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  • FTC to Regulate Blogger Claims (I Was Not Paid to Say This)

    Should the federal government regulate what blogger’s blog? Yes, said the Federal Trade Commission yesterday — at least when it comes to product endorsements.

    At issue were the FTC’s guidelines concerning the use of endorsements in advertising. These guidelines, among other things, require paid endorsers of products to disclose their relationships with advertisers. The goal is a good one, to prevent deception and fraud. In practice, the lines are hard to draw — what exactly is an endorsement? What constitutes payment? It gets even harder in today’s world of user-generated media, in which much advertising is by consumers themselves on blogs and elsewhere, sharing recommendations and opinions on just about everything.

    In revisions announced Monday, the FTC explicitly extended the rules to blogs for the first time. Perhaps more importantly, it did so even for casual bloggers. Here’s an example from the guidelines:

    “A college student who has earned a reputation as a video game expert maintains a personal weblog or “blog” where he posts entries about his gaming experiences. Readers of his blog frequently seek his opinions about video game hardware and software. As it has done in the past, the manufacturer of a newly released video game system sends the student a free copy of the system and asks him to write about it on his blog. He tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review. Because his review is disseminated via a form of consumergenerated media in which his relationship to the advertiser is not inherently obvious, readers are unlikely to know that he has received the video game system free of charge in exchange for his review of the product, and given the value of the video game system, this fact likely would materially affect the credibility they attach to his endorsement. Accordingly, the blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge.”

    In effect, the blogging college student is pigeon-holed as a paid endorser, even though he hasn’t been paid to say anything in particular, and only receives what could be seen as rather common promotional material.

    He likely doesn’t even see himself as an endorser of any kind, he just writes his opinions, which others find useful. No one is hurt. Yet, unless he discloses that he got the video system — gasp — for free, he may find himself facing fines from Washington.

    Its a classic example well-intentioned rule taken too far. And not only are consumers hurt — as product recommendations from other consumers are made scarcer, but free speech itself is chilled as individuals become less willing to put virtual pen to virtual paper out of fear that they may violate some obscure federal rule.

    It is a decision I cannot endorse.

    [Edited 10/7. In the FTC illustration, the gift involved a "video game system," not a "video."]

    Posted in Economics [slideshow_deploy]

    17 Responses to FTC to Regulate Blogger Claims (I Was Not Paid to Say This)

    1. Timothy M. Chopin Sr says:

      I have attempted to email public servants. This morning, It was LaMeiux in response to an open inviation to respond, "if we have any comments".

      Sen. LaMeiux sends me his weekly news letter (unsolicited). I wrote a comment/question about his stance on HR1388 which was secretly pushed through our congress approving the importing of hundreds of thousands of Hamas muslims including food, pay, housing etc. at taxpayer expense.

      This response was blocked by the gov't website and/or google and yahoo.

      This happens every time I express my opinions contrary to Obama or just conservative "think"… is the fix already in?

      As an aside, would a nationwide grassroots petition that could achieve a popular majority, trump congress to impeach Obama?

    2. Nathan Benefield says:

      Fascinating. The example would seem to imply the rule extents to books as well – as publishers will send books to bloggers for book reviews, not to mention radio show and others.

      Could you be fined by the feds for giving a positive book review, if you did not pay for the book yourself?

    3. Mike says:

      Nathan, don't agree with you mate. You need to disclose as a matter of course, of common decency, any financial links that could represent a perceived conflict of interest between what you are saying and why. Especially, if you are running ads.

      Mike Cockburn

      The Pedestrian 08 Campaign

    4. Mike says:

      James, don't agree with you mate. You need to disclose as a matter of course, of common decency, any financial links that could represent a perceived conflict of interest between what you are saying and why. Especially, if you are running ads.

      Mike Cockburn

      The Pedestrian 08 Campaign

    5. Bobbie Jay says:

      Under America's true freedoms and principles (which will never "change") a successful government of a free country, is a limited government of dignity.

