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.

7 comments about "The FTC's Guidelines On Blogger Payola".
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  1. Robert Walch from Wizzard Media, October 23, 2009 at 11:14 a.m.

    I personally am against Murder, and I try in my public life not to commit murder - but if I did - I don't need the government to tell me it is wrong - public opinion would be enough and I would expect to be lynched by those living in my community - just as I would expect to lynch anyone I think is guilty of murder. We don't need stupid laws by the government to tell us what is right and wrong.


    Rob Walch

  2. Ruth Barrett from, October 23, 2009 at 11:18 a.m.

    Most journalists write stories as part of news organizations or used to anyway. Most bloggers write stories as part of ?

    I'm sure you don't want news organizations meddling in your personal speech either and that's part of why you might be blogging, rather than working for the New York Times but, quite frankly, it really isn't PERSONAL speech, is it?

  3. Russell Cross from Prentke Romich, October 23, 2009 at 11:19 a.m.

    Two things spring to mind here. First, no matter what anyone says, we are all selling something. Even a blog that purports to be "independent" is an exercise in self promotion. Whether you get paid in cash or kudos (and I'll take the former, thanks) there is an exchange going on.

    The second is caveat emptor. When you read a blog, the blogger may well raving about the dog Snuggie because the company gave him one for his Shih Tsu, but it's a fool who reads ONE article and makes a decision.

    Call me cynical, but when I read blogs, I simply assume there may be some financial reward here and I make sure to balance my input by reading others.

    With these two things in mind, I don't need the FTC's "protection" and I don't want to be expected to turn a two paragraph comment into a five paragraph one that includes disclaimers.

    Disclaimer: I wrote this while drinking some excellent Kenyan Peaberry espresso from Old Bisbee Roasters, for which I received no remuneration.

  4. Dan Mckillen from HealthDay, October 23, 2009 at 11:51 a.m.

    The FCC's rules aren't directed to Max and other bloggers that follow an ethical path. But what about the bloggers that use a different name when blogging? They can accept payola, shill for a dozen companies and when they are exposed, they start blogging under another name. If a reporter at the New York Times gets caught accepting compensation for writing an articles, they get fired and their reputation in the industry is forever soiled. If a blogger is exposed, they can simply change the name they place on their blogs and continue to scam the public.

  5. Pierre Devincentis from APTE Inc., October 23, 2009 at 12:02 p.m.

    You can talk all you want about the ethics involved in this issue. What it obviously is is this thuggish administration trying yet another way of sticking its nose under the sacred tent of free speech. BEWARE.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 23, 2009 at 1:44 p.m.

    Nothing is free. Freedom is not free. So let's get off the freedom of speech platform. It'll cost you elsewhere.

    Max, you are a jounalist and for the people who read MediaPost, for example, are those who would know you will express your likes and dislikes for a product/service because you have learned about it whether you purchased it or received it for review. Thousands of others are in your company of writers. However, there are millions of "fools" out there who believe in snake oil. Examples are rampant. One stands out as in employment for home workers. There are people who are desperate and want to believe that the fee that they need to pay is worth it from "bloggers". Same for products. Gulibility runs rampant, too.

    The problems is how to draw the line, where to draw it and better yet, how to inforce it. So what do you do for a living? Oh, I'm a product blogger enforcer. What do you get paid? Paid? And how do you find these people and track them down when their ISP is fake? uh.....And how do you collect the very high fines to discourage this act again? Fines? Jail? huh...?

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 23, 2009 at 1:46 p.m.

    Grammatical error to correct...s/b The problems are -

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