Blogging came about in the 1990s and, unlike other contemporary tech crazes like Mini CDs and Tamagotchis, has continued to catch the attention and interest of new users. Beyond personal journals, blogs are used to review products, advertise cottage industries, provide organization updates, and give additional perspectives on news and political events. Because of the difficulty of censoring blogs and other social media, these forms of communications have become instrumental in expressing political dissidence in regions with limited free speech.
Despite the acknowledged benefits of blogging, it is a form of communication that has significant drawbacks. As you peruse blogs and write your own, consider these warnings:
- Do not believe everything you read.
- Be very mindful of what you post.
- Be just as mindful of what you repost.
As of 2012 there were over 181 million blogs (an astounding increase from 36 million 5 years earlier) and almost 19 million people publishing blogs. No, wait, there were 31 million bloggers in the United States alone and presumably many more worldwide. One thing we do know is that the majority of bloggers are men. Or women. The blog, blogging magazine, and blog analyst I pulled these “facts” from did not cite much in the way of sources, so to honor the tradition of blogging neither will I.
Over 40.22% of what you read on blogs is made up (For instance, I just made that up. See what I did there?). In a true study of internet accuracy published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2012, researchers read 1300 websites reporting information on safe sleeping habits for infants and found that only 43.5% had recommendations corresponding with the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines and 28.1% contained inaccurate information.4 Blogs and personal websites were singled out as particularly inaccurate (74.3% and 69.7% medical inaccuracy respectively).4 Of course I read this in a blog post rather than reading the article, so perhaps it should be taken with a grain of salt.
Blogs form part of a digital identity for their posters, and if you plan to blog you should ensure that the identity you craft is one that you can be proud of. While a mistaken “fact,” uninformed opinion, or an off-color comment shared over the water cooler can be embarrassing, the same posted on a blog can be a lingering source of confusion and may even damage the blogger’s credibility or employability. TV Journalist Shea Allen was fired after sharing personal information on her blog5 and web designer Heather Armstrong was fired for posting her thoughts about coworkers and management.6
Even well-intentioned posts can have unimagined consequences. Once information is posted on the internet, we may not have the power to delete it, and even when we do it is possible that it has been cached and archived by a third party or reposted by a reader.
An amusing example of blog posts run amok is the sudden surge in Penguin Sweater popularity prompted by a 2011 oil spill. A call was sent out to knit miniature sweaters to put on oiled penguins to keep them warm and prevent ingestion of oil. Blogger Mike Dickison describes how he picked up the call from another knitter and posted a pattern and mailing instructions to a yarn store that would then forward them to animal rescue groups.8 He soon found that the sweaters were not needed or even wanted as putting sweaters on oiled penguins is dangerous rather than helpful, but it was too late.8 His sweater pattern was reposted and years later the store and rescue groups continue to receive miniature sweaters. On the up side, some innovative rescue groups have turned this to their advantage, selling stuffed animals clothed in donated sweaters to raise money for their programs, which one imagines would dismay the well-intentioned but ill-informed knitters.7,8,9
Reading blogs seems passive and harmless, but we often pass along or act on information we read. Consider as you read: How well informed and reliable is the source? What are his or her sources? Are they presenting personal opinion or supported analysis?
When posting, it may be easy to avoid becoming the next Anthony Weiner but care and caution should be taken even when engaging in seemingly innocuous blogging activities. Consider as you post: What would your boss think if he or she reads it? What might a future boss think? What if you change your mind? Could you accidentally start a Penguin Sweater phenomenon or, if you are reposting, are you possibly contributing to someone else’s Penguin Sweater event? Of course, if these things worry you, you can always join the millions of bloggers who post anonymously (but keep the anonymity of bloggers in mind when you’re reading too).
Do you have any favorite blogging or social media mishaps that you have observed or participated in?
(Despite my stated dedication to blogging traditions, the first three links are the references I promised not to provide)