FTC Looks To Regulate Blogger Credibility

from the truthonline.com dept

The Federal Trade Commission is mulling over guidelines that would require bloggers to disclose when they’re writing about products they’ve been given, sponsor’s products, or are getting paid to write about a particular product. The FTC says the new rules are necessary because people are increasingly turning to blogs for product information, and their unregulated nature makes them ripe for abuse. But the things the FTC proposes, like mandated disclosure when a company has given a blogger a product, are things that most reasonable bloggers already do. Meanwhile, those who accept payment for posts — as well as the companies doing the paying aren’t likely to have much credibility with their audiences anyway. It’s as if the FTC is trying to mandate credibility, and this raises a couple of interesting points. First, audiences generally seem pretty adept at rooting out when people are being paid to talk nice about a company or product, and there are plenty of examples of company’s payola schemes getting found out and causing a backlash against them. Second, why do bloggers get singled out for special treatment? Plenty of old-media reporters get freebies tossed their way, but the FTC doesn’t seem to think they deserve the same level of attention. That’s not to say that newspapers are full of paid-placement articles or reports based on free products, but to think there’s more scope for deception and advertiser influence on blogs than in any sort of print or other media is fallacious.

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Comments on “FTC Looks To Regulate Blogger Credibility”

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33 Comments
Shaun W says:

Old media reliability

More to the point with old media isn’t the receiving of gifts but the printing of a story as handed to them by various special interest groups. Perhaps they need to be required to add a disclaimer for this – something like “We are reprinting the story as told to us by the and we have not bothered to verify that their figures are accurate or whether there is another side to the story.” But I’m sure they can avoid being that honest…

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck (user link) says:

It does seem that paid posts or bloggers being given freebies is becoming more common, and maybe an unsuspecting reader does not know where to look to see the sign that a post has been paid for, but it seems that holding bloggers to a different standard will not work.

If I remember correctly, I thought Izea and other firms that pay for posts require you to disclose that fact on your blog, which is more than what some reporters do. I have been in the situation where a reporter asked for a free service or product, so it could be mentioned on their program or column. I also know that they did not disclose that fact. I imagine most of us realize that fact. It also bothers me when I receive industry press releases, and then I see reporters quoting them without digging into the facts, nor do the report where the data came from at times. I have seen some bloggers do a better job at reporting local news in that regard. Any regulation would have to apply across the board to properly work.

Paul Reinheimer (profile) says:

Freebees don't preclue credibility

I wrote a book on programming with PHP a few years ago, and have spent the past few years speaking at conferences, and teaching PHP to hundreds of developers. I’d like to feel I have some credibility when it comes to reccomending books on PHP.

Publishers often send me review copies, either at my request, or occasionally without prior solicitation.

While I make it clear when I have received a book free of charge, I don’t feel it destroys my credibility. Especially since I do give books negative reviews.

Trisha says:

Re: Freebees don't preclue credibility

Quite true, but there is a difference between receiving a product (gratis) to be reviewed, and being paid to review or endorse a product, which some companies do and some bloggers accept.

This is simply another form of slick (some would call savvy) advertising that has existed since long before the internet – the FTC is simply trying to make sure that paid endorsements on the internet (blog posts for which the blogger was paid) are subject to the same rules of advertising as print and TV endorsements.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Carlo

While I agree with your post for the most part Carlo, this line:
First, audiences generally seem pretty adept at rooting out when people are being paid to talk nice about a company or product …
I think you are giving the public too much credit when it comes time to dealing online.

A site that helps lend credibility to my stance on that is http://www.notalwaysright.com

Site is good for a laugh (or it might make you cry).

The Cenobyte (profile) says:

Two wrongs don't make a right

Why is it that you feel like if the old media is not being held to account (Although I suspect they would find anything they post to their web sites under the same ‘critical’ eye) that no one else should be?

