The internet is a rapidly changing medium.
This is inarguable. With the creation of sites like Amazon, Hulu, Youtube and Orbitz the internet has shifted from a platform of forums and fansites to a comprehensive shopping center that traffics in material goods, entertainment, news, and opinions, not to mention the invention of the ever-expanding blogosphere.
Blogs range from the informational to the inane, from common household advice to sweeping political diatribes, from a way to improve your life to a way to dream about somebody else’s. It is a free method for writers to write and for readers to read. In recent years, however, bloggers have discovered the potential to turn a passion or hobby into a full time, paying job, through sponsors, advertisements, or just being paid to say they like something.
This article, brought to my attention by Sal at Already Pretty, discusses the Federal Trade Commission’s plans to regulate the blogging industry by clarifying the bloggers’ intentions in suggesting a product. F’rinstance, say a company like Minute Maid sent me a gallon of orange juice for free. If I drank it, and posted ‘Hey, Minute Maid orange juice is pretty good!” without mentioning the means by which I got the orange juice, then the FTC would have cause, under the new legislation, to investigate my activities and possibly institute some sort of punishment.
Bloggers, as usual, are outraged. I’m not entirely sure how this would affect blogging, as a mode of writing or as a source of advice or earnest opinion. The primary appeal of a blog is that it seems off-the grid. Bloggers find an avenue to tell their stories despite being busy and unpaid, which lends their editorials a sort of authenticity and honesty. Many bloggers, in an effort to preserve this authenticity, refuse to endorse products or services that they wouldn’t endorse without being paid. My primary concern with the suggested regulations is that they would define blogging, all blogging as ‘advertising’. By forcing the bloggers to disclose whether they were paid or not for their posts would detract from any honest appreciation that blogger has for the product. Once they say they were paid, it no longer matters whether they really like it or not. Authenticity goes out the window.
It could be argued that this legislation will just even the playing field. There are bloggers who will unscrupulously push products that they don’t like or don’t know just to make a buck, but the vast majority of bloggers are much more concerned with their online reputation and identity. They won’t post anything that doesn’t match up with their actual tastes. Getting compensated for making an honest statement regarding a personal opinion doesn’t seem like a crime to me. It is up to the reader/consumer to make a decision as to whether that opinion is credible.
What do you think, internet? Are you for this legislation? Against it? I would love to hear the buzz about this issue, as it affects us all pretty directly as writers and readers.