Writing the threads of my reality

The FTC and the new blogger regulations

I follow a great deal of news from America, being as I am highly interested in the American culture and psyche. Being a blogger, the new American FTC rules for blogger endorsements was particularly interesting.

The relevant article from the FTC is here.

Obviously the American blogosphere has began to kick up a fuss about it, which you can find through any simple Google search. From my reading of it, much of the new guidelines are sensible and intended to better protect the public from misleading advertising - but considering the nature of the Internet, I have to wonder whether some legislators didn't really think the whole thing through.

The Internet is a medium of communication, and bloggers in particular are for the most part simply communicating with each other and with their readers. They are not paid endorsers. They talk about their lives and the products in their lives, and it's entirely natural that they will be enthusiastic about the products they really like. Companies obviously know this, and send out their products to certain bloggers in the hope that they will like them and talk about them - but there is no guarantee that they will. Janet Reid sums it up very well in this post: bloggers do not guarantee airtime, as it were, for freebies that companies send them. So it seems that the guidelines in this case become less sensible and more like regulations on the natural communication between people.

The fear I have here is that this may be open to abuse. Consider this - a company sends a free product to a blogger. That blogger discloses the source of the free product, but makes a number of fraudulent claims about it with the intention of having the company slapped with a fine. Another author, Courtney Milan, summarises this problem here. When every violation could possibly carry a fine, what is that company to do? Stop sending out free products, and potentially lose sales as a result?

Intention should mean something in this case. If a blogger makes a malicious fraudulent claim, and that blogger has no connection to the company other than the fact that the company sends them free products with no expectation of airtime, then the FTC should consider that the company is not at fault. Likewise, if a blogger talks about a product in a positive way that they received for free, the FTC should not automatically consider it an endorsement that needs to be regulated.

I hope that the FTC make it clear that they do not intend to chase bloggers for simply communicating, nor allow companies to be held responsible for the actions of others.


Post a Comment