The FTC and Bloggers, My Two Cents

ftcThere has been a lot of furor over the disclosure guidelines recently put forth by the FTC. On a personal and professional level it really makes no difference to me. All you have to do is click the Transparency link in my sidebar and you’ll see a full disclosure for the website and then additional case by case ones on individual posts. I always advocate transparency both in my own work and to my clients.

That said, I think that while the FTC guidelines may seem a fine idea at first I don’t believe they are. First and foremost is the fact that no print media, or its extended presence on the Internet , is subject anything like these rules. Double standards are never a good thing, especially in legal matters.

Then there are the free speech issues inherent in a double standard applied to news and information. Chris Crum on WebProNews has a nice post about it, including this bit about the stance taken by the IAB:

The IAB [Interactive Advertising Bureau] says the rules unfairly and unconstitutionally impose penalties on online media for practices in which offline media have engaged for decades. In an open letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, Randall Rothenberg, the President and CEO of the IAB, called the FTC’s distinction between offline media and online media, “constitutionally dubious.”

“What concerns us the most in these revisions is that the Internet, the cheapest, most widely accessible communications medium ever invented, would have less freedom than other media,” he said. “These revisions are punitive to the online world and unfairly distinquish between the same speech, based on the medium in which it is delivered. The practices have long been afforded strong First Amendment protections in traditional media outlets, but the Commission is saying that the same speech deserves fewer Constitutional protections online. I urge the Commission to retract the current set of Guides and to commence a fair and open process in order to develop a roadmap by which responsible online actors can engage with consumers and continue to provide the invaluable content and services that have so transformed people’s lives.”

Net Neutrality and freedom of speech are fundamental underpinnings of the modern Internet. We are in the midst of the greatest revolution in the access people have to information since the advent of movable type. Even though it will not affect how I operate it is still of massive import to all of us who work and write on the net.

Mr. Crum points out another valid point in another article of his:

Well-known author/editor/publisher Jeff Jarvis makes a really good point. He says the FTC assumes that the Internet is a medium. “It’s not. It’s a place where people talk. Most people who blog, as Pew found in a survey a few years ago, don’t think they are doing anything remotely connected to journalism. I imagine that virtually no one on Facebook thinks they’re making media. They’re connecting. They’re talking,” he says. “So for the FTC to go after bloggers and social media – as they explicitly do – is the same as sending a government goon into Denny’s to listen to the conversations in the corner booth and demand that you disclose that your Uncle Vinnie owns the pizzeria whose product you just endorsed.”

That really is the core of the matter here. Social media platforms are arenas of conversation. This sort of regulation, besides being unenforceable, is supremely out of place.

If you do reviews or any other form of blogging that involves brands or products you might want to check out DisclosurePolicy.org, which is what I used to generate the one you see on this website. It’s a quick, free, and easy tool to use and will help keep you on the ethical side of transparency no matter which way this is resolved.

What are YOUR thoughts on the issue? Let us know here or on our Facebook Page!

 is the owner of SocialGumbo, LLC


2 Comments

  1. The trick here is that the FTC has jurisdiction over businesses and they choose to enforce rules over those businesses no matter where they conduct that business. This isn’t really about regulating the Internet and blogging. It’s just like sales tax; as long as a business does not have a brick and mortar store in a given state, that store cannot be forced to collect sales taxes for online business. I’m not crazy about government intervention and more rules to follow, but in this case, I acknowlege the need for some regulation of the “wild frontier” that is the Internet right now.

    Peace,

    Tim

  2. Tim, so what are your thoughts re: the double standard? If us why not print media as well? They have existed for years without these strictures or anything resembling them.

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