? Did I miss something somewhere? (I’m certain I did! lol)

  24. The inner geek in me has to know: What kind of coding are you doing to add your comments policy to your blogs???

  25. Erika, good luck getting affordable liability insurance. First, to become a member of the Author’s Guild “Freelance writers must have published three works, fiction or non-fiction, by a periodical of general circulation within the last eighteen months….Online publication at the same rate (at least three works within the past eighteen months) can qualify an author for membership if the website has substantial traffic, editorial oversight, and if the author is paid significant compensation for the work.”

    Since many of us blog for only ourselves,aren’t paid a significant amount (whatever that means) and don’t have “substantial traffic” we aren’t able to join the Author’s Guild and apply for their Liability Insurance.

    I’ve tried to get liability insurance on my own. The last quotes I got a few months ago were in the thousands per year. If you’re not making much money, that’s very hard to afford.

  26. Thank you so much for the great posting, Erika, and all the comments above. I’m a newbie to Twitter. Love it. But greatly appreciate the head’s up on attributing credit where it’s due.

    • Nancy – it’s my pleasure! I’m delighted you found some things you could use. Stick around Copyblogger – Sonia and her team keep bringing in a host of resources for people of every “skill” level :)

  27. Another great post. Thanks!

  28. Erika, your point on “Comments Policy” is an interesting one. Yes, a blog owner has ultimate control over what gets posted in the comments section and what doesn’t.

    But I think some policies may hinder comprehensive discussions, which in turn undermines the ‘educating and informing capacity’ of a post. I’ve came across a couple of blogs that have what appears to be, in my view, “restrictive” comments policy….stating something to the effect that any “criticism” of the opinions in the post is not allowed…or something to that effect.

    The thing is, people have different views about things, based on their expertise, experience etc. So, a visitor to a blog with what appears to be a restrictive comments policy in place may think that simply “disagreeing” with what is in the post is not allowed.

    Yes, there are people out there who can be generally negative all the time and criticize anything for the sake of it. A blogger has a right to keep this lot away.

    But I believe that blogs and blog posts where everyone’s response is basically “I agree with you…etc etc” are boring – they are not educating and they do not make captivating reading.

    Thanks Erika for the great post!

    Great reminder on blogging ethics!

    • I cannot disagree with you at all. My personal policy is to post all comments unless they include salesy/spammy information. I don’t mind discourse or disagreements. Some blogger, however, prefer the sycophants as opposed to the beautiful diversity of a great community. I think they’re shutting themselves in the foot, but hey – that’s just me.

  29. Bingo. Now this was a great reminder. Wasn’t there a few cases of some people getting sued from some tweets they did about bad service they got? Anyway a good point to bring up to the legal team. I was also told that it might be a good idea to state in a disclaimer that anything you write in a blog are your own thoughts and opinions and does not represent the views of anyone else. Have you heard that before?

    • I think that would be a VERY useful statement for people who are employees of a company not related to their blog to put forth. Excellent, Richard. Thanks for throwing that into the mix.

  30. You are so right, the internet never forgets. There are lotsa stories out there about people who have lost jobs (or wordlessly not hired) due to pictures posted on FaceBook and other sites. I always figure if I’m willing to go out on the sidewalk and do something in the daytime (I live on a busy street), then it’s probably okay for FaceBook.

    I haven’t had to be too worried about nastygrams on my blog yet (but I keep hoping); it’s not big enough for anyone to put in the time. Much spam lately though.

    Love the post, checking out some of the resources.
    Mike

  31. Thanks for this Erika. It still amazes me (although I’ve been around long enough that it shouldn’t) that people don’t get basic courtesy and respect for others. The Mom Rule rocks!

    I like the email verification tool. Something like that would make a pretty good plugin … maybe I could steal their code 8=) Seriously, it would make a great plugin.

    As for blocking IP’s, I’d have to agree with those above who discourage that practice. IP’s are not fixed and even live person will often have different IP addresses or share an IP address with lots of non-dbags. You’ll never stop the bots for long that way either.

    • I’m an advocate of blocking IPs when it’s ONE user that’s the issue. For spam and hacks, I let my Akismet & Disqus software deal.

      And if you get that email verification functionality done, ping me. I’ll be the biggest fan you’ve got!

  32. I have only one “Big Brother” comment to add. Respect other people’s right to confidentiality! If you know someone personally and want to reference them in a post, make sure you don’t reveal in public what they have said in confidence in private.