Don’t get me wrong I think both sides should be held to account and full discloser is never a bad idea. But you seem to think that because they don’t have to do it, you shouldn’t have to either. Well it’s not right when they don’t do it and it’s not right when a blogger does it either.

I have noticed over time reading this site that you seem to think that the internet is special. That somehow things that you would expect and want from one source is ok to not get when you are on the internet just because it’s the internet.

Everyone should have to use full discloser, print media, internet, cable news, etc. And to say ‘but they don’t have to’ just makes you sound like a child.

Hulser says:

Re: Two wrongs don't make a right

Why is it that you feel like if the old media is not being held to account (Although I suspect they would find anything they post to their web sites under the same ‘critical’ eye) that no one else should be?

I think you misinterpreted Carlos’ post. He did not say that since old media was not required to conform to these new full disclosure laws that bloggers shouldn’t either. He simply stated that the restrictions aren’t necessary and, if they were, posed the question of why wouldn’t they apply the rules uniformly.

I have noticed over time reading this site that you seem to think that the internet is special.

Again, I think you missed the point. Carlo didn’t say that the he thinks the Internet deserves special treatment. He questioned why it would deserve special restrictions.

Everyone should have to use full discloser, print media, internet, cable news, etc.

You sound like the kind of person, like the proponents of this legislation, who think that every human problem can be resolved with the right set of laws or government agency oversight. Have you considered a career in politics?

The Cenobyte says:

Re: Re: Two wrongs don't make a right

Actually I think the biggest problem with this country is the number of laws on the books and the complication involved with even an average citizen has conforming to the law.

Having said that, anyone that intentionally misleads someone else into believing a falsehood for profit is a criminal. They might not be in any legal sense but in a moral one it’s easy to read.

The law proposed above does not seem to be anything more than an extension of truth in advertising laws and it surprises me that so many people that would be in favor of this for most forms of media jump so quickly to yelling ‘but freedom of speech’ when it comes to the internet.

Of all the things to worry about going on today (And let me tell you this site skipped over more than a few) the choice to attack a law designed to protect people from being scammed doesn’t seem to be worth focusing on unless maybe you really like the idea of people being scammed. Are you one of those people that likes to trick people for profit?

Dotjinks says:

Sure, sure (RIP)

Wow, (RIP) I guess monitoring credibility in traditional media is a “lost cause” since the internet is replacing them. If that doesn’t ring loud like a nail driven into a coffin for newspapers, and TV then someone or everyone has ear muffs on. Speaking of nice muffs, just don’t take away my Robin Meade Morning Express on CNN.

Trisha says:

Re: so bloggers aren't entitled to free speech?

When you’re voicing your opinion on something and NOT being paid for that opinion, then it qualifies as Free Speech.

When you ARE being paid to review, endorse, or write about a product or service, that is NOT free speech. That is a paid endorsement. And THAT is what the FTC is trying to regulate – to make sure that consumers have the RIGHT to know what is a paid endorsement and what is an unpaid, unbiased, product endorsement so that they can make and INFORMED decision on that product.

That has NOTHING to do with free speech and EVERYTHING to do with truth in advertising laws that ALL other forms of media are required to comply with.

KeaponLaffin says:

Re: Re: so bloggers aren't entitled to free speech?

So, therefore such laws should also apply to morning ‘News’ shows that have segments that are obvious, and paid for, advertisements?
I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure some pre-existing laws would apply.
Yet, those laws don’t seem to be enforced very well, do they? I wonder why.
It’s cause NBC,ABC and FOX have money and bloggers don’t.
The Networks run advertisements hyped as ‘news’ all the time and they are never prosecuted for it…Why?

Karl says:

“First, audiences generally seem pretty adept at rooting out when people are being paid to talk nice about a company or product…”

Are we using the same Internets? I’ve co-managed a massive technology forum for a decade, have caught countless Guerilla marketers in the act, and can pretty much tell you users by and large are oblivious to most of them.

