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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plans to punish bloggers who fail to disclose to readers their relationship with advertisers. The FTC has issued 81 pages of guidelines meant to inspire fair and transparent product reviews online. Bloggers who choose to ignore the new guidelines could face a range of penalties from a strongly-worded letter to a $11,000 fine.
The FTC is trying to put the kibosh on “payola schemes,” which are arrangements whereby bloggers accept certain gifts (generally, either products or money) in exchange for positive product or service reviews. The rules affect everyone from celebrity endorsers to the common dude. They also cover Facebook fan pages and Twitter as well. According to PC Magazine, which quotes the FTC:
The guidelines ‘should not be read to suggest that an advertiser is liable for any statement about its product made by any blogger, regardless of whether there is any relationship between the two,’ the FTC said. ‘However, when an advertiser hires a blog advertising agency for the purpose of promoting its products . . . the commission believes it is reasonable to hold the advertiser responsible for communicating approved claims to the service.’
The N.Y. Times says that “the [FTC's] move suggests that the government is intent on bringing to bear on the Internet the same sorts of regulations that have governed other forms of media, like television or print.” Fashionista, a popular fashion blog, points out how the N.Y. Times talks about the new guidelines as if they are supposed to be some sort of a compliment, like: Hey look! Blogs are suddenly legitimate.
While some bloggers have applauded the guidelines by saying they are a win-win for bloggers and consumers alike, others are not taking the guidelines like a compliment; instead, they are mad. As law professor and blogger Ann Althouse said:
The FTC is trying to make it okay by assuring us that they will be selective in deciding which writers on the Internet to pursue. That is, they’ve deliberately made a grotesquely overbroad rule, enough to sweep so many of us into technical violations, but we’re supposed to feel soothed by the knowledge that government agents will decide who among us gets fined. No, no, no. Overbreath [sic] itself is a problem. And so is selective enforcement.
Whether one thinks that the guidelines are a step in the right direction or a terrible idea, one has to wonder how the FTC is going to be able to enforce these new rules since blogs are all over the Internet, discussing a myriad of topics.
– Megan Bibb
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