    I had an incident on my blog where someone searched for me under a term that qualified as snooping (aka paparazzi) on a good friend of mine. I made it very clear in a post a few days later that I don’t do such things.

  33. Thank you for the very important reminder. I am now thinking to deleting those borrowed pictures I got from flickr.

    God bless.

    • Just use the “Attribution Only” Flickr images from the Creative Commons, and credit the image owner (generally I just put a link back to the Flickr image and their Flickr user id). Flickr can be a fabulous — and completely legit — source for images.

    • I like stock.xchng for my photos. All the pictures are clearly marked right beside the download button. Some you can use without having any restrictions. Others require notification of the owner and/or credit and still others require permission. For those you can’t even download the full picture until you get permission. I suppose you could just save the thumbnail if you really wanted to get around it though.

      I like to credit the source with a link back to the source image as much as possible. There are very few instances where I can’t make that link. I also like to put an encouraging comment on the image page. There is also a message mechanism that allows you to notify the owner.

  34. Hi Erika,

    You have dealt with two issues I have been thinking about lately – images and comments. I had a comment in one of my blogs and I was wondering what to do about it. He said he can increase the ranking of my website. Now, I don’t think I need it now cos I am still building the blog. However, the interesting thing is that he cant be traced (or so I thought then). When I clicked on his name, it took me to an error page. So I was really contemplating going to delete the comment and at the same time wondering if it was mean to do so.

    Maybe I should start moderating like copyblogger or apply the comment policy as you suggested. Please let me know when you put up yours so I know what a comment policy should look like.

    Furthermore, I have been picking my images from bing but now I know better.

    Thanks.

    • Hi Ndidi

      You will find that there are lots of comments that will come to your blog that are just automated spam. The comment you describe probably had nothing to do with your post — am I right? Then it isn’t a legitimate comment. They should have approached you through your contact page instead.

      I’ve written a series of posts on battling comment spam at http://blogs.wcnickerson.ca/world-wide-web/blogs/2010/06/battling-comment-spam/ which outlines some of the techniques that I use to balance between keeping spam at bay and allowing conversation. It might be helpful as you’re starting out.

      • Thanks so much LoneWolf. I will certainly read your article on battling spam comment.

        Cheers

        • Yeah, Ndidi – the comment you got about SEO/rankings was spam. NO harm in deleting that. If someone’s not replying to your post content, it’s spam/advertising/deleteable. Lone Wolf gave you some great resources.

  35. Great Post. I like this http://www.verifyemailaddress.org link. Never knew that such a service exists. thanks.

  36. Really useful Erica. It never hurts to go back to basics and reflect on what we say and how we say it.

    I tend towards the polite end of the scale on and offline and in nearly 4 years of blogging have never had a rude comment.

    I just launched my new business blog a week ago and one of the commenters wrote that he really didn’t like my new logo … and you know how much time and love we put into the look of our blogs!

    I took a deep breath and just sat back for a second.

    I know he’s entitled to his opinion and then I also realised it wasn’t my job to try and change his mind … so I thanked him for taking the time to write me a note and viva la difference.

    When we read and respond to comments we need to be very clear that we have no other cues and can’t always interpret the intent and feeling in words … unlike face to face where the non verbal gives us 85% of the cues.

    So I always err on the polite and respectful side and thank everyone who takes the time to visit, read and leave a comment … bless ‘em.

    • Excellent point – and we should also remember that facial expressions and sarcasm are sometimes (all the time?) hard to read in words. Sarcasm can easily pass for just being a jerk.

  37. Erika

    Love this. I have to agree that the ethics is not very sexy at all but so important. The unGoogle goes further than the rant on a comment, a crazy tweet – it also red flags you when you steal from others. The old “no one”will notice is a thing of the past. Many tend to forget that big brother is watching and what we say is a reflection of who we are (even if we were having a bad moment).

    The technology is different, the blog world is different as more people who try to capitalize upon someone else’s work is becoming much more apparent. Popularity is shadowing common sense and the price to pay can be hefty. If this article did not scare the pants off people, what is going on here in LV should. There are lawsuits to the tune of 75K being filed (without a cease and desist) to anyone that links to an article of a certain local paper. If you are unaware of this, oh girl do track me down as this would be of high interest to you I believe.

    As as for the trolls, well they exist just to exist and be that person. Hopefully they will see this article and take a look at the unGoogle part and think twice.