If anything, consumers embolden these kinds of operations through paranoia, where they accuse anybody and everybody of being a “paid shill.” Sometimes they are. Most of the times they’re just investors lamely trying to pump up stock or scary crazy people…

The good guerrilla marketing agencies don’t get caught.

Dustin (profile) says:

Legality of regulation?

So simple question: other than existing libel, slander, and anti-fraud laws on the books why exactly do they think they need to add additional regulations on the internet? Better yet, on what grounds can they legitimately claim regulatory jurisdiction?

The internet isn’t broadcast on public spectrum. It’s transmitted from one private server, through private lines, and to a private recipient. Last I checked the FTC didn’t have the right to regulate private communications. That’s one of the reasons pay-to-access tv channels like HBO can use explicit language and the like, isn’t it?

TJIC (user link) says:

you can judge an institution by their refund policy

I hereby pledge that I will strive to never disclose whether I have gotten something for free or not when I praise it, or pan it.

Readers of my blog are going to have to fall back on whether they think that I’m the kind of person who would lie in public for a free product, and their own common sense to decide whether they should risk their dollars on a Powermatic lathe, a SigArms pistol, or a how-to DVD from SmartFlix.

I suggest that you can judge an institution by their refund policy.

My first firm, SmartFlix, offers a 120% money back refund if you’re not satisfied.

My second firm, HeavyInklaws regulations that the FTC passes? What sort of refund do they give you on your taxes?

Look to your own house, you bureaucrats.

staghounds (user link) says:

Sure!

When the New York Times, NBC , People Magazine, and the Chittlin’ Switch Morning News have to start stories with things like:

“This story is an unverified press release provided by (name of press release sender)”

“The company that is the subject of this story has paid a total of $(amount) to this publication’s parent company for advertising in the past five years”

“Employees of this station have been to (number) free parties provided by the subject of this article”.

“The subject of this article’s children are at school with the nephew of the editor.”

“Although her name is not given, the “source” quoted is the publicist and wife of Senator Smith.”

Sailorcurt (user link) says:

Second, why do bloggers get singled out for special treatment? Plenty of old-media reporters get freebies tossed their way, but the FTC doesn’t seem to think they deserve the same level of attention.

They don’t need to worry ab out the print media because no one believes what they publish anyway.

Why does everyone want to try and control the internet? It’s like waiting until your kid is 20 to try and be a parent.

Why does the government constantly feel the need to regulate some part of the internet?

Um…because it’s there, and they can.

That’s what governments (and non-governmental authoritarians) do.

“The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.”
— H.L. Mencken

“But what does freedom mean? It means that hundreds of millions of ordinary human beings live their lives as they see fit — regardless of what their betters think. That is fine, unless you see yourself as one of their betters…”
–Thomas Sowell

KeaponLaffin says:

Re: I always disclose this anyway...

Sorry I had to add another comment but this was an excellent point.
Another example of a government trying to do something that they simply cannot do. Ohh, they’ll spend hundreds of thousands, millions of tax dollars on the effort…then ask for more money when they fail.
Doesn’t matter how many times you remind them that similar efforts have failed…Doesn’t matter how much historical evidence you provide(The Soviet Union tried the same thing and look how they turned out..you’ve seen the independent journalists in China lately? Counted the number of Internet Proxies in Iran?)

This is just a sideways but blatant effort to shut down Free Speech. Full Disclosure like Flea claims is all good, it gives yer blog respectability and therefore continued readership and therefore ad-revenue or whatever you bloggers use to get paid.
If yer a lying ass, then noone visits yer blog for long and you don’t get paid.

I don’t think extra laws are needed to enforce this section of the free market. This is the 21st century. There are easily accessible multiple streams of information. If NADA or BlueBook took mad cash donations from automakers to give skewed reviews, everyone would know and noone would buy their books or look at their websites. They’d die a natural death.
In a Free Market society you don’t need laws to make that happen.

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