• Blogger Responsibility: Where Do We Draw the Line?

    May 25, 2011

    Fun workout today! 8-) Murphy and I went for a 2-mile run/walk around the neighborhood. We’re both training for races (Run to Remember for me; Pug 5K for him) so we did our training run together. Running buddies rule!

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    Murphy felt strong for the entire two miles— he even did a few sprints at the end– but he plopped down on the porch as soon as we got home. He was exhausted! Two miles is pretty far for a dog with short legs!

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    Lunch

    Warm weather = smoothies. In the mix: frozen blueberries, banana, plain yogurt, almond milk, chia seeds, and vanilla protein powder. I also ate a couple handfuls of cherries and a piece of toast with sunflower butter on it.

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    Blogger Responsibility

    As you probably know, I sat on a panel at Fitbloggin’ called Blogger Responsibility: Where Do We Draw the Line? It was was moderated by Lisa Johnson, who also participated in the panel, and included MizFit and me. The idea for the panel developed after the response to the “The Hunger Diaries” article by Marie Claire magazine. You can read my post about it here.

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    When “The Hunger Diaries” article came out, I honestly wanted to hide under a rock because the days that followed were crazy. Assumptions were made. Fingers were pointed. Mean-spirited comments erupted all over the healthy living community. Nearly all of the incidents mentioned in the article were taken out of context to fit the author’s own personal agenda, but the situation helped spark some great conversation in the blog world about blogger responsibility.

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    One of the first questions that we addressed during the panel was whether bloggers are qualified to dispense health advice or not. There is such a range of titles, certifications, and credentials in the blog world, it’s hard to say who is really qualified. In Massachusetts, for instance, you can call yourself a ‘nutritionist’ without any sort of training. (FYI: If you’re looking for nutrition advice, a Registered Dietitian is your best bet.) Everyone on the panel agreed if you’re not a trained professional, it’s better to be conservative with the type of information you share on your blog. MizFit added that she doesn’t give specific fitness regimens to her readers.

    If you’re a regular reader of CNC, you know that I blog about my life. I’m not a expert in anything (except my own life and probably Murph’s), so if a reader asks me a question that I’m not qualified to answer, I always refer them to a professional (RD, doctor, personal trainer, etc.). I’m not afraid to say that I don’t know. As bloggers, we need to know our individual limits, especially since our influence over some of our readers might be quite deep.

    Sometimes, however, I write posts sharing my own experiences and offer advice to my readers. I love to help people and often benefit from reading other bloggers’ stories and suggestions, so I like to share the same type of posts on my blog. When I do, I usually include a disclaimer message at the beginning of the post (similar to what I did here), which reminds readers that I am not a trained professional and the information provided is based on my personal experiences and opinions.

    During the panel, when I mentioned my practice of including disclaimers in my blog posts, a woman in the audience immediately shot up her hand and expressed her surprise. She didn’t think it was necessary to include disclaimers because readers should be responsible for themselves. Shortly after this woman’s comment, another member of the audience asked: “Is it arrogant to assume readers will be influenced by a blogger this much? What about reader responsibility?”

    Personally, I add a quick disclaimer to some of my posts because I’m sure it helps some of my readers and it only takes a minute to do. However, there seemed to be an annoyed contingent in the audience that thought the subject was assuming readers were “idiots” if we, as bloggers, need to be this cautious for them. Of course, this is a great topic for discussion, so I leave you with a couple of questions:

    Where do we draw the line when it comes to blogger responsibility? What do you think is your responsibility as a blog reader?

    Here’s the entire transcript from the Blogger Responsibility panel.

    P.S. Check out Brie’s Blog for Dogs registry event to help benefit the homeless and abandoned animals in Joplin, Missouri, who have been devastated by the tornado.

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    { 133 comments… read them below or add one }

    Audrey May 26, 2011 at 2:24 am

    I think bloggers do need to take full responsibilty for what is posted on their blogs. It is their blog afterall. I personally appluad you posting disclaimers, because a LOT of health and fitness blog readers do suffer from either body, food, addiction or a combination of all three of these issues. I will abmit that after reading the Hunger Dairies, I refused to read any of the blogs mentioned for months (I still don’t read two), because I was disturbed about the behaviors the author mentioned and didn’t ewant to promote, by reading the blogs, eating disorders.

