So I was going through my inbox a few days back, and came across a very unusual question - the kind people don't usually worry about. A dear follower asked whether earning money online(through blogging etc.) was haram (prohibited is Islam) or not. The question has so many implications that we decided to make a blog post about it, since it not only applies to our Muslim fellows, but to our brethren in the whole blogging community, since it's a question of blogging ethics, and not just religion.
Note: For the record, let me just say that I do not claim to be a religious scholar. But having some domain knowledge, we'll try to discuss some issues majorly related to ethics and morality, and not very specific to a religion. Anyone can benefit from reading this post, as it applies to the blogging community as a whole.
OK, so moving on. A lot of people don't think twice about such issues, but apparently, some do. They are worried that their earnings might not be lawful for them from a religious point of view, since money made online can come from a lot of different sources, lawful or unlawful.
The concept of 'haram' for Muslims refers to anything that is unlawful, and prohibited. This could anything from unlawful food to unlawful attire to unlawful deeds, and so on. Hence, anything that is unethical, immoral, or obtained through an illicit way is haram.
What can make blogging illicit?
We've talked a lot about blogging ethics before, but now would be a good time to round things up a bit. I'd like to make one thing clear though - there's nothing wrong or 'haram' about earning money online (e.g. via blogging). But it's how you do it that makes all the difference. Here are some examples.
Plagiarism and Copyrights violation
This practice is rampant throughout today's blogosphere. People often 'auto-blog' content from other blogs. They copy the entire contents of a page, and pass it as their own on their site. Some might copy content partially, but that's almost the same thing.
Note that quoting a source, and copying from a source are two entirely different things. The former gives credit to the original source, whereas the latter doesn't. An if you don't give credit to the person who deserve it, then you're actually stealing from them - stealing their money. Sure, the traffic you generate through that content, and the revenue that comes through it, that's for you. But did you deserve it? Violating copyright laws is theft, and stolen money is unlawful in all religions of the world.
Black Hat SEO
This is another thing that makes earning from blogging illicit. Black Hatters would argue that they're just using their hard-earned knowledge to find shortcuts. But that doesn't make it any less unethical. Black Hat SEO techniques exploit loopholes to rank up a webpage in Google Search results. Often, this is achieved by over-optimization, and will result in spammy and low quality content. This isn't fair to those who create good content, and play by the rules. It's like cutting in line at a long queue. The analogy might make it sound like a very petty crime, but when we're talking about large-scale traffic and revenue, the problem really scales up.
Laying digital traps, luring unsuspecting users, ensnaring them before they know what's going on; sounds like a great plot for a story. Except, it is the story of many blogs (and the many unfortunate stumblers who come across them) who try to scam their visitors into situations they don't want. Typical catalyst are promotions too good to be true, such as 'You're our 1000,000th visitor, click here for a free iPhone'! Although not a very subtle example, it serves to summarize the concept. Many users fall into traps like this when they're looking for a file to download, and get an application (executable) file instead. Many get hacked this way.
Tricking potential customers into doing business with you defeats the whole purpose of blogging. Would you set-up a shop in your neighbourhood and start cheating people out of money? People would make sure to avoid you the next time they come around. Blogging is not dissimilar. It is a lot about socializing, and making connections. And you'll never be able to build a reputation for yourself by publishing scam. Besides, stealing money from others, as we just discussed, is haram or unlawful.
Pornography is prohibited in Islam, and is unethical in the society. If you have a site distributes, or deals with adult content in any way, you need to get rid of it! Any money made through adult content is unlawful, and should be avoided at all costs. This also includes the content id ads. The content itself on a site might not be objectionable, but a third-party ad-network might deliver adult content in advertisements. Even that is wrong. So make sure your advertiser isn't slipping in some adult pictures within their ads without you knowing.
Weird as it may sound, most of the comment spam found online is generated by bloggers (after bots, some of which are, again, set up by bloggers). Bloggers are always trying to create backlinks to their blogs, and bring in traffic. Blogging is a lot about making social connections. Without comments, that is almost impossible. While making comments on other sites is a good way to get traffic and create an online reputation, posting irrelevant comments for the sole purpose of generating traffic will kill your reputation.
Besides, leaving irrelevant comments just wastes other peoples' time. They account for illegal backlinks too. Even Google doesn't like such comments. So it is better to hold your comments off unless you have to something of value.