I’ve started freelancing again. To quote William Goldman and his famous assertion about Hollywood, but which is applicable to the freelancing world as well: Nobody knows anything.

And to quote common sense: Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Recently I was contracted for two projects; one is an ebook on dieting I’m to research and write about. The other is a series of short blogs for a UK staffing firm. I don’t know shit about either of those things. I’ve never once went on a diet (let alone a plant-based diet) and clearly I’m not, never have been, and chances are never will be employed in Human Resources anywhere within the United Kingdom.

Proposal writing, something I was paid fairly well for, is similar. I was hired to write proposals about Information Technology when I had no background in IT. But with proposals, as opposed to freelancing, there was a support group to make sure I wasn’t too far off base with what I wrote.

In cases such as these, writing skills are more important than knowledge. Because people are easily fooled by style over substance. Most people aren’t good writers. Hell, most people aren’t good communicators. So, in some ways it’s understandable that instead of technically proficient people businesses or, in the freelancing world, people looking to make a quick buck at the expense of others, would hire good writers with decent research skills over poor writers with actual knowledge and skills. But what I’ve begun to wonder is how this effects the consumer? We’re spreading potential misinformation and people have a tendency to believe whatever they read online as long as it looks legitimate.

My biggest pet peeve, and one of the things I refuse to do as a freelancer, is fake Amazon reviews. I’ve been approached, or have seen on job boards, people paying freelance writers to write four-to-five star Amazon reviews for their books or products that the freelancer may have read/used but is contractually obligated to find the good in. It’s misleading at best, lying to consumers at worst.

The worst part about all of this? Us freelancers aren’t even paid well to lie to you. Which is part of the reason the information is usually so poor. It’s just regurgitated from sources we find online but don’t have the time or will to fact check. We’re not being paid to do a good job. On most freelancing jobs I’m lucky if I make $5 an hour. Usually it’s less. But with competition from overseas, where people who are ESL but write well charge half a cent per word, even asking an extremely amateurish rate of a penny per word can be a tough sell. But when you’re trying to make ends meet and you’re main skill is writing what choice is there but to play the game?

So how can you tell if something is bullshit? Well, for starters you can read this. It’s a more complete guide than I can give. But the gist of it is to be skeptical. Look for sources cited. Double check information. There is a lot of amazing stuff on the internet and in ebooks, you just have to be careful with it if you’re trying to find information to make yourself better in some way.

In all, just be careful.