Should Bloggers Adopt a Code of Ethics?

This post is by Jody May Marich of Tickle Me Chic


After Maura Kelly's post, “Should Fatties Get a Room?” it became apparent that it is time to talk about ethical decisions on what and what not to post.


First off, everyone has freedom of speech. You are allowed to write, post, say whatever you want but when there are readers hitting your site, be conscious of others and their feelings. This goes for the readers commenting too, check out When Words Attack Bloggers, by Birdie of Bonnie Vie.


As a communications major, with a journalism track I’ve learned and now follow the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics.  Now granted, bloggers are different then news reporters but not always. These four points help anyone writing for a mass audience follow ethical guidelines.

  1. Seek truth and report it. “Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information”
  2. Minimize harm. “Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.” Show good taste, be compassionate and be sensitive.
  3. Act Independently. “Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.”
  4. Be Accountable. “Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.” You never know who could be reading your blog. Be aware of what you are writing and whom you are writing for.


Bloggers are citizen journalists and while some don't get paid, others do. If you are paid to blog, be careful showing your opinion in a negative way as it may upset your readers.


Anna Wintour, Vogue editor-in- chief, is embracing fashion bloggers. In the March issue, the feature was style bloggers. “We love as much coverage of fashion as possible. We don't care at all where it comes from, and we embrace bloggers and video and social networking, and anyone that's talking about fashion is a good thing. And we now have our own website that incorporates all of that. But I think what's interesting to us with this new phenomenon that ‘everyone's a fashion editor, everyone's a fashion writer' is that all of that actually helps Vogue, because we have access and the understanding of fashion that, forgive me, but maybe some bloggers and some of the newcomers to this world have a little bit less experience of, but as I said, the more the merrier. We embrace it.” While Miss Wintour embraces it, she brings up an important point; the new phenomenon of everyone’s a fashion editor/writer.


Marie Claire has a long-standing mass audience, their bloggers should have enough common sense to not write anything that could be hurtful or outrageous. Being a magazine that embraces healthy body images and promotes wellness and beauty, the editors should have realized the post would not go over well.


Now, most bloggers are their own editors, it’s important that they choose their words wisely. It’s vital that readers come back.


A fellow IFB member, Seamstress Stories, commented on my reaction to the Marie Claire post, saying, “Even if someone is certainly allowed to have their own personal beauty standards (which may say that skinny is more beautiful than fat, or that fat is more beautiful than skinny, or that diversity is beautiful, or whatever), they must be aware that this is just their personal preference, that it is by no means an absolute standard even if it should be in line with the standard flaunted by society around them (that is equally relative) – and in any case, neither a person's beauty standards nor their own history of trauma give anyone a right to write such rude, hurtful things where anyone can read them.”

Image by Emli Bendixen (

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28 Responses

  1. Dee

    I think having a Code of Ethics is important – especially for bloggers nowadays. There are so many people saying that brands “own” certain bloggers OR that bloggers have separate agendas, etc.

    I think this rule is important –
    Minimize harm. “Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.” Show good taste, be compassionate and be sensitive.

    So many times have I dealt with fellow bloggers who were mean/rude for NO reason – except that I was a blogger too. It got to the point where it made me not want to attend events in the area anymore because I knew it’d be the same people.

    The Blogger scene is a scary place. Everyone smiles then stabs you in the back. I think a Code of Ethics is needed but I know.. no one will stand by it.

  2. Maegan

    it’s true that as my readership on my blog grew, my opinionated posts took a backseat. It’s just the way it goes. I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings by spewing my opinion …I’m trying to inspire creativity and the two don’t go hand in hand. Though I do have a big mouth and it’s hard to contain it sometimes 😉

  3. Madeleine Gallay

    While this could have been interesting (and of course is), my interest wilted when you brought up Maura Kelly.

    I think that blogging as a personal essay is craft and sometimes art and she posed a raw subject that is not taboo or in bad taste to me. She exposed her own humanity.

    Singling out Ms. Kelly, who happens to be a fine writer whether one appreciates her sentiments or not, is wrong.

    Bloggers are getting ahead of themselves by a lot when we are unable to disagree with a topic and not support the bloggers right to speak freely.