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    Sarah May 26, 2011 at 7:38 am

    I think disclaimers can be a good thing; you’re nver too careful and if somebody is offended by reading a disclaimer, good, they obviously didn’t need it. What I would like to sse mor, however, are disclaimers in the press such as Cosmo or Marie Claire. Every spring, it’s the same: Lose weight, lose 10 pouns in 10 days, lose fat for good by not eating anything except lettuce…how many of those journalists/writers actually have enoughof a health background to give such advice?

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    Laura@mypurposefullife May 26, 2011 at 10:49 am

    I think disclaimers are a very good thing, and am kind of surprised to hear that some people view disclaimers as assuming blog readers are “idiots”. I especially think this is true after the whole Marie Claire debacle. Having just started a blog of my own, I am trying to model after you and other bloggers who do put disclaimers, just because I think it could certainly never hurt to have the disclaimer, but, you never know, not having one might be unhealthy for a reader. Also, I am enrolled at Institute for Integrative Nutrition and I know in the school there is a lot of talk about what the students and graduates should call themselves because of different legal names in different states. So the whole subject seems to me to be pretty unavoidable when it comes to healthy living. Great topic!

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    Christina May 26, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Disclaimers are a necessary evil…kind of like warning labels on products. We’ve all read warnings/disclaimers etc where we think “Seriously you have to warn people to not do XYZ?” but the truth is not everyone uses common sense or good judgment and lots of people have problems with personal responsibility.

    I enjoy reading food & fitness blogs for new ideas. I think the people who write those blogs should indicate in their about section if they have any qualifications for dispensing advice and I think they should be truthful in what they post. There have been times where I have read blogs and thought I don’t see how they eat all that food and stay that thin or have wondered about the truthfulness of their food posts/exercise routines etc. At the same time, most food & fitness bloggers are 15-20 years younger than I and haven’t had kids yet. For some of us that makes a big difference in the food/exercise choices you can get away with. No one should believe everything they read or just take it at face value. In the end we all have the personal responsibility to evaluate the information we’ve been given and decide if we want to follow someone’s advice or try something they’ve posted.

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    Crista May 26, 2011 at 11:38 am

    The truth is that anyone can take anything out of context. For a bloggers own sanity and ability to know they did the best they could in any given situation, a disclaimer seems a harmless and quick way to cover bases. A blog reader cannot assume they’re the only ones affected by what is said on any given blog. Who knows, a young impressionable child or teen may be perusing the site (hopefully looking for healthy living guidance or women with similar concerns as themselves). How can a disclaimer hurt anyone? If you feel you are smart enough to know better, then you are! and that’s great! That is my opinion :)

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    Alyssa May 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Wow. I just read the Marie Claire article for the first time. What baffles me the most is that they are taking a stab at bloggers that promote healthy lifestyles yet at the same time they are filling their pages with articles drooling over editorials and designers that promote wafer thin models. It’s boggling to see them criticizing a 1400 cal diet with the goal of running a marathon vs a 500 cal diet as they struggle to keep modelling jobs. My suggestion to MC? Unless you are ready to replace 5’10” 90 lb girls with healthy or [god forbid] short girls, you really cannot be THAT concerned. :)

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    Katie @ Shared Bites May 26, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    That annoyed contingent in the audience was clearly missing one of the other big reasons for including a disclaimer: protecting yourself. I applaud you for including a disclaimer to remind others that you’re just a regular gal learning through trial and error and what works for you. But I also think it’s a necessity once you reach a certain level of readership. Full disclosure is a win-win for everyone. Keep up the good work!

