Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On Ethical Ghostwriting

As anyone who's been reading this thing long no doubt already knows, I don't really consider myself to be a career copywriter or ghostwriter. I'm doing what I'm doing at the moment because I'm good at it, I need to do something to earn money, and people are apparently willing to pay me to do this. However, this is strictly a living for me and not a whole lot else.

That said, there are quite a few things that bug me about my job sometimes. I don't always get paid what I think I should. I often have to spend hours writing on boring topics that don't interest me in the least. I don't get along with some of my clients as well as I do others. However, I would definitely say that my least favorite part of my job is dealing with people who want me to do unethical things in order to earn my paycheck.

Most of my clients are honest people who are looking to pay honest writers to write honest content of one type or another. It's not that easy to write advertising copy that is both persuasive and informative... or to compose truly good product descriptions for catalogs or websites.  Not everyone is a whiz at creating their own instructional web articles or brochure content either. Naturally, with more and more of today's professional world revolving around the internet, there's a real need for people who are good with written words.

However, there is definitely a brand of client out there that really is looking to pull the wool over other people's eyes and they have no qualms about expecting a ghostwriter to go along with it. The following are some examples of things I've been asked to do that really didn't sit right with me from an ethical standpoint at all:

  • Ghostwriting people's school papers or doing coursework that the person plans on turning in to their teacher as their own work.
  • Writing fake consumer reviews that will ultimately be planted on widely trusted review sites for the sake of encouraging the public to buy shitty products that don't work or buy into scams. 
  • Writing promotional material or copy for any product, service, or mindset that is potentially harmful or could do lasting damage to someone who makes it a part of their life.
  • Fake dating profiles, e-mails, and other forms of correspondence designed to help someone reel in a mark on whatever match site they use.
There are probably more I could think of if I wracked my brain trying, but you get the picture. Now... I'm a spiritual person and I sincerely care about the kind of karma I'm putting out there into the world. I know a lot of other people think that the most important thing about a business is that it make money and they honestly couldn't care less how that happens, but I personally believe it's very important to make sure you're an ethical ghostwriter, as opposed to the alternative.

Don't contribute to an already screwed-up work force situation.

Of the things listed above, I definitely think that the most serious is probably the one that involves ghostwriting people's papers for them. Think about it. When you let someone else talk you into doing their schoolwork for them in exchange for a few bucks, you're negatively affecting a lot of people.

Assuming you're good enough at writing papers that they're capable of earning the desired grades, you're helping someone who doesn't deserve it basically cheat their way through school. You're also potentially helping to take valuable opportunities away from people who worked hard for them and truly deserve them. Plus once that cheater you helped graduates with honors and successfully makes his way into the workforce as the result of a degree he didn't really earn, you've just succeeded in helping to lower the bar one more notch when it comes to what the employer (and the employer's clients) are actually getting versus what they were promised.

Yeah, of course the student can (and probably will) simply buy the paper from somebody else if you refuse to do it, but still. Don't be that guy. Don't contribute to this problem. Say "no"... and encourage other freelance writers you know to do the same. It's the right thing to do.

Do your part to protect the public.

When people tell you that you shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet, you think you know what that entails. Then you become a freelance web writer and find out just how much of the stuff you read on the internet is nothing but a pile of bullshit.

Take consumer reviews, for instance. You'd puke your Cheerios right back up into your bowl out of abject disgust if I told you just how many of the consumer reviews you've relied on to make important purchasing decisions were probably bought and paid for by the company they promoted. And I don't mean "bought and paid for" as in the person who wrote the review actually got a legitimate chance to try the product and then wrote up their honest assessment of it in exchange for some cash. I mean that the writer was basically paid to fabricate a complete lie from top to bottom.

They pretend not only to have used and loved the product, but they often claim to be someone they're not in order to seem more like a member of the targeted demographic. That single mom who claims such and such an air filter cured her little boy's asthma could well be a 45-year-old male bartender from a foreign country who's never owned an air filter or had an allergy in his life. You get the picture.


No, you're not going to be able to single-handedly clean up the internet and make it honest just by getting a little pickier about the freelance jobs you accept. However, you can certainly help by not continuing to contribute to it. And what are you really getting out of the whole deal in return? A few lousy bucks? The chances are pretty excellent that none of your clients are paying you enough that you should be willing to throw your conscience in as part of the deal, just saying. Besides... what would you want someone else to do if it were you on the other end of that fake dating profile or bogus diet pill review? Yep, that's what I thought.