    One has choices but censorship on opinion is wrong.

  4. Ashe Mischief

    “Be Accountable.”

    I think this is HUGELY important, and something I think about often. Since I write about finance & fashion, things that cross my mind writing and loving such a consumption-oriented area, It’d be really hypocritical for me to start a shopping blog that’s hugely affiliate links, promoting thoughtless spending, etc.

    There are a lot of blogs where I see the mission of the site and the posts not aligning, and I think that’s because they’re forgetting what their accountability is.

    I also have to say, I disagree with Madeleine in regards to your use of Maura as an example. She was simply an example of when ethics go awry in publishing, the backlash that can happen, etc. What you said has nothing to do with Kelly’s abilities as a writer, nor do you condemn her rights to freedom of speech. The writer isn’t advocating censoring opinions, but mindful writing when expressing those opinions.

  5. grechen

    this is an interesting topic…but honestly, i don’t see a reason for a blogger’s code of ethics. my very strong opinion is that everyone has a right to their opinion, wrong or not 😉

    seriously – i thought the marie claire article was frankly stupid. it read more like a bad joke to me and i promptly dismissed it and moved on. i KNOW there are lots of people out there like the writer who don’t want “to see fat people doing anything” and i feel the same way about them as i do about people who leave negative comments on blogs or have blogs devoted to bashing fashion bloggers – they’re sad, pathetic human beings and don’t deserve much of my time or consideration. beyond writing about them, of course LOL

    bloggers ARE NOT JOURNALISTS. i don’t think we should be journalists, or aspire to be journalists, or hold ourselves to the same standards as journalists. our visitors read our blogs because we are honest, personal, and opinionated, not for news. at least mine don’t…

    the moment we stop writing for our readers and tone down our opinions and thoughts on controversial topics we become irrelevant IMO. that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be truthful and considerate in what we write, but i don’t agree with the implication that the marie claire article or the blogger who wrote it was “unethical” in any way.

  6. Mano Bello

    Unfortunately, you cannot control the comments….although administrators of blogs can refrain from allowing the posting.
    I think the more credible bloggers will follow ethical practices and courtesy…..others may not.
    Unfortunately, once again…..that probably won’t affect the page rank or popularity of a blog either way.
    There are followers of ALL types for ALL types of bloggers!
    Good point!
    Thanks & Envive!

  7. Crystal

    I read,the article and although it was distasteful I appreciate her honesty. Then again her humanity was a projection of her own reality. Something I choose not to own Because Am a “Fattie” a happy one @ that. I believe when you are a blogger and getting paid you need to be mindful of what you put out there for millions too see. So in this case I believe that some ethics should be involved. Lets face it if there wasn’t no regulation on what others do people would totally get out of line its in our nature to do so am not saying all but the a vast majority would.

  8. Intrinsically Florrie

    “Minimize harm” I personally would never like to think that a post had been hurtful to anyone- it’s just not my personality.
    If I’m reviewing something and it has negative aspects, yes I will state them but I’d still like to have more positive things to say or I just won’t write about it. I don’t want my blog to have any negativity attached to it.

    Florrie x

  9. Kate

    My personal thought on this is yes there are moral obligations to reporting, but at the same time where is the line. As much as we would all like to shut down pro-anorexia sites it can’t happen it would be impossible. The thing is choose your content carefully if you are a fashion blogger stick to what you know and not necessarily the opinion. At the same time I think audiences need to be a little mature..if you feel bullied by an article is it right to go ahead and bully the author?

  10. WendyB

    I don’t think the Maura Kelly post is an ethical issue. Its publication under the aegis of Marie Claire was a failure of common sense and quality control. Maura’s post was stupid, poorly written, poorly reasoned and offensive. But being offensive shouldn’t be equated with being unethical. There are many perfectly true and excellently written and reported stories that offend many people. The fact that people are offended doesn’t make those stories unethical. For that matter, Fox News offends me every time I make the mistake of glancing at it, but I don’t believe its existence is unethical.

    I think the takeaway for average bloggers is to remember that you might on a normal day have two regular readers — Mommy and Daddy — but you are in a public forum and you can indeed be read by millions. Assume anyone you write about may read your post and see if you have the nerve to stick with what you’re saying. Get comments from people you’re writing about and see if that changes your tone. I find some bloggers back away from their opinions after a single complaint. If you’re that unsure of your commitment to your opinion, you probably shouldn’t be sharing it with the world.

