The FTC's Guidelines On Blogger Payola
I live by the principle of liberal disclosure in my work, on my personal blog, on Twitter and in my personal offline life. But I disagree with the Federal Trade Commission's silly new requirements that bloggers must now disclose payola -- material exchanges of goods with marketers. I don't like government meddling in my personal speech.
Importantly, these FTC regulations fall apart in execution and manifest as a can of worms and contradiction. For example: Why is it that mainstream media journalists can accept payola or freebies and choose not to disclose, but I, as a blogger, can't?
I occasionally experiment with advertising technology systems that place contextually relevant ads next to my posts. If I mention a camera and trigger a Canon ad that brings in some revenue, must I disclose that? Or is it not necessary to disclose that revenue from a Canon ad because, with advertising revenue, my blog officially becomes professional?
What about legacy, mainstream sites that have morphed into blogs? Indeed, most news sites now look more like blogs, with all the same commenting, interactive functionality and profile portability. This very column is in that fuzzy middle, because you can receive it as a newsletter, or enjoy it on blog publishing software, for which you can leave comments.
Regardless, as noted above, I try to live by the principle of liberal disclosure when material relationships or exchanges may bias my views, or appear as such. I say "try" because as a human, I'm imperfect and disclosure is a subjective behavior. Still, I try very hard.
In a recent interview with the Globe And Mail about my involvement with Sony's daddy-blogger program, I underscored that disclosure is good and that I would never accept payola to blog about a company. Why? Because it would harm readers' perception of my integrity, and I have to live with my digital bread crumbs for the rest of my life.
Ethics aside, the likelihood and consequences of being outed for anything other than liberal disclosure is so great that it's not even worth messing with. For that reason, I look to the court of public opinion and trusted communities as a more viable arbiter of truth, deception and reputation -- not ambiguous government guidelines.
To all who pay attention to me via this column or other social media venues, thank you for your kind attention. Second, the FTC rules have good intentions, yet are flawed. Third, my promise to you and myself is that I will always strive to be transparent and authentic, and continually earn your respect.