A big buzz word these days is “transparency” and what it means. For me, transparency on a blog and in social media is the foundation for the trust we are attempting to build with our reader.

I like how Social Wayne describes transparency in social media:

Transparency in social media especially pertaining to blogging and covering a product, brand or service means that’s I’m giving you an honest non-biased opinion or truth when I write or cover a particular topic. Online this can mean that, I am who I say I am online and that my reason for posting or having a discussion about a product, brand or service does not have any hidden agendas. Or if I’m posting or having a discussion about a product, brand or service and was paid or hired to do so, you’ll know about it up front or it will be included in the conversations.

Which brings me to ghost-blogging and legal ethics, which popped up in Legal Blog Watch’s Ghostbusters of the Blawgosphere Take Aim at ‘Ghostblogging’:

It feels like a debate that has been going on for weeks, but it was just Thursday of last week when attorney/ghostbuster Mark Bennett wrote on his Social Media Tyro blog about “ghostblogging.” Bennett wrote that “[h]olding someone else’s resume, face, or results out as your own in marketing your practice is fraudulent. No ethical lawyer could possibly think that any of that would be okay. So how is it okay for a lawyer to hire a ghostwriter to write his blog?”

I’m not going to address the back story of this blog post, you can read that for yourselves. However, the idea of ghost-blogging does bring up legal ethics, as defined by our state bar associations. In a post yesterday, Use your blog to tell a story, I stated that in California it is not ethical for an attorney to use the term “expert” or “specialist.” Call me old school, but it’s a conservative interpretation of Section D of the California Bar Association Rules of Professional ConductRule 1-400 Advertising and Solicitation:

(D) A communication or a solicitation (as defined herein) shall not:
  1. Contain any untrue statement; or
  2. Contain any matter, or present or arrange any matter in a manner or format which is false, deceptive, or which tends to confuse, deceive, or mislead the public; or
  3. Omit to state any fact necessary to make the statements made, in the light of circumstances under which they are made, not misleading to the public; or
  4. Fail to indicate clearly, expressly, or by context, that it is a communication or solicitation, as the case may be; or
  5. Be transmitted in any manner which involves intrusion, coercion, duress, compulsion, intimidation, threats, or vexatious or harassing conduct.
  6. State that a member is a “certified specialist” unless the member holds a current certificate as a specialist issued by the Board of Legal Specialization, or any other entity accredited by the State Bar to designate specialists pursuant to standards adopted by the Board of Governors, and states the complete name of the entity which granted certification.

I am not a lawyer, and I don’t even play one at the water cooler, but I would think ghost-blogging might be frowned upon via sections D-1 (you didn’t write it), D-2 (you didn’t write it), and, D-3 (you didn’t write it). Yes, there is the argument that associates write content for partners to slap their names on, but in our firm, and other firms I have worked at, the partners are usually involved in the writing process, if only serving as a senior editor, and the associates do get credit for their work product. The product, however, is collectively and solely produced by the firm. So I’ll ask the same questions posed by Bruce Carton:

  • Is it ethical to have a ghostblogger secretly write your blog?
  • If not, what if you disclose that fact somewhere on the blog?
  • Is there anything wrong with ghostbusters such as Bennett highlighting and linking to a page on the LGB Web site that publicly lists its clients?
  • If not, would it be appropriate for ghostbusters to “out” people who secretly use ghostbloggers?

So, Coolerites, what say you??