    Basically, think before you speak.

  11. lisa

    “Assume anyone you write about may read your post and see if you have the nerve to stick with what you’re saying.” Well said, Wendy. That’s basically my yardstick for whether or not I feel comfortable hitting the PUBLISH button.

  12. Pearl Westwood

    Hmm personally I dont like the idea of having a code of ethics, why? because I think people should be free to write whatever they want on their personal blogs, and it is a totally differnt situation to being a magazine journo. If you dont like what someone is writing dont read it.

    I think Wendy B sums things up pretty well.

  13. Diana

    My gut reaction? “Yes, we should adopt a code!” After more thought, however, I think that it should be an individual’s option.

    As bizarre as it sounds, people do have the right to choose an unethical approach. The cost of that choice is that person’s credibility. Right now it’s pretty obvious when someone does that, though as blogging becomes more sophisticated as a trade it will likely become more subtle.

    I’m also a journalism track mass communications degree holder. I abide by a similar code of ethics, and I work hard to strike a balance between outside influences and simply making a living. At the same time, I can see why people might slide. When you’re learning about the conglomerate model, it’s easy to criticize, but it gets tempting to be a bit too flexible when it’s just you, your keyboard and your bank account.

    With so many newspapers closing and more TV news moving toward an entertainment model, I do feel like bloggers have an opportunity – but not an obligation – to fill in that gap.

    I do have my own code of ethics, and I think this is great fodder for a post. I also think that a discussion about how this works in fashion blogging, which is so powerfully opinion based, is also important since ethics and fact do matter even when writing opinion.

  14. Alterations Needed

    The question of ethics depends on what kind of blog you’re trying to run. If your blog is all about you, your thoughts, your life, your personal outlet…then yes, by all means, let it rip. No need to censor yourself if you blog is about yourself.

    On the other hand, if your blog is providing a service to people, and you’re trying to build a brand or run your blog like a business, then yes, you need to consider ethics before you post. Are your readers coming to see how outrageous you are? Go nuts! Are your readers coming for shopping help? Then maybe they don’t want to hear your opinion on which body types you find disgusting.

    If you appreciate your readers, think about what code of ethics you need to keep them. One code won’t work for all blogs.

  15. stylefyles

    Alterations Needed – well said.

    Personally, I take accountability for everything I write, and try to produce the best content and photography I can. I take a lot of pride in my content and as I assume many bloggers do. I also have a background in journalism, so ethics are important to me (of course, I rarely find myself writing controversial posts).

    However, the blogging world is SO big. Some people blog for the world while others blog for themselves. The fact that anyone can have a blog makes it virtually impossible to have any sort of uniform, universal code.

    This may not be the fairest way to judge, but I think the more readers one has the more accountable one should be (and I think, in general, bloggers with more readers DO try to hold themselves to a higher standard).

    Once blogging has become one’s full time job (ie: main source of income), the blogger has a great responsibility to his or her readership (especially if readers are providing a livelihood for the blogger). In this case the writer should definitely aim for excellence – and it is fair for that blogger’s readers to expect that, as well.

    Of course, even those who don’t make revenue from their blog should also be inspired to keep their work professional. Just my opinion.

    But what about the casual blogger? The blogger who drops in once in awhile, keeps a blog because it’s free and easy, and has virtually no followers? Different story.

    I know we are discussing blogger accountability and ethics; however, I don’t think bloggers should be held to a higher standard than newspapers and magazines….or “experienced” journalists (whatever that means, Wintour… offense). I have seen FAR too many articles in papers, magazines and segments on the news that in my opinion, fall outside the code of ethics. We think yellow journalism is a thing of the past, but it is live and thriving today. I dare anyone to show me a news source that has no bias and no ulterior motive.

