My belief – and something we instill into any clients that have a blogger or social media outreach program in place – is that you need to offer full disclosure whenever necessary.
Professional relationships, sponsorships, financial or physical gifts, etc – basically, if you or someone you represent benefits from your blog post, you need to disclose that relationship.
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Yet just as important as disclosure – and, perhaps even more so, depending on the circumstances – is the topic of disclaimers, and when you need to have that on your blog (or other social interactions).
What You Advise Isn’t Always What You Know
A good example of the need for a disclaimer is over at a post by Julien Smith, entitled How to Lose 20+ lbs in January 2011. In the post, Julien talks about a diet regime that’s worked for him and some friends he’s helped lose weight (Chris Brogan is one of these friends that Julien is helping to lose weight).
As part of the diet, Julien recommends some of the following:
- Cut out sugar and flour from your diet.
- Intermittent fasting (in the post, Julien advises that he’s been fasting for 16 hours a day for the last three weeks).
- Read books and educate yourself on fitness and health.
It’s advice that’s clearly worked for Julien, and is (probably) working for his friends. And that’s great. Yet the post also has some issues, and ones that should have been addressed in it.
The Problem with One Size Fits All
While it’s great that the diet and its tough-looking regime work for Julien, the post implies that the same advice will work for everyone. The first words to the post are, “This is probably the only diet post you will ever need.”
Further in, the post also makes the request to, “tweet this out and subscribe to the blog below with your email address.” This is to ensure that people who “need this kind of information, but… don’t know where to get it” can get the latest health tips direct from Julien (at least that’s what I take from that request).
It’s these words, along with the premise of a health post that doesn’t segregate its audience, that need a disclaimer (at the time of writing this post, there isn’t one) – because Julien is not a nutritionist or a physician. Julien’s reply to one of his commenters that questions his diet is a little bit worrying: “A degree does not make anyone right, nor does a lack of one make one wrong.”
Except in medical science, where a degree would be pretty important to show you know what you’re doing when dealing with someone’s life, no? And this is where a disclaimer is needed (and not just Julien’s post, but any like it).
Liability versus Responsibility
Say someone follows Julien’s advice. And say they have a reaction; or become ill; or collapse through hunger while fasting. Say they feel faint at the wheel of a car, and cause a crash.
“But I thought I’d be okay – I was following the advice of a blogger who the diet worked for.”
Okay, that’s maybe a little blase, but you get the drift. At no point in the post does Julien mention he’s not a dietician. Nor does he advise you to consult your own dietician or physician first. Nor that women have different needs than men, and children are different again. Age is also bypassed.
If there had been a disclaimer in the post advising this, then it’s making sure that you take precautions when starting the regime in question.
Because there isn’t one, Julien could potentially be liable for a lawsuit, particularly if someone has a serious reaction or something else, based on following the post’s advice. And it’s something many bloggers fail to take into account when writing.
I don’t know Julien, but he seems a good guy and not one to offer false advice randomly.
Yet – like any blogger – he has a responsibility to not only his blog’s community, but the fly-by first time visitor as well. Yes, we need to take personal responsibility too, and that can’t be discounted. But often we get into a relationship of trust with the blogs we read (especially one written by the co-author of Trust Agents), so we trust their words.
The problem is, the law doesn’t always take blind trust into the equation where liability is concerned…