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    Christine May 26, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    so I don’t often comment but I just felt the need to share my experience. I have a vlog channel on youtube that is focused upon recovering from an eating disorder (not self promoting, just giving context) and I receive hundreds of messages from young girls asking me about how to seek help, how to tell their parents, whether or not to stop taking their anti-depressants, etc. I know Carrots n Cake is much different from that, but I DO think that disclaimers are important. not everyone is a faithful reader and checks their Google Reader numerous times a day for updates (as I do!!) and I personally don’t find disclaimers condescending, although I can understand why one might perceive this. Fitness/Healthy Living blogs have made HUGE strides on the internet and in print and it’s important to decipher what is fact, and what isn’t. the Marie Claire article was clearly bias and unnecessary, but readers of the magazine may not know that. Readers also may not skim the website looking to see actual credentials… and there have even been attacks on Jillian Michaels (from the LA Times!) about her credentials (which she responded to and proved she is completely credentialed).

    You can never be too safe.

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    Lara @ Treslala May 26, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    That Marie Claire article is why I’m here, and why I’ve been reading you ever since. Based on my findings after reading a few days/weeks’ worth of some of the blogs that were mentioned I determined that the author of the article just plain didn’t know what they were talking about.

    Some of the comments on some blogs are so interesting to me though — it’s obvious that some readers do take everything a blogger says to heart. Everything. Simple questions: “How do you make this?” or “Where did you find that?”, seem to turn into “How can I be JUST like you? I want your life, help me to live it.” I think disclaimers, in this overly litigious world, might help both you and the blog reader.

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    Sarah @ See Sarah Eat May 27, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Basically, everyone is different and it is downright impossible to please every single blog reader out there in the world. But like another commenter said, the disclaimer is about protecting you. Unfortunately, there are a lot of negative people out there who just sit and wait for a chance to attack someone and not having a disclaimer, I fear, makes a blogger an open target. I think you are doing the right thing and if it annoys someone, they can just scroll on down ;-)

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    Allison May 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Thank you for this post Tina. I had not seen the Hunger Diaries article until now but it got me fired up about this topic. As a vegetarian (and a weekend triathlete) I often feel pressure to explain myself and why my way of living is healthy. I wrote a post on my blog (and linked to your post) to address the topic. Thanks again for writing about this- I think it is really important for us to talk about this topic! (my post: http://getnatured.blogspot.com/2011/05/my-healthy-living-philosophy-and.html)

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    Dangerously Fit May 31, 2011 at 1:27 am

    All said and done, everyone’s metabolism, body characteristics and life circumstances are different. But people do have a tendency to selectively look for something that sounds good to them rather than what is actually right for them. I feel your disclaimers show your concern for the fact that people should not take your comments as an authority, but evaluate it thoroughly before adopting.

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    Stephanie May 31, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    “Is it arrogant to assume readers will be influenced by a blogger this much? What about reader responsibility?” I like that someone asked that question. I’ve always been of the camp that people need to be responsible for themselves, but that just isn’t the world we live in. People are sued for ridiculous things every day, and I always see articles where someone is blaming someone else for their behaviour (Bernie Madoff, I’m looking at you!). The disclaimers won’t stop everyone, but it at least seems to give you a layer of protection (even though you’re blogging about YOU, not what everyone should do!).

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    Tasha - The Clean Eating Mama July 1, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    As bloggers, we need to protect ourselves! There will ALWAYS be that one reader who will believe anything they read.
    Example:
    Jane walks into a coffee shop. Jane orders a hot coffee. Jane spills coffee all over hand, lap, foot, etc. Jane happens to get burnt after clumsy accident, which is no fault but her own. Jane sues coffee shop. A year later, coffee shop is closed, people lost jobs, owners are now bankrupt, while Jane is sunbathing in Florida after winning the case because there were not enough “coffee is hot” labels to warn her the was indeed HOT.
    Disclaimers are imaginary protection lines. I use them on my blog and I believe anyone that does not have an actual degree in the particular field they are choosing to write or speak about should be using disclaimers.
    It comes down to the fact that no one wants to take responsibility for their own actions. Everyone is always looking for someone else to blame and to point the finger at.
    Whether you are a seasoned blogger, a newbie blogger or a blog reader, you have to understand that there will always be someone who will try to rain on your parade.
    Tina, I have followed you for many years and you are such a valuable asset to the blogging community. Much love to you!

    Reply

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