  16. Estava Morioka

    I don’t think that independent bloggers should have a code of ethics. There has to be a place or a forum where people can speak as freely as possible. What I do think is that it is the obligation (from a moral and PR standpoint) for mass publications, such as Marie Claire to follow the SPJ code of ethics at all times! Even if an article came from their blogging division. Just because an article is published under a different tab on the same site shouldn’t make the rules different. Marie Claire is respected an an authority in the fashion and journalism world. Once they attach their name to something then most people don’t distinguish between their “normal” writers and bloggers. All they see is “Marie Claire”.

  17. Christy

    I think Wendy B really hit the proverbial nail on the head. Was the Marie Claire post in poor taste? Sure. Did it belong in or attached to Marie Claire? Absolutely not but I agree that it wasn’t unethical, just a really stupid move.

  18. Denise @ Swelle

    I understand the sentiment of this article. However, one is ethical or one is not. We are all informally adhering to a code of ethics already, that being our own. I really don’t need someone else’s list telling me where my moral compass should lie. Blogging is personal and with that comes different points of view. Let’s keep it that way.

  19. Vinda Sonata

    i really enjoy reading this.
    esp. the part which announces that anna wintour loves fashion bloggers—makes my hopes soar really, really high!
    so thanks for sharing!

  20. Rosa

    I think people shouldnt include music on their blogs its sooo anoying!!

  21. big mens clothes

    I think that some bloggers write blog posts that can offend people to use as linkbait.

    It’s sad that they try and benefit from pointlessly offending people.

  22. Unyime Akpanudosen

    To be honest, when I come across a blog that is just damaging towards others, I move onto the next one. Opinion is just that, but some bloggers take it too far, as well as blogging images of those they don’t know who aren’t known celebrities. It’s really an obvious difference between substance and slander. I enjoy substance.

  23. the V Card

    The people who write these blogs are NOT journalists therefore are NOT required to abide by any kind of code. Anyone with a left brain knows that if you are trying to establish a legitimate blog with a well respected reputation, you are not going to dedicate a huge chunk of your blog to bashing others or saying ridiculous things. Many times these blogs are motivated by self interest and , lets be honest here , $$$$$$$$!!!! It actually starting to drive me crazy that 1) the European bloggers write in English and their native language…thats great, but please spell check! Even for english speakers 2) bloggers start off by trying to convince their viewers they are “just like them”. Once they start to gain a following (large one), start attracting the sponsors, they begin to wear expensive shoes , clothes and handbags that most people cannot afford. Did anyone forget we are in an economic downturn? Rule number 1 if there will be a rule book should be 1) be conservative.

  24. Kelsi (Dedicated)

    Late to the party, but Wendy B summed this up perfectly. There’s absolutely a difference between being unethical and being offensive.

    Maura’s post, whilst shitty journalism, was not unethical, it was just offensive. The key is to be accountable and know your audience.

    Amusingly enough I’ll metaphorically “cut a bitch” on Twitter, but I try and keep my blog a positive place. Each to their own, I’m not about to censor anyone’s opinions.

  25. Franca

    This has been a really interesting discussion!

    like a few previous commenters, my intial reaction was ‘yes! this is a great idea’ but then as I thought about it more I’m probably coming down on on the side of not.

    I think codes work best when they are enforced by some central membership organisation like the journalism one mentioned above, or an employer. You know that when you join or when you work there these are the rule you must follow. But blogging isn’t like that. As was said before, anyone can be a blogger, and some people blog purely for themselves and never angage with a wider blogging community that might be able to set down an ethics code.

    The other thing I wanted to say is that ethics codes aren’t straightforward, ‘tick a box’ type exercises. What they are is tools to make you think about what you’re doing. I work in a an industry (social research) with a large number of different ethics codes and checklists (government, academic, professional research associations etc) and all are slightly different, but when it boils down to it it is about getting you to think through the work that you’re doing: Do people know what they let themselves in for? Are you harming them? What is the potential for indirect harm? These are not easy questions and everyone has to think them through for themselves.

    For bloggers I would say that it is important to act in an ethical way, but ultimately everyone needs to decide that they personally define as ethical.

  26. Marissa

    Hmmmm! I think there is a code and it has been adopted by professionals (or those who would like to be perceived as professionals).

    The Marie-Claire article read like it should have been on an angry 15 year-old’s Geocities page in 1998, not on Marie-Claire in 2010! And the outcry that followed is proof that such a code exists.