There appears to be an interesting backlash of sort towards mothers who blog and profit from it without disclosure. This story that just appeared on All Things Considered and linked online presents some interesting facts about the scope of blogging by mothers, and trends away from the innocent postings of kids and ideas toward a marketing interest. According to Omar Gallaga, technology correspondent for the Austin (TX) American-Statesman, 12,000 blogs are written by mothers, with one group identifying a top 50 of blogs by mothers. There is even a convention and organization for mothers who blog – BlogHer – that has been going for 5 years (who knew?).
The main piece of Gallaga’s story for NPR centered on ethical violations by mothers who blog ‘for’ certain products, or are rewarded and incentivized by marketers then pass along positive feedback about products without full disclosure of the relationship between the author and the product company.
In way this story connects to the larger picture of BlogHer. This is another example of a community site/organization that invites participants in to enable possibilities for the individual (a platform to blog, create, express) and to join with others (be part of a community of others who have similar interests). And yet, there is a financial motive for the organizers. They are taking money from advertisers as sponsors of the BlogHer site. And the backgrounds of the three women who started BlogHer are women with business backgrounds. As in BIG business. Their story is a similar trajectory of those women and mothers who started communicating online because they were looking for connections they didn’t have elsewhere in their lives,then landed on the potential to make some money off the experience. Or, they recognized the potential market of mothers who might want to communicate and connect with others, and possibly make some money from their online experience. Either way, there is a profit motive that underscores the purpose and placement of this online work.
If there is social or educational or personal value to these sites or individual action, is there a problem? Perhaps it’s not much different that soda companies placing vending machines on a college campus. Their money supports the education but doesn’t influence what is said or taught. If the sites reveal corporate ads and Mommy bloggers come clean when they are voicing opinion on a product they’ve been given, maybe that’s enough. And their words can be monitored for bias.
The other issue is that the presence of parents’ blogging sites has been fostered by business not by education or social service. In part this is true because these agencies have less money and are trying to keep a web presence just to do what they do, let alone provide a platform for their constituents to connect and be creative. But might there also be a fear of just what the parents will say? My colleagues and I spend so much time worrying that everything is accurate and up to date, that the library is stocked with good material, that we haven’t cared to give the readers a place to discuss or share their own thoughts about parenting. Or maybe we haven’t wanted to give them a place for those discussions.
Why? Why the control? Given not only the explosion of interest in online expression by parents, but also places like BlogHer that give parents a place to express and connect, isn’t that control over information – information that is representative of a culture that is changing, albeit slowly – a bit old fashioned? Clay Shirky writes of social media giving people the change to convene without the control. Wiki thought is to let the people determine the content. Be self-corrective, but jointly and collaboratively determine the content. If anything, doesn’t social media give us for the first time a living collective platform in which professionals and parents can voice what it is like to parent, how to parent, and how to do it effectively, sanely and with good cheer?