FTC Hopes To Issue Blogger Guidelines By Year End

The Federal Trade Commission has been considering a controversial update to testimonial guidelines that would require bloggers and other online commenters to disclose any connections they have to marketers. If the FTC goes through with the proposal, bloggers would have to reveal when they're paid per post by a marketer. But they would also have to disclose when they've received free review copies -- even though newspapers, magazines and other mainstream media aren't subject to similar requirements.

This morning, the FTC's consumer protection chief David Vladeck told lawmakers that the agency is still reviewing the controversial proposal. "A material connection between a consumer promoting a product and the company that makes the product might affect the weight or credibility of the consumer endorsement, and therefore should be disclosed," he said in prepared testimony at a Senate hearing about advertising trends and consumer protection. But, he added, the subject is "difficult and complex."

Clearly, there's a difference between taking money to say nice things about a company -- such as by giving it a positive write-up or crafting a fictional testimonial -- and accepting a copy of a product in order to review it. Perhaps all critics in all media should say when they receive a product -- or movie tickets, CDs, or restaurant meals -- for free.

But bloggers and consumers have the same First Amendment right to express their opinions as newspaper critics do. And if newspaper critics aren't legally required to disclose when they receive free sample copies, there's no justification for requiring bloggers to do so.

Vladeck said today that the FTC hopes to issue final guides by the end of the year.

6 comments about "FTC Hopes To Issue Blogger Guidelines By Year End".
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  1. Bill Bennett from Rabio Corp., July 22, 2009 at 5:40 p.m.

    Faulty logic at work here, I'm afraid. There is an understood ethos to professional journalism -- and while that statement begs all kinds of questions, the fact is that there is no such understanding of bloggers. The fact is it does matter who compensates a reviewer: if it is the publisher of an independent journal, that's one thing: you know who's paying the bill, and you have some idea of what to expect -- you wan't see the same review in the NYTimes and the Wall Street Journal., for example . . . The First Amendment really doesn't come into the issue at all: it is the ethical standards at work. Journalists are paid to uphold them, and fired when they don't. There is no such standard for bloggers.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 22, 2009 at 5:49 p.m.

    Magazines, newspapers limit and control the very limited space (which is an expensive commodity in and of itself) and do not provide a subscription or copies to the people who write letters to the editor. Note, published letters to the editor are written in complete sentences with spellcheck and complete thoughts. People who think they can compare seriously need to read more newspapers and magazines.

  3. Nobody Knose from Freelance, July 22, 2009 at 6:07 p.m.

    Bill - The "understood" journalistic ethos you reference is not encoded in or enforced by any law, so you're saying "Trust us!"

    No, I don't trust them and no, I don't buy your logic.

    IF bloggers have to do this, so should every media outlet, mainstream or otherwise.

  4. Mark Boudreau from The Rock and Roll Report, July 23, 2009 at 12:49 a.m.

    Bloggers by their nature tend to build a relationship of trust with their readers. Anybody shilling for some product because they are getting paid for it will be found out pretty quick and the trust capital that the blogger had built up with his or her readers will be extinguished in an instant.

    My readers know that I only review CDs I like. How I received them is of no consequence as it does not color my opinions in the least. It is doubtful that any mainstream media site that is desperately reliant on advertising to stay in business can say the same.

  5. Steve Chtm from JCSI, July 23, 2009 at 9:52 a.m.

    The issue brings up the old question, "What is Marketing?"
    Personally I wish anyone paid in any manner to endorse a product to have to reveal that tidbit since it will impact my perception.
    Then there are those who don't care about these details and wonder what the big deal is.
    It is not harmful to require disclosure of being a paid endorser so your opinion is correctly catagorized as a manufacturer advertisement.
    The blogs and twitter are on fire with advertising noise in an unregulated environment. This is at the level of being harmful to advertising since it drives off droves of well to do consumers.
    It wont hurt anyone to disclose the paid endorsement and it will benefit all including the advertisers.

  6. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., July 24, 2009 at 5:59 p.m.

    This is the web - who cares what the FTC says?

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