Just checked in with Techmeme after a few days of eggnog and tobogganing, and what did I find but another ethical dilemma brewing, this time courtesy of Microsoft (although Edelman appears to have played a role as well). I predict that the blogosphere-as-ethical-minefield meme will continue to be a hot topic in the year to come, if only because there seem to be a ton of unresolved issues, not to mention a vast difference of opinion on what’s right and what isn’t.
Reading through the various posts on it, like Joel Spolsky’s or Judi Sohn’s at Web Worker Daily — who wins the prize for my favourite headline, with “There ain’t no such thing as a free laptop” — and the comments on some of those posts, including the ones at Brandon LeBlanc’s blog (he got one of the free Microsoft laptops with Vista but didn’t say so for a few days), it seems as though some people think keeping the laptops is just fine, and others think it is a heinous crime.
As with many of the other ethical issues the blogosphere is wrestling with, this one also occurs in traditional media, particularly in the technology area, where reviewers are often given software and hardware to test. Sometimes the understanding is that the reviewer will keep it (if it isn’t of huge value), but in the vast majority of cases it is sent back. Are there reviewers who keep things they shouldn’t? Sure there are. Does it affect their credibility? Who knows.
Ed Bott thinks that bloggers should be able to keep the free laptops, and says he isn’t going to lose any of his faith in the credibility or trustworthiness of Brandon LeBlanc or Long Zheng as a result of them keeping it. His argument is that trust is something you build up over time, and that it takes more than a free laptop to demolish it — and I would agree, to a point.
But I also think that a blogger trying to build up credibility and win an audience is fighting an uphill battle to begin with, and accepting freebies without disclosing them is a very slippery slope, and that’s why my position on PayPerPost has also been that payment is fine provided it is disclosed. The FTC seems to agree, given its recent decision on word-of-mouth marketing.
As Tony Hung points out at Deep Jive Interests in this post on PayPerPost buying Performancing, bloggers want to be compensated and many people don’t see anything wrong with that, and neither do I, provided it is disclosed. Anything else, in my opinion, is on the slippery slope. If you think you’re able to keep your footing on that slope, be my guest — but don’t be surprised if you wind up at the bottom.