    6. Tim, Chicago says:

      We should not have to tell bloggers that they must disclose relevant information, like financial incentives, to readers. They should know this, and should just do it as a matter of course. But we know that many of them don't, so now we all gotta have another damn rule.

    7. Tim Az says:

      After the 2012 election we are going to have to fumigate every federal agency to remove the anti American infestation that has taken place since we lost Mccarthy. Lord send us another Mccarthy STAT.

    8. John, Colorado says:

      According to Kevin Trudeau, the FTC sent a SWAT team to arrest that fellow who discovered and was selling, 'no hunger bread', which was hunger satisfying and caused significant weight loss. The FTC and FDA are corrupt as hell. Yeah, we need the FTC to regulate speech on the Internet.

    9. Leon, Durango, CO says:

      Gosh! What a surprise, Liberal Fascism using the government agencies to suppress free speech. This is downright Orwellian. There are so many of these crazy anti American actions I have lost count. I have long said it is a demographic reality that big government assures there will be plenty of idiots in government. That is a statistical certainty. These agents abuse their oaths daily (protect and defend the Constitution) in these kind of judgments. It really is criminal. That is what happens in a democracy when the majority are criminal.

    10. Clif Albino, New Ber says:

      Stop voting for incumbents IF you want different results

    11. Steven says:

      An opinion without any direct sales involvement should be viewed at face value and should not be subject to regulation. I can accept or reject the opinion without any consequences. In addition, I have the opportunity to seek another opinion if I do not like his. Reason dictates I should get a few opinions.

    12. Jerry from Chicago says:

      I would like to see the Federal Trade Commission regulate what politicians have to say, in the same way they intend to regulate "blogs".

      Every Senator, Congressman and even the President should be required to end all speeches with "I was paid to say this". Then they should be made to tell who paid them and how much was paid.

    13. Brad S,, Detroit, MI says:

      I believe that . . . ooops. Wait a second. The FTC is here. I guess it's my scheduled potty break time. I will have to finish my opinion when I return. I mean, they will moderate my opinion, and post it if it agrees with their rules.

    14. Ben C., Ann Arbor, M says:

      Glad to see someone else knows about HR1388. To me this is more significant than all the other issues put together.

      But, does the FTC intend to verify the "testimonials" given for the products found in the back of magazines? Does this mean that, for example, Mrs. Jones will have to validate her relationship/nonrealtionship with the company who makes her pets miracle mouthwash? The "snake oil" advertizements are far more sinister than some college student writing about a videa game.

      But then, when did Congress or the FTC, FCC or any other governmental organization make any sense?

    15. joan, connecticut says:

      Where did freedom of speech go in America? The Constitution, is being assaulted by those who promised fundamental change. We are getting that change,and losing our Constitutional rights in the process. The 1st amendment,freedom of speech} the 2nd { right to bear arms} the 4th, {privacy and search}, the 9th, {certain rights} and the 10th, wherein the states rights are being trampled on, despite the wording of the amendment giving those rights to the state and not the Federal govt. .What's next? We need a change in the next election and term limits, the next time we vote,we must listen to the spoken word carefully. The change, we thought we were getting, is not the change we voted for.

    16. Terry Gillham says:

      Yet another "limited exception" to the First Amendment by a government fixated on slipping out of ANY limitations. Yes, there are irresponsible bloggers who will say whatever someone asks them to for a dollar but please give America (most of us at least) credit for knowing a sell-out when we see one. We do not need more regulations…we need to regain our freedoms.

    17. Barbara Ehrentreu, N says:

      I wonder if this applies to book reviewers who receive the books for free and then write reviews for their blogs? Do we now have to say that we received a copy free?

      I agree that if you are being paid cash for blogging favorably about a product, as is possible, you should disclose your relationship with the product. However, the other is a gray area. The student might have said he was given a complimentary game somewhere in the blog. Just an asterisk leading to a brief explanation would suffice. Certainly the opinion of someone who loves a product and extolls its virtues without payment is probably higher than someone who blogs for money.

      As a blogger who was looking for a way to monetize my blog I know there are ways to make money writing about specific products according to their guidelines. But you are told to display a badge showing you are being paid for your opinion.

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