federal trade commission prepared to institute regulations on blogging

23 Jun

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.


Posted by on June 23, 2009 in Life


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8 responses to “federal trade commission prepared to institute regulations on blogging

  1. Sal

    June 23, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Against. Mostly because it seems like this legislation is going to be a blunt instrument. From reading that article and several others, I get the impression that merely LINKING to a product or service page will make me a suspect. I link to crap all the time so that my readers can find items and information more easily, and I shouldn’t be punished for that.

    Who knows how effective it’ll be. I mean, payola isn’t supposed to exist, and you can bet your sweet bippy it does. But it’s aggravating. Especially since, as you say, I believe that the vast majority of bloggers do self-regulate when it comes to reviews. My gawd, the crap I turn down for reviews and freebies, you wouldn’t believe. And I’d NEVER endorse something for pay. Ever ever ever.

    • saturdayjane

      June 23, 2009 at 2:04 pm

      See, I would endorse something for pay, as long as it was something that I would endorse anyway. If it is something that I have tried and I would honestly recommend to my friends and family, I don’t think there is anything wrong with being compensated by the manufacturer for doing so. I see it as a ‘hey thanks, that’s helpful’. I DO think it is wrong to endorse products one hasn’t tried/wouldn’t recommend to people anyway.

      I maintain that most bloggers are far more preoccupied with image than money. If they have an enormous readership that thinks they’re amazing, they’d rather have that enormous readership continue to think they’re amazing than have that readership decline and/or think they’re a corporate shill. Integrity is kind of assured through vanity, in a way.

  2. rubybastille

    June 23, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Hmm. I’ll have to go read the whole article. Overall, though, I don’t like it, and I don’t think it’s necessary. Blogging may have increased exponentially over the last couple years, and some blogs may reach a lot of people, but I don’t think any one blog run by any particular writer poses any kind of threat when it comes to advertising and promotion. I think there are three levels – the low-key bloggers who link to other sites or (ha) try Smooth Away; the midrange bloggers like Daddy Likey who get stuff occasionally and use it occasionally and the reviews are mixed; and the guys like the tools on Twitter who just want you to try their survey business. And readers can tune in to whatever category they want.

    Plus, I think products reach people in a very different way on the internet. We’re saturated with sidebars and pop-ups and usually we just tune them out, because we’re overloaded. But when an individual person praises something, we listen. We may not act on it, but we listen.

    • saturdayjane

      June 23, 2009 at 3:24 pm

      Right. Taylor’s point was ‘why NOT give people the full information’? I’m not sure how to respond to that, except that it damages the strength of a REAL endorsement.

      I agree with the idea that it is up to the consumer to decide where their advertising comes from, though. The regulation seems to be in an effort to be sure they know what they’re geting. Kind of making consumerism idiot proof.

  3. Kitty

    June 24, 2009 at 1:30 am

    I agree with Miss Saturday Jane. I have no problem with bloggers who do the occasional review, as long as they only recommend products that they have really tried, and actually like. For instance, I have bought a million and one Etsy items based on these kind of recommendations, and I’ve been pleased with all my pretty little treasures. If it wasn’t for the blogger, I wouldn’t have even known that so and so’s cute little Etsy store existed. I would hate it if these new rules restricted these kinds of activities. I also believe there is a difference between reviewing a freebie and being paid to promote a product. If someone sends me a freebie, it’s up to me to decide whether or not I want to review it and whether that review will be positive or not. That is completely different from being paid to right a positive review, which is also fine, but I feel that a blogger should only do this if they really like the product, and I also feel it is respectful to inform your readers in the way of a little disclaimer. Bottom line: I think bloggers do a good job of regulating themselves.

    • saturdayjane

      June 24, 2009 at 7:46 am

      Thanks for the comment, Kitty! Etsy is a good example of what I mean. Bloggers DO do a good job of regulating themselves…I wonder if there has been some kind of deception that has been causing problems that we don’t know about?

  4. Vanessa

    June 24, 2009 at 9:40 am

    I haven’t read the article yet, but here’s my first impression: I agree that with you and Kitty that it’s fine to endorse a product for pay as long as you actually like it. Hey, if someone wants to give me money to talk about how much I love Nesquik– and believe me I do– I would be all for it. I think it’s awesome, and I would willingly tell you that without pay (as I just did– take that, FTC), but if you’re going to throw some cash my way for it, no complaints. I think most bloggers feel similarly and won’t simply promote a product because of the cash; they have their internet reputation on the line and this is one of the reasons I rarely questions bloggers’ motives for talking about a product. Without going on at length, I think this is all very silly, because I don’t think it really should matter WHAT the intent of a blog post that promotes a product is. Even if, hypothetically, I promote Nesquik for money but don’t actually like it, almost everyone wins in spite of the dishonesty: I get money, Nestle gets money, and inevitably some people will like the product even if I didn’t (and in any case where you promote something, some people are sure NOT to like it themselves anyway). I suppose that sounds a little shady, but it makes sense to me. Why does anyone need to regulate the process? It really doesn’t hurt anyone or anything accept maybe the amount of sleep the blogger might get at night.

  5. lisa

    June 24, 2009 at 11:07 am

    This is such an interesting topic. When I get approached to review a product or write about a website or service, if it’s not something I’m able to try firsthand, I try to do web research to see if they’ve gotten any negative feedback. I’m also upfront about how the product/service came to my attention (i.e. I was offered a sample to try, I received an email). In the past, I’ve turned down advertising opportunities because I felt like they would compromise the integrity of my blog as well. Not all bloggers may be as strict with themselves and paying opportunities, but the majority of blogs I read are so full of integrity that it’s difficult to picture these FTC regulations being anything more than a redundancy.

    That being said, I wonder how much this FTC legislation would affect me as I’m Canadian but Blogger/Google are American.


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