Are bloggers the new “special interest group?”

A friend of mine recently posted a blog entry about the Motrin Moms and how “this marketing debacle validated the simple fact that social media has changed our culture.”

I commented at her post, and some of the comment is replicated here. But I also wanted to chime in with something disturbing I’ve been noticing lately: the lack of an ethics creed for bloggers and social-media types.

“Social media people” need to be careful not to become the “social media elite.” Sure, a bunch of moms got mad about something and forced a company to change course. But does that mean the Motrin Moms are right or just loud and unrelenting?

Suggesting that companies can’t do anything right if they haven’t consulted with “us” first is a bit cocky.

I can’t help but wonder if Twitter and other social media networks have become the new home for the squeaky wheel.

The old saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” is now amplified, which means the potential for knee-jerk reactions by corporations and politicians also is at an all-time high. And rarely have knee-jerk reactions ever resulted in the best strategies for anything.

I’m a firm believer in a little anarchy now and then being a good thing. But I also believe that power corrupts even those who start out with the best of intentions.

Bloggers who started out as an alternative form of media that would hold corporations’ and politicians’ feet to the fire may be on their way to becoming a special interest group that expects everyone to cater to their needs and demands.

At the same time, you have a number of people who aren’t following some of the most basic credos of journalism, such as verifying facts, being fair and balanced in their reporting, and protecting the integrity of their writing by avoiding even perceived conflicts of interest.

I pointed out at Digital Pivot the other day a story from Advertising Age that talked about one of the purveyors of the Motrin Moms’ debacle now being a WalMart supporter via Twitter. The story talks about some special treatment she’s received and how, lo and behold, she can’t stop talking about how great WalMart is. I think the title of the post I made, “Perks are pay, aren’t they?” sums up my feelings on this pretty well.

When I was a journalist, I once made the mistake of accepting a free trip, thinking I would be very objective in reporting on the new destination hotel I was reviewing. When I was finished, I even patted myself on the back for pulling it off and writing a well-balanced, conflict-free review. Then, my publisher read it and asked what we got for it. “I sure hope you got a trip or something out of that, since they should be paying for such a fluff piece,” he said.

His comment hit me right between the eyes and I never accepted anything gratis again.

I asked on Twitter the other day whether bloggers are following any kind of ethics code about not accepting freebies. One blogger commented that she never keeps anything she takes in for a review. She either gives it away as an act of charity or returns it to the manufacturer. But another person commented that several bloggers at a public-relations meeting she attended expect freebies if a company wants coverage.

As I said before, I believe in the sentiment that power corrupts. As you’ll recall, the entire phrase is “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s a great phrase that bloggers and tweeters and their counterparts need to remember, lest they become blinded by their own self-proclaimed importance.