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Thursday
Jan192012

Responsible Blogging

Angela Horn, on her new blog Doula2You wrote a post entitled, “Ethics in the Childbirth Blog-sphere” (sic) about the responsibility a blogger takes just by writing her (or his) words on the Internet. 

“When we proclaim ourselves as experts, by certification or opinion (blogs) we are responsible for our words. We have an obligation to our clients and/or readers to provide accurate information and to disclose our bias. When we conduct ourselves as experts in a particular field many followers of that field will trust what we say and take it as fact. While I don’t disagree that readers have the obligation to do their own research and make their own informed decisions that doesn’t absolve the birth advocate/blogger of the responsibility for their own words and how they are presented.” 

This topic comes up every few months, especially when someone took the advice of an online “counselor” and had a negative or even tragic outcome. Women who let their pregnancies continue past 42 weeks or who have Unassisted Births with a breech baby readily come to mind; certain “natural birth” community forums leading the way against safety and, all too often, even common sense. What is it that makes it so easy to take a stranger’s advice when real life advice says otherwise? I’m reminded of second (and third) opinions… continuing to ask for “opinions” until someone finally says what you want to hear. “Aha! See! I was right after all!” When it comes to childbirth, ask ten women what they think and you’ll get fifteen answers. Eventually, you’ll hear what you wanted to hear in the first place. 

But blogging isn’t quite a community forum. Bloggers taking on a more serious tone, sounding more professional, when, in fact, all we bloggers really are are darn good writers (for the most part). We don’t necessarily know any more than anyone else, we’re just good at getting the information out there. And yes, myself included. 

So, do we bloggers have a responsibility to our readers? Do we need to put disclaimers on each post saying, “This is my opinion. To figure out yours, read and research a LOT. Do not just take my word for it.”? 

I’d love to hear from the women themselves how they think we should present ourselves, how we remind women we’re human, too, and don’t know it all (despite some believing they do). How do we demonstrate our specialties while also showing our warts? Is it only through time that someone earns respect?

What do you think?

Reader Comments (11)

As a blogger, I absolutely must be careful in what I say/write!! I have a disclaimer on my site that encourages women to never trust what one person says on the internet, and to always consult their own health care provider about their own medical needs. I certainly try to not be biased in my writings, but I know that I do some across as slightly biases on some topics, and even highly biased on others. I think that is the very nature of being human, and being passionate about what I believe.

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteratyourcervix

I think disclaimers are a great idea. I like going to a lot of food and health blogs, and they usually have a disclaimer saying that their advice should not be a substitute for that of a medical professional. Why not have them for posts/blogs about birth and medicine?

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura--The Sushi Snob

I find bloggers/page hosts who say "Don't just take my word for it, do your own research" to be disingenuous, whether they recognize or not. The reason women come to them is that they are doing their research! They are trying to find information and found the page/blog. So if you are not trying to sway anyone or give advice, then why bother posting anything to start with? They are sharing their experiences and opinions in hopes that it will change someone's mind. For those not well-versed in scientific literature, it can be incredibly difficult to find and interpret studies. That means we depend on those who can, to decipher and interpret the results of the studies/literature so we can make decisions. Everyone has a bias/agenda; refusing to own up to it doesn't change the fact that it is there. If you're going to be putting out information for other people to read, you have to accept some responsibility for what you're saying.

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAimee

Agreed!

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbri

Obviously bloggers should feel responsible for what they write but unfortunately I think the concept of professionalism is lost of many bloggers who write about childbirth and parenting. Getting them to understand that they should be accountable for advice they give is probably a waste of time.

However, I do think the community should hold them accountable for misinformation but that never seems to happen.

But the real root of the problem is that the average American woman of childbearing age is so grossly uneducated that she can't discern good information from bad. First there is the problem of science and math illiteracy. Basic concepts about statistics are often completely misunderstood.

But even worse than the science/math illiteracy is that most of them lack basic critical thinking skills. Our schools do a terrible job teaching us how to think critically, to understand how to evaluate an argument. Someone will often quote another blogger to substantiate a claim and they don't understand that the other blogger isn't a credible source. If you're going to make a scientific/medical claim, then you need to base your assertions on real sources, e.g. peer reviewed journal articles. And you shouldn't cite them if you haven't read them. I see the bibliography salad all the time on mommyblogs and it's obvious that those articles have never actually been read by those who cut and paste the 'salad.'

I read this and I wonder how these women were allowed to get through their schooling without ever being challenged. Did they not learn how to write a research paper?

And on the mommyblogs, you often see "I really believe..." or "I feel." Why does "really believing" something make it more true? The root of this problem being again that they've never been challenged to defend their beliefs.

I wonder if they are allowed to get away with this because they are women. Was less expected of them in school because they were girls? I read a blog with "I feel," intuition, blah blah blah and I think no wonder some people think women are idiots.

It's part of the larger phenomenon of anti-intellectualism in American society and I'm not optimistic that things will improve. I think we are entering into a period of 'stupid' where many of the advances of the 20th century will be forgotten. Things will not turn out well for a society that doesn't value education and in particular discounts science.

So to answer your specific question (sorry for rambling above), I guess know the weaknesses of your audience. Understand that the average woman reading your blog can't understand statistics. Wouldn't even begin to know how to do their own research. Has little to no understanding of basic science or medicine. Of course this doesn't mean that you should condescend to them. They're not stupid, just uneducated which is not necessarily their fault. They're the product of a larger society that is inherently anti-intellectual. I would encourage bloggers who understand their shortcomings of their audience would feel an obligation to do a little bit of education. Point out the nuances in arguments. Don't be black and white. Highlight inconsistencies. And most importantly don't hide behind "do your own research" when you know that they can't do their own research and are looking to you to tell them what to do.

