On blogging, ethics, and thin skin

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I’ve written for a variety of publications over my career. TUAW, Macworld, MacStories, and Lifehacker, to name a few. The vast majority of my writing happens right here in my own little world, though.

On my personal blog(s), I’ve had the opportunity to build an audience that’s here just for me. My regular readers know me, my sense of humor, and my style of writing. Hopefully you trust me, because I’ve worked hard for that. Even when my readers can’t see it, I blog with a code of ethics that I internalized early on. I don’t take money for reviews, I clearly state when posts are sponsored, if I use a review code or accept a review unit for a product and continue using it, I purchase it. I’m open and honest, often vulnerable, and am generally rewarded for it. It’s a pleasure writing for all of you.

When you write on bigger sites, you usually become just one of many bylines. In most cases, you don’t have the wiggle room afforded by reputation, and there are typically more eyeballs on everything you write. Basic math says that means more rude people, as small a segment as they may be.

The comments are often unforgiving. My first post that wasn’t on my own blog was on TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog) back in the early 2000s. It got an irate comment. I think it was over a grammatical error that led a commenter to declare that I was an “idiot who shouldn’t be allowed to write” for a large publication. It hit me hard; I lost a bit of sleep over that one.

So I developed much thicker skin over the years. I learned that in the din of the larger blogs people have outsized reactions because they don’t think anyone notices a rational one. And the people who leave scathing personal attacks in comments are people who really want to be noticed.

These days I can take a correction and say thank you, even if it’s presented as a personal attack. I can handle someone who disagrees, no matter how vociferously they feel the need to state it. There’s one type of comment that still gets me though: one that impugns my integrity.

I got a comment on one of the bigger blogs recently that accused me — in an irate and self-righteous tone — of writing a paid advertisement for an app I was reviewing. If you read my posts here, you know that I don’t write negative reviews. If I don’t like something, I generally ignore it, preferring to focus my writing energy on things I think are worthwhile. And if I love something, I gush about it. But no money changes hands without being clearly stated, and reviews are never paid for. So it really gets under my skin when an accusation like that is made. I think I’m writing this post mostly to get that off my chest.

I sometimes wish that job résumés and Tinder profiles required an appendix of all of the comments a person has left on other’s work in the last year. You can learn a lot about a person from how they approach offering criticism when it’s not face to face.

I clearly have a personal motivation for this post (that probably doesn’t help prove my whole “I have thick skin” thing), but it speaks to some larger points:

  1. If you’re going to write for large audiences, you’re going to be trashed and you have to be emotionally prepared for that. It’s inevitable and it will be overt. (And unfortunately, it’s significantly worse for women.)
  2. There’s a code of ethics in blogging (and Instagramming and other “influencing”, as has been in the news of late). Stick with it. Reader trust is both vital and fickle. Don’t lose it.
  3. Bloggers, remember that the loudest commenters are always the assholes. People who agree what you write by and large don’t feel the need to let you know. People who don’t, well, they’ll want to tell you and anyone else who might be listening. Just keep that in mind.
  4. Lastly, for commenters, you don’t need to make anything a personal attack, ever. Take issue with a statement, point out a misstep, express a contrary opinion, but do it kindly. If someone is truly offensive to you at their core, you’re allowed to not read their work.

To summarize, I understand the risks of exposure and handle them, as most bloggers do. I’m simply urging ethical behavior by bloggers and influencers, and reiterating one point to all readers everywhere: it’s ok to be nice.