On communities and responsibilities

I try not to get too worked up over other bloggers' behavior. If you want to throw up a generic Wordpress template with a creditcards.com affiliate link, you'll never hear a peep out of me.

Of course, I make an exception for the very small number of credit card affiliate bloggers who dominate the credit card affiliate space, because the nature of the internet tends to concentrate their popularity and wealth far beyond their contributions to the genre. So when a Thought Leader From Behind misbehaves, I'll sometimes throw out some well-deserved snark on Twitter.

Yesterday was interesting

I spent most of the day yesterday in the car, so it wasn't until I got home in the afternoon that I discovered that a minor affiliate blogger had written a post describing how, in the course of manufacturing spend, she was splitting up and concealing money order deposits in order to avoid federal transaction reporting requirements.

The internet being the internet, the comments section of that post exploded with criticism, mockery, and derision. Likewise apparently the entire Twitter travel hacking community chimed in on various sides of both the substantive question of whether what she was describing was the federal crime of structuring and with more emotionally-charged personal attacks.

Individual responsibility is a weird concept

Two sentiments stood out to me in the course of that wide-ranging conversation. First, in two tweets Matt from Saverocity tried to explain to the blogger that she needed to "stop arguing and start thinking if your post can do harm to your readers" and then reiterated "This isn't about you."

The second sentiment that stood out to me was that the blogger wasn't responsible for what her readers did, and that it's everyone's individual responsibility to do their own research to determine if what they're doing is legal or not. That's something I see frequently when larger affiliate bloggers are criticized for peddling bad advice: readers have only themselves to blame if they follow the advice of these jet-setting clowns.

There's an obvious tension between those two sentiments: either we are in a constant war of all against all and answer to no one, or we're responsible for the consequences of our actions — particularly when they cause harm to others.

If you know anything about me, you can guess I fall on the side of taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions.

People have been recording their thoughts, ideas, and experiences for a long time in private and professional journals, diaries, and logs. And a diarist who never publishes a word of her diary really can write anything they want and answer to no one!

But publishing those logs online, and especially doing so for commercial purposes, moves you into the public sphere and embeds you in a community of people. To then suggest that you're not accountable to anyone for anything you write, and placing the onus of judgment entirely on your readers, strikes me as a deeply cynical approach to life.

The blogger's aggressive reaction to criticism treated that criticism as a personal attack on her strong lady blogger identity. But Matt wasn't trying to convince her to get married, pregnant, and join the PTA; he was trying to convince her to take responsibility for correcting her error as quickly as possible, to avoid additional harm to innocent people who might take her advice at face value!


There are as many different approaches to travel hacking as there are travel hackers, and it's not surprising that different bloggers will take a variety of different approaches. In that context I think everyone has responsibilities: bloggers should exercise judgment in putting their readers' interests first, and readers should exercise judgment in both identifying and sharing the blogs they find helpful and steering others away from blogs that are mercenary, unhelpful, or, as in this case, downright dangerous.