    Great to see you guest posting here again.

  38. Great Post Erica!

    This has really opened my eyes and made me aware of this issue (although I do not leave derogatory comments on blogs and social media). I continually read posts and comments and do feel the people who feel the need to be offensive have no back bone. Hopefully this will make them think twice before continuing this kind of behaviour!!

  39. Erika,
    Nice post. Picked up a few tips I added to my blogging “to-do” list (you know that one that’s gets work on at 5am on a Sunday morning). I think the struggle for so many of us now (as blogging grows) is we have full-time day jobs, so reminders like this that our blogs (like it or not, making money or not) are part-time businesses and need to be treated as such. Pretty sure you have a post that says just that over on your blog. Of course in your more colorful language ;) Awesome guest post, congrats on securing it.
    -Jim

  40. Great advice, Erika. Here’s a very simple way to put it. Write your blog like your mother is reading it. Although in reality, my Mom is not online, I use this as a simple, common sense approach to guide my posts. Would she approve or disapprove? And I constantly remind my 2 sons, that I AM online and watching what they say on Facebook. It has worked amazingly well on keeping them accountable too.

  41. This is great advice! I was just reading a blog post this morning from a blogger who got fired from her job because of something that she tweeted. Nothing is as anonymous as it seems online!

  42. Comment policy is a MUST to protect ourself from spammers or even ligitimate comments which intend to harm our blogs :-)

  43. I recently heard someone say that 1984 was the digital divide between kids who are comfortable with computer technology and those who aren’t. Wonder if Big Brother made that happen?

  44. These tips are really practical i have to say and i never thought of some of the points you mentioned here. This post has got me really thinking very deep.

  45. Wow! I would love to steal this blog! But I won’t. I will, however, direct some of my fellow blog writers to it!

  46. Boy am I glad I read this one today! Excellent points, Erika! Two thumbs up to you for touching on ethics. Yes, it may not be sexy, but it’s really worth talking about it and reminding ourselves about what we need to look out for. :)

  47. Great reminder that the internet is always on.

    Thank you for the great tips and advice.

  48. It’s my policy to never (no matter how private I think it is) say anything online that I would be ashamed to have spread all over. It’s a policy that works for me.

    • It is important to remember that what we say here is said out loud, in public and can be overheard!

      Mother was right,
      If you can’t say anything good about someone, at least be polite!

  49. Thank you for this info…you are a great writer…and since we are going to be launching a website soon and have been reading everything our eyes can find, it’s great to come across something that is not just helpful, but fun to read. The last time I had anything to leard about copyrighting, term papers were still done on typewriters. Blogging is whole new world for me and I didn’t even think I was that old. But now that I have found this site, I think I might not hate learning about it so much anymore…actually looking forward to it. Thanks much for sharing with the rest of us!
    -Julie-

  50. Great tips, Erika. If you’re serious about your blog, you must take responsibility for its content and to make sure that is useful, enjoyable and appropriate for visitors and regular readers. I only post images from reputable photo companies. Additionally I provide credit with a mention and backlink to the company or artist supplying the photo. I moderate all blog comments and will not allow postings that link to adult sites. I read about IP blocking for WordPress blogs, I wish that option was available for TypePad. I get trolled from a specific location but the only thing the staff at TypePad will allow for is blocking comments not an entire ISP. In my case, the troll doesn’t make comments, but hangs around certain articles which has me suspicious that it’s a bot likely scraping content. What suggestions do you have?

    Thanks.

    • Joseph, I wish I had some better insights for you regarding TypePad. Is there a comment functionality where you can add a CAPTCHA function into comments to insure the “human” side of commenters?

  51. Thanks for your quick reply, Erika.

    A person must sign in to leave comments. And in addition to moderating all comments I can block people based on keywords and known spam IP addresses. These are useful options but I am concerned about content scrapers and would like to cover an entire range of IPs and thus make it much more difficult for nefarious individuals to visit my site.

    • I think you might be worrying too much about keeping people out. Scrapers are always going to find you – even Copyblogger has that issue. Bottom line – if they scrape your content after you’re already published, you’re not really at risk for another site ranking higher than you due to Google’s “original source” factor (they see you as first publisher).

      I say let ‘em scrape and take it as a compliment.

  52. Perhaps so. But it always pays to be safe. And I now have a new tool thanks to this article: email address verification.

    Thank you.