Why It’s No Longer Ethical to Be “Just a Blogger”
Better to be credible in front of a small audience than to be negligent in front of millions.
A few weeks ago, the New York Times released an article entitled Vaccines Need Effective Messengers. Here’s journalist Shira Ovide:
“Getting the science right is only one element of having coronavirus vaccines be successful. People must also trust them, and that requires an effective communications mobilization.”
The word to focus on in that paragraph is not “science,” “vaccine” or even “communications.”
“I have no training in epidemiology.
You should definitely not trust me.”
Pueyo echos the feeling any ethical writer has when faced with sudden, unexpected success in a new topic. It’s the hair-raising thrill of mass influence immediately followed by the vomit-inducing worry that you may have gotten your facts wrong.
It wasn’t long ago that bloggers and online creators were considered a sidebar of information. Sure, you could find an insight or two, but the “real” stuff still came from the networks.
When the world got desperate and scared this time, who did it look to?
Not the conglomerates, who have revealed their corruption in recent years. Not the politicians, who have progressively lost the trust of their constituents. Not the news media, who so thoroughly beats the drum of doom and gloom that when real doom and gloom came around it felt like business as usual.
No, the world looked to the people who had earned their trust. It looked to the new world influencers.
It looked at you.
On the surface, this isn’t a problem. Surely it’s better to have all the voices represented than an elite few. But lurking within the engines that drive the 2.5 billion gigabytes produced by the human race every single day is a troublesome issue: those of us who make things online are generally incentivized to seek attention above truth.
This is more of an inevitability than a conspiracy. What do you need most when you are a budding tech startup with infinite cash? Eyeballs. No matter the lofty mission statements of these sites, they go extinct without attention. Instead of using paid advertising, it’s now common practice to activate the creative work of users, generating the much-needed invisible word of mouth that every new platform lives or dies by.
“But Todd, most people don’t write about issues that affect the public at large!”
Yeah. That’s what everybody said in February of 2020. Back then, everyone was writing about “refusing to give in to fear” and “ignoring flagrant media misinformation.” The general consensus, especially in the self-help genre that attracts so many new writers, was: “ignore that thing in China.”
When March and April came, everyone suddenly turned into a virologist.
Why? Because again, for the online creator, attention trumps everything. This very platform, a collection of the world’s best thinking, became a source of false information about the virus. One reason for that could have been because the army of creators whose paycheck relied on readers saw the raging chaos and thought “okay, how can I keep this money coming in?”
The answer to that question was obvious.
2020 and its fallout offer the perfect opportunity to plead with every person boasting an audience larger than zero:
Do your research. Verify your facts. Credit your sources. Please do this. Please. Even if the attention never comes, it is far better to be credible in front of a small audience than to be negligent in front of millions.
When Tomas Pueyo said “don’t trust me,” he wasn’t calling himself untrustworthy. He likely made a point of saying it because he knew that most readers wouldn’t do the research — they would just trust the writer had it right.
You are the new media. Whether you write about politics, investing, or the mating habits of Oklahoma grasshoppers, take the time to get it right. The recent attacks on the US capitol building is a damning example of what happens when misinformation is allowed free rein.
It’s no longer ethical to be “just a blogger” because any person with a keyboard and the internet now has the ability to literally change a person’s mind and actions.
Give that power the respect it deserves.