But of course this advice would be lost on a blogger who is anti-intellectual, who believes that anyone with access to google can become their own expert on whatever. So we're back to the beginning again.

January 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

I'm one of the pregnant women researching, and I find a lot of interesting information on blogs. I have about twenty that I check in with on occasion. Part of what I look for is presentation and tone. If someone starts a post with a sentence about an unusual birth situation or a difficult problem, that presents it in a really different light than someone giving their opinion on a new study or statistic. Disclaimers don't really help -- it just sounds like legalese. What does help is framing. Is this a routine part of child birth or a once-in-a-career scenario? For new information, does it match the births you've seen or does it fly in the face of what you have experienced? I'm reading blogs for the opinions in them -- the more context you can give about whether information is research-based or anecdotal, the more able I am to make decisions about how to use what you've written.

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

I set myself up from the very beginning as "not an expert!" I made a disclaimer on my blog and do not want to be responsible for someone making a bad decision - I think people can get a lot of good information and support from the internet, but they have to discern what's crap and what isn't, I guess. And I learned a long time ago that my experiences aren't necessarily the same as anyone else's. I guess that's why I fall squarely in the middle of the spectrum.

January 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Deranged Housewife

Hi, love your blog =) I agree with what you say, if your blog is one which provides information and advice then yes we have to be a lot careful on what is said. It is important to advice women after reading a post that they should still discuss with their midwife on their choices. I do not think that bloggers should offer advice on something which they do not understand 100% but if they do they must emphasize that it is their opinion.

In my blog, I never offer direct advice when I discuss childbearing. I simply try to provide stories to help support women and increase awareness in society on certain aspects of childbearing. It can still be tricky sometimes because sometimes certain words hurt people and the same words actually help people!!

Once again lovely blog.
Kind Regards
Gil

February 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGiliane

For me it's the mommyblogs and mommy forums, facebook pages that are the WORST culprits for spewing horrible advice about birth, breastfeeding, raising children. It always runs along the lines "it worked for me so it's good for you". The sanctimoniousness is enough to wither away any new mother’s sense of confidence when she reads them, or asks for help.

I give my clinets resources in their community, tell them about the value of making friends face to face, attending groups and outings to socialize with their baby instead of spending their time online in the snake pit of mommy forums.

February 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRuth

As a woman who mostly blogs privately for myself...I haven't really thought of responsibility. I do though think of my responsibility as a "consumer of blogs" when it comes to my health care. I need to keep everything in perspective. I am an educated woman, and yet birth itself is so unpredictable. Decisions are not made in days, weeks, or months, but in hours or minutes. Things happen in birth that we cannot predict or control no matter how much we know or plan. That is scary to a pregnant mom who sets herself up to have a "perfect birth."

It is good to be humble if you are a birth blogger, especially if you have experience as a care giver/nurse/cnm/doctor etc. I do tend to want to validate my provider or validate my own beliefs. But, knowing someone out there is really trying to truly help and not just add me to their list of people they've put on their little wagon is important. It's why I respect the nurse/midwife/doctor who is careful to make advice general, who is also willing to question themselves and others in their profession openly, and who is compassionate to the individual. Remember, women come to these blogs because they feel a lack somewhere. Some do have the agenda...validate me. Some just want to know what is best to do. Others want to know what options are out there.

I personally have changed many times after reading blogs for years. When I started, I recall feeling guilt for not birthing the perfect way, not being as natural as I should. Not being "brave enough" to birth at home. But then, I shifted to understanding that my choices depend on more than just my preferences and desires, more than just some movement out there. I have to live with myself and with the memory of my births. If I am not content, it's not a blogger's fault. I had to learn balance. I am now at a point when I am reevaluating my dependence on controlling all there is in birth. Some of this is because of things I read on blogs...because I think and internalize. It's a different kind of education than a birth class or a fifteen minute meeting with the midwife.

February 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

I consider it basic ethics, even from hardcore professionals, to remind their readers to THINK about what they read, to doubt always at least a little bit, to ask questions in their minds while reading my words, to compare everything that sounds so well written and impressive, with common sense. Articles are withdrawn even from prestigious periodicals written by professionals: we are all humans who sometimes err, make a mistake, or, heaven forbid, lie. I may do an honest research and then present the facts only to discover half a year later that one or more of the studies were sponsored by whatever company to support their own claims, or that the researchers themselves are personally and emotionally committed to prove certain results as it has happened with Hewitson et al. re: vaccines. The conclusion is that WHATEVER I publish, might be an unintended error, a human tragedy seeking explanation and turned into a biased study, or a downright lie no one yet knows about. Of course I am accountable, and so is the editor of The Lancet. Whoever writes and publishes anything, must expressly tell people to reflect, to think, to reconsider. This is why I NEVER give advice on my site. There is a model for informed decisions, BRAN, and I use it as a way to write about health matters: there are several ways for just about everything, each way has its benefits, risks, alternatives, and there is always an option of not doing anything, this option in itself carrying its own risks and benefits. I can tell my personal experience as such. I can also tell the recommandation of the Canadian Association of Pediatricians as such. I can tell what "mainstream Hungarian parents" do based on tradition, culture etc. I can't tell what any reader "should" do. The farthest I can go is telling what I would do in their place, but that is still just me, and even following an ACOG recommendation is a personal decision from my part or any patient's part, nothing else.

March 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFelicitasz

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