Bloggers’ opinions now matter to the FTC, at least in terms of controlling what we say:
The Federal Trade Commission today announced the latest revisions to its “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” revealing that “bloggers” and other “word-of-mouth” endorsers must now disclose “connections that consumers would not expect,” such as free product or cash in exchange for review.
First of all, that’s far, far too many “quote” “marks” for one paragraph. So I’m going to have to control how they use quotes if they’re going to get all pushy about how I blog and perhaps fine them.
You know what? Forget you, FTC. If I was a paid blogger, that would be one thing. If I worked for a game company who hosted this blog, sure, you might have some leeway there. But I’m just a guy, jotting down whatever I like, and you don’t get to come into my house and start shoving me around as if my opinion suddenly mattered.
This is a really weird ruling. It says that if I receive a free product or a free service and then review it, I have to explicitly state that I was given this product or service for free. Up front disclosure and all that, at risk of an $11,000 fine if I don’t.
On one hand, I understand why this is important. Nobody likes a shill who lies through their teeth just because they were given a product for nothing, and feel as though they have to reciprocate with a few kind words. Honesty is the best policy, I agree.
But where this chafes is that, up to this point, bloggers have been relegated to some weird sort of minor league status in terms of journalism. As in, we’re not or we’re wannabes. But suddenly, when there’s money to be made with fines, our opinion is now very, very important and worthy of monitoring for false endorsements or what have you.
You can argue that this is aimed at bigger blog sites, and it most likely is, but that doesn’t mean the smaller guys are immune to this ruling. This ruling extends to any “word of mouth” marketers, which means, technically, if a company gave your Aunt Bea a new type of toothbrush and she raved about it to you without disclosing the fact she got it for free, then she’s liable for a little FTC smackdown. Oh, and you Twitter users? You are also liable.
It chafes because the tone of this whole thing assumes that bloggers are inherently dishonest and liable to give a positive review in exchange for a free product.
It chafes because this is the internet, and you can’t police people’s opinions. Especially since, the last time I checked, the internet wasn’t entirely under FTC’s domain.
It chafes because this entire ruling is incredibly vague, especially in defining “traditional media” vs. “bloggers”.
And it REALLY chafes because “traditional media” doesn’t have to disclose whether they purchased the product or were given it by the company, just because:
In general, under usual circumstances, the Commission does not consider reviews published in traditional media (i.e., where a newspaper, magazine, or television or radio station with independent editorial responsibility assigns an employee to review various products or services as part of his or her official duties, and then publishes those reviews) to be sponsored advertising messages. Accordingly, such reviews are not “endorsements” within the meaning of the Guides. Under these circumstances, the Commission believes, knowing whether the media entity that published the review paid for the item in question would not affect the weight consumers give to the reviewer’s statements.
So in summation: traditional games journalism is the bastion of stalwart honesty, and all bloggers who receive a freebie once in a while are filthy liars who need to be bled dry by fines. Awesome!
P.S. – I like what Hot Air had to say about this: “[This ruling] treats blog readers like idiots who are in constant danger of brainwashing by bloggers.”
P.P.S. – Watch how FTC’s Richard Cleland dances around the vaguities of this ruling, and has difficulty making clear distinctions between various situations. That restores my faith in the government.